“Monkeying” Around All Six Arctic Monkeys albums ranked:

Last Friday a miracle was bestowed upon the music community from the gods of Indie-rock and all that is good in the world. Acclaimed British rock band The Arctic Monkeys have finally released their sixth LP Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino after a five-year absence since their 2013 smash LP AM took the world by storm.  Since breaking out in 2006 with their best-selling debut album Whatever People Say I AM Is What I’m Not The Monkeys have had one of the most versatile and prolific careers of any modern rock band. Throughout the years, they’ve demonstrated an uncanny ability to change and evolve in terms of sound, style and content while still retaining their lyrical insights and musical unity.  With their latest album dividing fans and sparking conversation, now seemed like the perfect time to revisit their varied discography and evaluate which Monkeys record takes the crown as their finest achievement while also comparing each of their artistically distinct eras against one another.  Read on to see if your top pick made the cut and where the newest LP ranks alongside their established classics!

6) Humbug:

 

Long before Tranquility Base came along,  Humbug had the reputation for being the “difficult” or polarizing Monkeys record.  After two albums of relatively straight-forward Indie-rock Humbug found the band venturing knee-deep into psychedelic sounds and textures while also embracing desert rock and an overall more abstract sense of lyricism and song structure. What makes Humbug stand out on first listen is how rich in atmosphere these tracks are, single “Crying Lighting” carries a menace and tightly-coiled intensity that hadn’t really appeared in the band’s discography before and standouts such as Pretty visitors and Potion Approaching combine the immediacy of their first two albums with a more pronounced edge and heavier layers of sound and instrumentation. While Humbug lacks the accessibility of some the band’s earlier and even later releases, it does contain an experimental spirit and scope that would later help establish the foundation for future records such as Suck It and See, AM and even Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, it also helped bridge the gap between the band’s traditional influences and it’s artsier aspects as well. Viewing it in retrospect Humbug can be even considered one of if not the most important record in the band’s discography for expanding their sonic boundaries and demonstrating just how far the band was willing to evolve musically and lyrically. Plus it gave us one of their very best songs and fan-favorite “Cornerstone” one of the most heart-breaking and gorgeous pieces of music Alex Turner’s ever penned further solidifying it’s significance in the band’s overall discography.

Key Tracks: Cornerstone, Crying Lightning, Pretty Visitors, Potion Approaching, Dance Little Liar

5) Suck it and See

Following the polarizing nature of Humbug, for the band’s fourth album Arctic Monkeys decided to embrace their retro pop and old-fashioned rock and roll roots and crafted what may be their most infectious and warm collection of songs thus far.  Suck it and See does contain some of the desert rock and psychedelic influences they utilized on Humbug, however here the band also integrates more of the old-school pop melodies and harmonies that had hiding underneath all throughout their career at this point. SIAS contains some of Alex Turner’s most romantic and wistful moments as a songwriter and vocalists from the gorgeous opener “She’s Thunderstorms” his small-scale epic ballad “Piledriver Waltz” and the one-two punch of the aching yet crisp summer pop of the title track and the energetic yet subtly affecting closer “That’s Where You’re Wrong”.  Despite some of it’s more slightly melancholy nature, SIAS does contain some of the vibrant energy of the group’s past rockers on deep cuts such as the charmingly abstract “Library Pictures” and often overlooked numbers such as “All My Own Stunts” and “Brick by Brick”, adding a nice balance between the band’s softer side and it’s guitar-laden elements.  When discussing the Arctic Monkey’s discography, Suck it and See generally is placed near the bottom or isn’t discussed as much as their other albums, while it isn’t as radical a reinvention as Humbug or AM were it does show that even while working small-scale the band can still achieve truly captivating results.

Key Tracks: She’s Thunderstorms,  Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,  Piledriver Waltz, Suck it and See, That’s Where You’re Wrong

 

 

4) Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino:

Not since Humbug have The Arctic Monkeys released such a challenging and drastic musical and lyrical departure, in fact considering the group’s decision to emphasize piano instead of guitar and rely less on their traditional choruses and riffs it may even be more of a polarizing listen.  Tranquility Base may very well be the Monkey’s first true concept album, a suite of lounge pop bowie-esque numbers about a fictional moon-base and casino where Alex Turner examines his relationship with technology, modern-day communication, religion and even himself.  While lyrically and musically Tranquility is a stark departure at first, it’s sense of cinematic atmosphere and grand arrangements make it one of the band’s more musically immersive experiences.  From the lush lounge beauty of opener Star Treatment to the 60’s psych-pop of “The World’s First-ever Front-Facing Monster Truck Flip” to the glam rock-infused theatricality of “Four out of Five” and “She Looks like Fun” Tranquility weaves together a musical odyssey unlike anything the band’s ever recorded.  While it’s proven divisive among the fan base and it is admittedly lacking in the straight-forward radio moments of AM,  Tranquility’s rewards are just as engrossing once uncovered and with time could very well prove itself to be one of the band’s most ambitious and dynamic progressions in their entire discography.

