The Arctic Monkeys' new album is called Suck It and See, a title that's gotten the band in trouble with some retailers in America, who refuse to sell it without a sticker covering the phrase. That's a shame, because I think this album is a legitimate attempt to be more appealing to a broader audience than just the Brit fans who love these guys. I remember the phrase being used in commercials (we called them ads) by a candy (we called them sweets) company when I was a kid. It just means 'try it, you might like it'. That's exactly what these guys would like you to do — especially, perhaps, if you have never liked their stuff before. They've toned down the English quirkiness, the language play that was akin to The Streets or Jamie T, and sometimes hard to translate here and they've broadened their dynamic range.
It's an ambitious album in an era when there are few 'new' real basic 4-man, meat-and-potatoes rock outfits out there big enough to headline a festival. Even the cover of the album, thankfully sent to us on vinyl, has echoes of The Beatles and U2. The outside cover being just the title in plain black type set against an off white sleeve. Will it be forever known as the 'off-white album'?!?! Inside a gatefold sleeve are the four figures dwarfed by a big landscape a la Joshua Tree. Like U2 of that era, AM have one foot on either side of the pond. Singer Alex Turner spends time living in New York and the band recorded their last album with Josh Homme in the desert. Their sound has matured with these influences, and Matt Helders is an especially good drummer. Try to isolate his sound and follow his runs through a whole song... it's tough.
In conversation, Alex Turner can still be hard to understand, as Bill and Mary have found out in sessions, but his delivery here is clearer than ever. His side project The Last Shadow Puppets was string-laden and slower, involving more real singing, and there are shadows of that work here, too. His voice control is exceptional. He knows his range but adds little tricks and ticks, simple clicking sounds, to his delivery that enrich his words. Words are big for Alex, he's a clever writer, sometimes too clever. He has to tone it down deliberately so that he's not too nuanced for a 3-minute pop song. The perfect example here is the single that we've been playing, "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair." For me, the chorus phrase harks back to schoolboy pranks which are not very smart, and it's not strong enough to work as a sing-a-long unless you absolutely don't care what it means. But when the phrase is juxtaposed with the rest of the song, it does become tangled up in delightful double meanings.
Having listened to it on the vinyl copy, I've noticed the pacing of this record too: it's deliberately double sided. That single is track 5, solidifying the first side as a progression, but a familiar one. Tellingly the side ends after the next song "Library Pictures' with a brilliant, laughable, kiss-off for such an accomplished lyricist: "Give me an eanie, meanie minie mo/ Or an ip, dip, dog s**t rock and roll," as if to say yeah this stuff is easy for us now, let's try something different.
Side two is more nuanced, with strong ballads and more attempts to fly musically and with words. You can even see it on the lyric sheet; the songs are longer and more involved on the page. Sometimes, it doesn't work — "That's not a skirt girl that's a sawn off shotgun/ And I can only hope you've got it aimed at me" — and sometimes it soars, even in the same song, 'Suck It And See': "You're rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock/ And those other girls are just postmix lemonade."
Perhaps that ONLY works for me as I used to love the drink when I was young, and you don't see it over here. If the idea of a soda made from dandelion and burdock makes you wince or if Arctic Monkeys have never worked for ya, try this, you might like it. Suck it and see indeed!