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Arctic Monkeys continue to disappoint on AM

By John Lavanga / A&E Editor

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Arctic Monkeys

AM

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Sounds Like: Arctic Monkeys can’t remember when they used to be rascals

“Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment.”

That was front man Alex Turner’s opening line on Arctic Monkeys riveting debut LP, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Little did he know how prophetic that line would be for the career of the undeniably promising yet somewhat mercurial British rockers. After setting the bar high with its 2006 debut and stellar 2007 follow up, Favorite Worst Nightmare, the band decided to undergo a serious shift in its sound over the next six years that has made many listeners scratch their heads in confusion. For fans of the indie-rock outfit’s obstinate, hard-drinking early years, it felt as though Turner and company had lost their way.

On AM, the band takes this shift to new levels, shedding any semblance of the fun-loving group of rapscallions it once was. Instead, they’ve discarded their naughty nights for niceness and produced a collection of slow-going, sweetly crooned tracks with arena-rock stylings that are touching at best, boring most of the time and sickeningly sappy at their worst.

The album isn’t without any merit. The opening two tracks show distinct promise. On “Do I Wanna Know?” Turner’s sad-lover shtick comes across as arrestingly honest. With lines like, “There’s this tune I found/ that makes me think of you somehow/ and I play it on repeat/ until I fall asleep,” he pours his heart out over an old flame as the band slowly adds layer after layer of intensity, without ever losing the undertones of a sad, drunk and lonely night.

“R U Mine?” kicks up the intensity, albeit with a drop in quality. With driving, slightly fuzzy guitar riffs and the oft-repeated refrain of “Are you mine?” Turner and company manage to eke out a track that, though it may be a cookie-cutter radio hit, is at least catchy and engaging.

The rest of the album doesn’t fare quite so well. The band buries their exciting former selves with languorously slow songs that somehow still manage to draw from the classic-rock guitar work of bands like Black Sabbath (there’s a tinge of “War Pigs” to track four, “Arabella”) and also maintain Alex Turner’s undeniably sexy vocals with some overplayed falsetto backing vocals. The result is a confusing blend of styles that, though it can border on sexy, is more likely to bewilder the listener.

Few of the tracks on this album are outstandingly awful; they simply lack the same sort of brash originality and personality that was so glaringly obvious on previous Arctic Monkeys releases. In its place is a mellowed-out sound that seems content to resemble poppy tracks from scores of different eras. All of these are pleasant enough to slot in nicely on the radio, but none are bold enough to satisfy fans who are still waiting for the band to revert to their former brash glory.

If anything really makes this album a disappointment, though, it’s the lyrics. Although his first foray into the role of heartbroken and sensitive singer is touching, Turner quickly wears out his welcome. His voice carries enough sensitivity with it to make nearly any line fit for a bedroom romp, but as the album progresses, the come-ons get worse and worse, finally reaching their low on the last track, “I Wanna be Yours,” in which Turner croons, “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner/ breathing in your dust.”

It’s hard to listen to AM and not long for the days when the Arctic Monkeys were the bards of drunken Sheffield, England, streets, furiously tearing through raucous adrenaline- and booze-loaded songs  — Turner shooting his smart mouth off about knackered Converses, late night battles with bouncers and brutes with badges.. 

As baseball legend Casey “The Old Perfessor” Stengel once said, “The trick is growing up without growing old.” It’s a shame baseball never caught on across the pond.

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Arctic Monkeys continue to disappoint on AM