‘They sound like aul fel­las’

So up rolls an­other Arc­tic Mon­keys al­bum, but will it spark ex­cite­ment in the boys, or just make them an­noyed? Is it one they should avoid? Three in­mates of Cork Prison tell Daragh Downes what they re­ally think

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - The Album Club -

WHEN ARC­TIC MON­KEYS first came on the scene in 2006, Sean was blown away by the en­ergy and catch­i­ness of songs such as I Bet You Look Good On the Dance­floor and When the Sun Goes Down. But noth­ing in the band’s post-teenage out­put has come close to rekin­dling that early ex­cite­ment. And he is sorry to re­port that Suck It And See marks a new low for Alex Turner and com­pany.

“As a fan of their mu­sic I came to this al­bum with great ex­pec­ta­tions. But by the fi­nal track I was like Tom Hanks in Cast Away with a beard.

“And that’s what this al­bum should be – cast away. It didn’t do it for me at all. It’s just dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions on the same song. The singer isn’t do­ing any­thing great with his voice. No big notes, no low notes.

“It’s the same kind of level the whole time. On Brick by Brick, for ex­am­ple, he sings the same lyrics over and over again, build­ing us up ‘ brick by brick’ for a gui­tar solo that doesn’t come. It’s a safe al­bum.

“There used to be a bit of umph in their mu­sic, there’s none in this. For me there was no sto­ry­line, just one or two songs that stuck out.” He points to the weird over-ma­tu­rity of words and mu­sic. “They’re kind of af­ter los­ing the lit­tle spark they had. They sound like aul fel­las now, like men in their thir­ties – even though they’re still only young fel­las. They sound old and bland. There’s no fun in them any­more. fo­cused the en­tire time on the lyrics. And, with one glo­ri­ous ex­cep­tion on Reck­less Ser­e­nade (“I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out ex­actly what it is I need/ Called up to lis­ten to the voice of rea­son/ And got the an­swer­ing ma­chine”), the lyrics here just aren’t up to all that much. James’ ad­vice for the band is sim­ple: for­get Amer­ica, lads. “Go to Eng­land, go back to Sh­effield and live in a tent for a cou­ple of months.

“You might get it back that way. Amer­ica doesn’t suit you. It’s not work­ing for you at all. It was a bad move. Bet­ter to be big in Eng­land than to be poor in Eng­land and Amer­ica. That’s be­ing bru­tally hon­est.” Un­like Sean, Colin never got into Arc­tic Mon­keys first time around. So he came to this al­bum with­out ex­pec­ta­tions. But his ver­dict is no less neg­a­tive. “I don’t know, it just seems very flat to me, noth­ing I didn’t hear be­fore. Just an or­di­nary band as such.” He backs Sean’s anal­y­sis of the lyrics. “They’re not writ­ing from life ex­pe­ri­ences, it’s like they’re fan­ta­sists or some­thing. Go­ing to a place that they haven’t re­ally been and get­ting it wrong. The fan­tasy has to have some kind of re­al­ity to it that peo­ple can con­nect to. They’re try­ing to sound more ma­ture than they are, maybe – and get­ting it wrong. I found it very false. There’s no free­dom in their mu­sic. They are try­ing too hard . . . be­cause the mu­sic isn’t great you’re jump­ing into the lyrics to find some­thing and it’s just not there. Not for me, any­way.”

But how do four young rock stars gain ac­cess to the kind of ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ence that in­formed their ear­lier ma­te­rial? Is it not a bit like the old fridge-light prob­lem – you can’t open the door to take a look in­side with­out an ar­tif­i­cal light go­ing on? “Fair enough, but why not sing about the back of the tour­bus then? I’m sure there’s some shenani­gans there. Or why not take all the neg­a­tives out of this al­bum – the neg­a­tive feed­back that they’re prob­a­bly go­ing to get off it – and try to make some­thing pos­i­tive out of that, lyri­cally? Why not make a new al­bum based on the ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting crappy re­views?”

Colin is at pains to sin­gle out one song for un­stint­ing praise: al­bum teaser Brick by Brick. It was the only track that re­ally con­nected with him on a vis­ceral level. The im­agery of be­ing built up, bro­ken down and re­con­structed brick by brick “brought me back to heroin ad­dic­tion and some ex­pe­ri­ences in prison, things I didn’t re­ally want to re­mem­ber, you know?” He even found him­self won­der­ing if the singer was an ex­pris­oner. “But that might be just to­tally my own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, I might be lyri­cally tone deaf. That’s the song I lis­tened to the most. It was a head trip thing, it just jumped into pun­ish­ment block in my head. It just brought me there.” And – uniquely for this al­bum – the mus­cu­lar mu­sic on Brick By Brick was a per­fect match for its lyrics. a “crazy lead gui­tar”. Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair was “a nice heavy rock tune, for a split sec­ond I thought I was lis­ten­ing to Nir­vana”. All My Own Stunts brought an­other favourite group to mind, Queens of the Stone Age. But the al­bum as a whole just didn’t add up to a co­her­ent lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “Un­like with their ear­lier stuff, there was just no direc­tion on this al­bum. There’s noth­ing here that’s go­ing to pull peo­ple in.” His diagnosis of the prob­lem chimes with that of Sean and Colin: the boys seem crip­pled by self-con­scious­ness. “I think they’re af­ter grow­ing up a bit and are try­ing too hard, they’re think­ing about it too much. Their ear­lier stuff was like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do it’.

“It is as if they put it to­gether brick by brick. Do you know when you build a house with a deck of cards and then you get to the top and it just col­lapses? There’s no foun­da­tion to this stuff.”

He leaves us with a bril­liant evo­ca­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing with Suck It And See. “Arc­tic Mon­keys have gone and left me feel­ing cold. The whole way through­out this al­bum I was wait­ing for the sun to rise and the snow to melt. Even at two or three points I thought the light might break through the clouds. But no, that ended up be­ing the rock I per­ished on. At stages I felt like Tom Crean on an Antarc­tic jour­ney with a don­key who had lost his legs so I ended up car­ry­ing him through the snow, just to save the don­key’s life.” Antarc­tic Don­keys, any­one?

Elec­tric Pic­nic Spe­cial! We give

Pulp’s Dif­fer­ent Class

a fresh lis­ten. Guests: Gavin Fri­day, Gemma

Hayes, Naoise Nunn (Mind­field) & Avril Stan­ley (Body & Soul)

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