‘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
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?
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