Showing posts with label arctic monkeys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arctic monkeys. Show all posts

Monday, May 14, 2018

video review: 'tranquility base hotel + casino' by arctic monkeys

So here's the first review of the night, bound to be the most controversial... but we're not done yet, so stay tuned!

album review: 'tranquility base hotel & casino' by arctic monkeys

Most of you probably don't remember the last time I reviewed the Arctic Monkeys. It was nearly five years ago, I didn't have a proper camera yet, but I was mostly positive towards the record and I did think it had some moments that worked for me...

And everyone hated it! Yeah, I'll admit I was still very much in the learning curve for making album reviews, but the backlash I got to being mostly ambivalent on this indie darling was pretty pronounced, mostly because my review consisted of some... let's call them mixed opinions on their back catalog. Suffice to say, Arctic Monkeys broke around the same time as a lot of other bands in a similar noisy, post-punk revival brand of indie rock, and when you paired it with observational songwriting that might have had moments of self-awareness but was often way too sour and acerbic to really resonate with me, as a group they just never clicked more deeply with me. Yes, you can make the argument that Alex Turner was one of the wittiest and smartest guys in the room, but if you know it and want everyone else to know it, any amount of self-deprecation doesn't make you any less of a dick! It's absolutely no surprise the band became a Gen X critical darling in the mid-2000s - and also no surprise that as they got older and arguably more mature and their fury curdled into detached, snide bitterness, said fans mostly stuck around... provided, of course, they could get behind the shifts in sound. Yeah, that was the other thing - Arctic Monkeys may have started in some furious, borderline punk territory, but they got way slower and more indebted to a conventional rock canon with every record, especially as they started embracing stoner rock elements on Humbug and psychedelic elements on Suck It And See and AM. And that was the frustrating thing for me: this band is clearly talented and had the capacity to take sonic risks and write some damn catchy songs... but the content and a lot of Alex Turner's delivery left a bad taste in my mouth.

Still, when I heard the band was taking a stark departure in their sound for lounge-inspired smooth jazz and spacey pop tones... yeah, you might have seen traces of that coming on previous records, but this sounded like something far out, and a record that has proven quite polarizing for a lot of fans. And hell, I was intrigued - maybe if Alex Turner could get out of his own head in terms of content, he could write something interesting, so what did we get with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

video review: 'a.m.' by arctic monkeys

So the second wave of album releases has begun, starting off with an album from a band that I never really liked. So with that in mind, does this mean I can overcome my issues and talk about what will likely be a divisive album? Let's find out!

album review: 'a.m.' by the arctic monkeys

Everybody has specific 'sounds' that they don't like. Nails on a chalkboard, the rasp of metal against rocks, the chipmunk voice effect, basically some sound that just sets your teeth on edge and just leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. It's not often something you can help either, it's a gut instinct, it's a subconscious emotional reaction to something in the sound that just makes you feel queasy or just triggers that element of dispassionate loathing. And as a music critic, this impulse is absolutely infuriating, because it often prevents me from being as objective as I'd like when evaluating the material. It basically prevents me from doing my job effectively, and given how hard I've strove to be professional, it really bothers me.

And if we're going to talk about a band that leaps to the top of that list in my mind, the Arctic Monkeys would be that band. 

I know it's crazy. I can't explain it, no matter how hard I've tried. Something about this band, whether it's lead singer Alex Turner's vocals or songwriting, just gets on my nerves in ways I really can't comprehend. I'm going to try and intellectualize this instinctive reaction in some way, see if I can parse some of it out, because the more calculating and rational parts of my mind are telling me that I should like the Arctic Monkeys. The guitar work is catchy and interesting (for the most part), they're good songwriters, and hell, Alex Turner isn't that far from Billy Joe Armstrong in his vocal delivery, so where's this antipathy coming from? What is it about this band that alienates me so much?

Well, if I were to hazard a guess, I'm thinking some of it comes from two factors, neither of which are all that fair to the Arctic Monkeys, at least in terms of judging their execution. The first is in the subject matter and the delivery - Alex Turner comes across as acerbic and bitter and sour in both the songwriting and the delivery right out of the gate, starting on that first album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. And what strikes me as out-of-place is that the target of said anger seems to be the activity of going out and partying and having a good time. And sure, I get where said subject matter could easily be reinterpreted with a dark or sarcastic twist, but Alex Turner seems like the douchebag who stands morosely at the bar after you drag him out and then spends the rest of the night complaining, arguing with the bouncer, being a creep with girls, and blaming it all on you at the end of the night. It'd be like dragging Morissey and Severus Snape to a nightclub. And sure, I'll give props to the Arctic Monkeys for executing that sort of song so well, but that sure as hell doesn't make it remotely pleasant.

And here's the other unfortunate and probably unfair thing: it's really, really hard for me not to compare the Arctic Monkeys with Franz Ferdinand. Maybe it's the similar guitar work and strong technical songwriting that the two acts share, but every time I listen to the Arctic Monkeys and their acrid brand of unpleasantness, I can't help but think that those dudes over in Franz Ferdinand just sound like they bring a much better party. I get that there's a place for bitterness in music and arguably the Arctic Monkeys execute their morose emotions better than most, but it sure as hell isn't an enjoyable or moving experience in the slightest.

One of the other interesting factors with the Arctic Monkeys is that the band has followed something of a similar career trajectory to Franz Ferdinand, starting with two strong, critically-acclaimed albums right out of the gate (the second being strongest in my opinion), before attempting to switch things up a bit for their third album. For the Arctic Monkeys on Humbug, they slowed things down and attempted to make their instrumentation sound a bit more grandiose - but at the same time, many of the lyrics that went by too quickly to fully sink in on previous albums now had plenty of room to breathe and reveal the unpleasant truth: the narrator Alex Turner writes is an asshole. Maybe it has something to do with the pseudo-not-trying delivery or the fact that every single one of the songs are full of needling little insults, but it really reveals a whole new layer of ugly unpleasantness reminiscent of Ethan Hawke's character in Reality Bites: the snide jackass who is so smart he has chosen to only interact with the world via smug observations. And what's really grating is that more often than not, we're supposed to sympathize or at least identify with the narrator because a lot of his observations - crass as they might be - are at least intelligent, and we're supposed to shove to the back of our mind the fact that he's really quite the asshole, which is framing I find hard to accept. 

Now all of that being said, I do think the lyrics improved a bit on the next album, Suck It And See, mostly because the poetry got a little more benign and, dare I say it, mature. Some of the snide petulance had faded from Alex Turner's delivery (not all of it, mind you), and with the songwriting as sharp as ever, he grew marginally more tolerable and the album was significantly less unpleasant for me to listen through. But at the same time, I kind of missed the high-energy instrumentation from those first two albums, and while I still think the Arctic Monkeys wouldn't quite be my thing if they had returned to that instrumentation (while keeping the better tone and lyrics), I do think it would have incorporated the best of both worlds. As I said, I can recognize talent and solid work when I see it, and while there are issues with the Arctic Monkeys that still get on my nerves and prevent me from liking them, I know that some of these issues are my issues, and what is key is separating my issues with legitimate grievances.

So with that hefty challenge in mind, what do I think of the newest Arctic Monkeys album, A.M.?