The Arctic Monkeys are found to be at Homme in a Cave
We can’t say we weren’t warned, but the truth is, we certainly did buy the hype. Musically innovative, poetically and humourously lyrical and disarmingly straightforward, the Arctic Monkeys have become the great hope of our times. Their third album, Humbug, therefore showcases a welcome step up from indie to rock, while firmly rooted in the band’s traditional charms.
Indie is nothing if not observations of ‘real-life’ and therefore a genre with a limited shelf-life when fame intrudes. The Arctic Monkeys, however, have far more to offer than the unique British landscape of clubs, fights and ‘avin’ a laugh that their first album surveyed. Their second album dealt largely with the celebrity circuit – trendies, a la Brianstorm, posey DJs on Teddy Picker and the paparazzi on If You Were There, Beware.
Humbug picks up were Favourite Worst Nightmare left off. The same tales of relationships in the public eye have led to the excellent Secret Door;
Fools on parade
Cavort and carry on
See waiting eyes
That you’d rather be beside than infront of
But she’s never been the kind to be hollowed by the stares.
Then there are girls, and sex. My Propeller launches the album like an even more frustrated (I can’t get no) Satisfaction, then come Crying Lighting – the albums best riff, and Dangerous Animals, about girls who are more a force of nature than a malleable mechanism.
So far, so good, and so little of the mutterings that new producer Josh Homme has intruded too much on the winning formula. But as he himself has said, “they were looking for ‘weird’ and I know where it is. All I did was stand and point.” ‘Weird’ isn’t a bad description Humbug once Potion Approaching – an obvious Queens of the Stone Age stomper kicks in. Musically, it’s fair to suspect that Homme has been fairly well used, if not asked for. But there’s an uneasy dynamic at play, and the Monkeys clearly give as good as they get.
Humbug is an exercise in steadily more cryptic innuendo. Cornerstone, musically like several of their earlier ballads is a story masking a serious hang-up, not unlike John Donne’s all-time great excuse from The Good Morrow;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir’d, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
As the lyrics get steadily weirder, referencing shadows of snake pits on the walls, culminating in the frankly indecipherable Jeweller’s Hands, it’s clear that Homme is clearly not sophisticated enough to be a role model for the Monkeys. Indeed, his session with them at Joshua Tree may have put the groove into them, but was only the first of two sessions.
The Arctic Monkeys are clearly in control, and if they have a clear idea of where they’re heading, I’ll wager it has something to do with the influence of Nick Cave. I don’t know if they’ve met personally, but the Monkeys have started covering Cave’s Red Right Hand in concert.
All of which is very exciting for music geeks, but what we really want to know, even as we listen to their third album for the first time, is where next? The Guardian said “Humbug feels like a great band nervously feeling their way forward, like baby steps towards something bigger. The next one should be a cracker.” Uncut welcomed their shrugging off the uncomfortable tag of ‘voice of a generation’ and looks forward to ‘a very interesting future.’ The may not be the voice of our generation, which given the variety of music and constituencies out there is pretty much impossible in the modern age, but they are the most exciting prospect we have – still.
By the way, I couldn’t find a way to work it in, but The Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo is an excellent concert film. Where most music DVDs fake energy by jumping between shots, Richard Ayoade keeps the camera focussed lovingly on his subjects. Looking up at them, or through them to the crowd, you get a sense of the occasion it is for a band still young in experience.