Key Tracks: Star Treatment, The Ultracheese, The World’s First-ever Front-Facing Monster Truck Flip, Four out of Five, She Looks Like Fun

 

3) Favorite Worst Nightmare

Many a great band or artist have been cursed by the dreaded “sophomore slump” when following up an acclaimed and massively popular debut album, it’s a fate that’s plagued even the best of artists or groups ( sorry The Strokes).  The Arctic Monkeys found themselves in a similar situation in the midst of the popularity following the breakout of debut record Whatever People Say I AM Is What I’m Not, could they replicate their early success or were they doomed to subsiding to the hype that made them such big names in the first place? Thankfully, when it came time to the deliver their sophomore record a year later the band decided to focus on their craft, sharpen their lyrical content and diversify their sound resulting in one of their most cohesive, emotionally resonant and purposeful statements. From the pounding drums and jagged guitars of opener “Brianstorm” the band’s momentum never let up resulting in fan favorites such as the nostalgic yet infectious “Fluorescent Adolescent” and some of the group’s more mature and complex numbers such as “Do Me a Favor”, “Only Ones Who Know” and perhaps the band’s finest achievement closer “505” a heart-breaking and soaring anthem to desire and disconnection with a pitch-perfect organ sample from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. What allows FWNS to break free of the pressure surrounding it and become it’s own record is the varied sonic and lyrical richness the band explores here, it deftly combines the visceral energy and wit of their debut and imbues it with more depth, nuance and perspective making for a well-rounded and richly accomplished body of work.  Favorite Worst Nightmare stands simultaneously as one of the band’s most exhilarating and hear-breaking albums, thus standing as a showcase for their ever-apparent talents and proving the Monkeys had the lyrical and musical chops to stay.

Key Tracks: 505, Brainstorm,  Fluorescent Adolescent,  Only Ones Who Know, Do Me a Favor

 

2) Whatever People Say I Am Is What I’m Not

The record that started it all and gave us one of the most accomplished and celebrated bands in all of indie-rock history, one wonders what hasn’t already been said about the group’s critically acclaimed and best-selling 2006 debut but yet 12 years later the group’s debut album still stands as the blue-print for Indie-rock/pop and remains one of the most exciting and fully realized debut albums of all time. Right from the jump in opening track “View from The Afternoon” Alex Turner and company establish their own musical universe full of loud guitars, energetic drumming and lyrics that are biting and humorous with a dose of raw honesty to them.  No Monkeys record has ever quite felt this alive and playful and the album perfectly captures the excitement and promise of being young and finding your place in the world but is also acutely aware of the mundane realities surrounding it as well. For every “I bet You Look good On The Dancefloor” one of the band’s best early indie-rock/pop anthems there’s the comedown of songs such as the wistful and moody “Riot Van” and “Mardy Baum” which emphasizes miscommunication in a relationship but still manages to sound sweet and vibrant.  What allows WPSIAM to remain so resonant and vital years on it’s sense of emotional urgency and it’s surprising sense of sincerity underneath, on closing track “A Certain Romance” Turner addresses the changing generations surrounding him and his desire to remain his identity while still being accepted a theme that’s just as relevant today as it was then. Fresh, funny, and keenly observed Whatever People Say I AM is What I’m Not remains one of the band’s most engaging and deeply felt recordings.

Key Tracks: I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,  Mardy Baum, A Certain Romance,  When The Sun Goes Down,  From the Ritz To The Rubble

 

1:) AM

Most bands if they’re lucky are able to deliver a career-defining album at least once in their career and have it be a commercial success as well. In The Arctic Monkey’s case, they’ve been able to strike lighting at least twice ,with their 2006 debut and their fifth album in 2013 AM which managed to be both an artistic breakthrough for the group and an example of accessibility done right.  AM has perhaps one of the vastest soundscapes of any Monkey’s record, flaunting stadium-sized riffs on opener “Do I Wanna Know?” and killer single ” R U Mine?” while also trying on doo-wop melodies and R&B on “Snap On it” and ” I Wanna Be Yours” and embracing hip-hop ( Why’d You Only Call me When You’re High) and glam rock (Arabella and Knee Socks).  What allows AM to remain such a captivating experience even after multiple listens is the sheer scope of it’s musical and lyrical ambitions, it’s a record that manages to craft radio-ready singles with moments of Lennon and Lou-reed esque pop (  No 1 Party Anthem and Mad Sounds) and demonstrates a true sense of lyrical growth for Alex Turner who creates some of his most observant yet emotionally rich subject matter yet.  The sense of unity, musicality and spontaneity within AM’s arrangements make for an undeniably exciting record but what truly gives defines it’s staying power is the vulnerability and soul that’s buried underneath it’s slick and cool surface. AM is a testament to the Monkey’s range and dynamism and successfully manages to meld together their artistry and their rock icon ambitions with heart, visceral impact and imagination, thus creating arguably their towering achievement and finest record to date.

