Arctic Monkeys’ slick image makeover
Arctic Monkeys hope you like their new sartorial direction.
Way, way back in the dim and distant days when provincial English guitar bands could still stake a claim for pop-cultural dominance (2005), Arctic Monkeys arrived as the last of a dying breed: the saviours of rock ’n’ roll. They had the tunes — potent single “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” went straight to number one, back when going straight to number one meant something — and they had the look: market-bought anoraks, unbranded polo shirts and borstal boy fag-holds. Or, as Alex Turner’s lyric had it, “classic Reeboks, or knackered Converse, or tracky bottoms tucked in socks.”
By the release of AM, their fifth and best studio album, in 2013, they’d moved on. The music now embraced hip-hop beats and Seventies rock. The look was swaggering, sneering Link Wray twangers in leather jackets and flamboyant Gram Parsons shirts. They had quiffs and Cuban heels and leggy girlfriends. They looked like the real deal. They were the real deal.
Now, here they are in 2018, launching the oddly titled Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Not so much Arctic Monkeys any more as Turner, Helders, Cook, O’Malley and Partners. Not so much a rock ’n’ roll band as a louchely attired bunch of corporate finance hotshots, Euro hedge funders caught between a threeMartini dinner at Sexy Fish and a night of Champagne carousing at Loulou’s.
Here in the real world, we may still be in the grip of economic austerity but the Arctics are all gussied up for boom time: four Le Rosey-schooled art dealer Wasps from Manhattan whose age, tonsure and tailoring might provide cougar supermodel Heidi Klum with fresh quarry for the coming summer.
But the Monkeys aren’t the first band to choose business over pleasure when it comes to clobber. Like Turner & Co, Heaven 17 come from Sheffield. With two members once part of the Human League, a collective of slide show operators and synth-twiddlers who — in their early days at least — were properly odd and genuinely countercultural, in 1981 Heaven 17 chose to move on from lopsided haircuts and songs about alienation, swapping South Yorkshire post-industrial dystopia for images of Thatcherite entrepreneurialism and go-getters with ponytails.
Their debut album, Penthouse and Pavement, was illustrated with paintings of the band members doing deals, taking phone calls and looking at sales graphs, in a brave new world of glass and steel skyscrapers. They dressed like yuppies in Paul Smith suits and buttoned-up shirts. “Play to Win”, was one song title. If you were a teenager and had less than a tenner to your name, all this was most confusing.
Four years later, in 1985, an even more dramatic luxury rebrand took place, when Dexys Midnight Runners, previously best known for a Romany/ragamuffin look of dungarees and neckerchiefs, launched their Don’t Stand Me Down album dressed as sharp-suited Wall Street traders, in Brooks Brothers pinstripes, with proper shoes and even socks. And suspiciously clean hair. The album, somewhat ironically, proved to be a disastrous commercial flop.
But then the Eighties was the era of power dressing, when pop musicians as different as ex-hippie Eric Clapton, gender-bending Seventies shapeshifter David Bowie and once purist neo-mod Paul Weller, in his new Style Council guise, all succumbed, at least temporarily, to the allure of the smart business suit.
Will Arctic Monkeys’ decision to go from Sheffield scallywags to Square Mile accountants appeal to the market? And, indeed, “the markets”?
The smart money says yes.
Monkey businessmen: the made-over Turner & Co, top, follow suit after Heaven 17 and Dexys Midnight Runners, below