ARCTIC MONKEYS – Humbug (Domino)

I am probably quite late in reviewing this album, even though I have had it since it came out. It is not that it has taken me this long to come to terms with the band’s progression on this record, as I liked these new songs as soon as I heard them, just that I feel that the band have been unfairly criticised for moving on in their songwriting when in most groups that would be expected and encouraged. As much as I loved their first two albums, they are no longer spotty seventeen year olds, and so the music must reflect that. To help them move on they have enlisted the help of Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme to co-produce, and the results are immediately apparent. Right from the outset ‘My Propellor’ has a heavier sound, with O’Malley and Helders holding it together on bass and drums, Turner’s vocals being more measured and less frenetic, and Cook’s guitarwork going from heavy rock fills to screeching solo. ‘Crying Lightning’ is another mid-tempo piece where the Monkeys of old make an appearance on the chorus, but the whole thing is still wrapped in a much more muscular framework. The riff-heavy ‘Dangerous Animals’ is the best encapsulation yet of their new sound, with some giant guitar riffs and a thundering rhythm. ‘Secret Door’ is the closest they get to their old sound, starting slowly and then building up to a rollicking finale. ‘Potion Approaching’ is built around another heavy guitar riff and pounding drums, and with Turner’s suitably sonorous vocal it develops into one of the heaviest tracks on the record. ‘Fire And The Thud’ starts off as a pretty typical Monkeys song, but is lifted to new heights by the great guitarwork, and ‘Cornerstone’ is slipped in for those still hankering after the old band – and is also released as the new single as a sop to the hardcore fans. ‘Dance Little Liar’ and ‘Pretty Visitors’ show both sides of this new heavy rock sound of the band, with the former taking it slowly and delivering a blistering guitar solo along the way, while the latter revs it up to a breakneck speed, stopping only to catch its breath on the chorus, before hurtling off again into the unknown. ‘The Jeweller’s Hands’ ends the album on a bit of a downer, with a melancholic tune and foreboding lyrics, and the echo-laden chorus gradually fades under a barrage of noise, bringing the record to an apocalyptic close. This is easily my favourite Arctic Monkeys album on first hearing, as the others did take a while to grow on me, and I can only see it getting better with each listen. Whether you are a rabid fan or just have a passing knowledge of the band’s early works then this album needs to be heard. If you love it as much as I do remains to be seen, but whether you do or not you have to admire the fact that the boys have chosen not to stagnate in an, albeit, successful formula, but have produced some great progressive (but not necessarily in the prog sense) rock.
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