Key Tracks:  Knee Socks, R U Mine?, Arabella, Do I wanna Know? I Wanna Be Yours

 

 

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2001: A Space Monkey Odyssey: How The Arctic Monkey’s latest musical voyage could be their most radical re-invention yet

Picture this, you’re barely out of your teens and all of a sudden the band you and your friends made gets big like really big.  How big are we talking here you ask, how about the fastest selling British debut album of all time for starters with 118,501 copies sold at the time of it’s release.  The Arctic Monkeys have since gone on to become vanguards of what a true rock and roll band should look like a status cemented by their 2013 release AM which featured loud and visceral guitar riffs mixed with doo-wop, R&B and hip-hop for good measure.  When a band has enjoyed such longevity and consistent acclaim as the Monkeys have one inevitably wonders where do we go from here? In the five year gap since AM many fans have speculated how the Arctic Monkeys would make their grand return, would they revel further in the riffs and harmonies of their last album or would they double down on the retro influences that have been present all throughout their career most notably on their 2011 album Suck it and See, or would it be something completely different?

Upon first listen of the band’s sixth LP Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, it’s safe to say completely different is the route the band has taken. Their first album in five years finds Alex Turner and company occupying a lounge act residency on a fictional casino and hotel located on the moon, safe to say we’re not in Sheffield anymore.  Musically the latest LP swaps out the band’s ever-trusted guitar for the piano and creates a mood and atmosphere that’s equal parts Hunky Dory/Ziggy era Bowie, Psychedelic 60’s pop, electronica and the 70’s singer-songwriter aesthetic of artists such as Elton John ( It’ll make sense when you listen to the record trust me).  Not only do we witness a great shift musically but lyrically as well. On past records Turner was spending time examining personal relationships and past heart-breaks, however here his thematic concerns and songwriting have become much grander and denser tackling themes such as technology, communication, society and even in the album’s already iconic opening lines The Strokes.  The overall result is perhaps the most conceptual, challenging and arguably most ambitious set of songs the Monkeys have ever attempted to put on wax.

What distinguishes Tranquility Base right away is it’s heavy reliance on imagery more so than on any other of their albums, opener “Star Treatment” offers such vivid tidbits as “I’m a big name in deep space ask your mates but golden boy’s in bad shape” or “Maybe I was a little too wild in the 70’s back down to Earth with a lounge singer shimmer”. Such cinematic portraits match up alongside jazzy key changes, soulful harmonies and subtle musical shifts creating an immersive universe that’s retro yet modern all at once.  The structure of the songs here rely less on the choruses and hooks the band have employed in the past as the compositions have an openness and texture that allow the listener to explore the spaces in-between.  The following track “One-Point Perspective” begins with hip-hop style piano chords before making way for an Eagles-esque riff mid-way through and the title track shuffles in with Ziggy Stardust-style guitar accompanied by new-wave tinged synths.  Many of the tracks found on Tranquility are memorable for the details laying hidden to be discovered, the spaghetti-western strings on “The World’s first-ever Monster Truck Front Flip”, the spooky keyboards coursing through “BatPhone” or the glam-rock guitar riffs that are most dominant in stand-outs “Four Out of Five” and “She Looks Like Fun”.

If all of this is making the album sound like a lot admittedly this is not a work built on any form of instant gratification or commercial prospects. That notion may disappoint many established and new Arctic Monkeys fans and at times it can be a perplexing and polarizing listen but it wouldn’t be the Monkeys if it didn’t hold a certain absurd charm and sly wit running throughout it all. Current single “Four out of Five” takes an infomercial on gentrification and turns it into a whirling and theatrical tour-de force something that only a band such as the Monkeys would even dare to consider pulling off and track “Science Fiction” mixes meta-commentary and vulnerability with lines such as “So I tried to write a song to make you blush but I’ve a feeling that the whole thing may well just end up too clever for it’s own good”.  Anybody searching this record far and wide for another ” R U Mine?” or “Arabella” will most likely turn up empty-handed but the rewards that Tranquility Base does provide are just as captivating and engrossing in their own way.  More so than most albums in this day and age, Tranquility Base encourages active listening with lyrics that are meant for dissection and arrangements that lodge themselves into the brain drawing you back to certain songs just to replay specific sections.

Change is something every great band or artist has to do at one point in their careers.  After the one-two punch of Low and Heroes David Bowie released Lodger one of the most under-evaluated albums of his career and Lou Reed followed his commercial smash Transformer with the bleak and downcast rock opera Berlin.Post-Joshua Tree, U2 released some of their most wildly experimental works such as Zooropa and Pop deviating away from their brand of stadium rock into experimental trips through electric and dance music.  What Tranquility Base has in common with all of these albums is that it’s a body of work which re-postions the band’s identity and artistic mission right after a commercial and critical break-through.  The immense amount of pressure to fold to trends and expectations was sky-high here but the Arctic Monkeys have triumphed once again here by subverting said expectations and following through on their personal artistic intentions.  It may take a 3rd, 4th or even 5th listen to truly grasp it’s importance but Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino showcases an astonishing progression for the band and demonstrates the very characteristics that have defined them as one of the most dynamic  groups of their time.

Songs to Spin: Star Treatment, Four out of Five, She Looks Like Fun, World’s First Ever Front-Facing Monster Truck Flip, BatPhone.

 

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