Album Review – Arctic Monkeys – The Car (Domino)


4 stars out of 5- excuse the pun.

“Are you just happy to sit there and watch while the paint job dries?”, questions Alex Turner on the song Jet Skies on The Moat, preparing himself for the inevitable critical backlash of the Arctic Monkeys’ new sonic direction. After canvassing six differing strokes of vibrant colour since their debut, this was to be inevitable. Opinions still differ, but to me they still have a long way to go until they dry up, with this newest record still possesing a lot of colour.

Yes, in many ways the sounds heard on The Car are remarkably new, fitted with a sleeker, more refined, cream-wrapped exterior interior sound than what we are used to. But within these layers, this record still contains all the same components found in the group’s previous Luna-scaped project, Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino, but this time for the better. The engine found on The Car is bought to life especially by it’s nuances, i.e. a vocal performance on the title track which could well be the most dynamic performance of Turner’s career yet. It fits itself with the milage to cross more cinematic musical landscapes than the band have ever turned to before. Sonically the album ventures across their many different musical styles incorporating new exciting elements, from some temperate funk-infused guitar licks, luxurious ascending string arrangements, to industrial-inspired synthesized drum machines, which all culminate to deliver a record that is sumptuously elegant and sleek.

The recently released single, There’d Better Be a Mirrorball, is the albums opening track, and without a doubt it perfectly sets the mood for what’s to be expected throughout the rest of the album. The track successfully offers an introspective gaze into the somewhat enigmatic personal life of Turner. And in many ways as a result of this the track displays a sense of refined maturity not heard before in AM’s work. The feature of sublime string arrangements, partially constructed by frontman Alex Turner, also provides great depth to this creative tale of heartbreak. A perfect settler for a seductively cinematic journey.

In the same regard, track two, I Ain’t Quite Where I think I Am follows, featuring funk-inspired guitar parts, bought alive by 70s-infused ‘wha’ effects which help captivate emotion in ways Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino simply couldn’t. The signature high-pitched backing vocals are performed by the rest of the band, creating an instrumental climax which really does well to provide direction. Now utilizing a more complex layering of ideas (rather than letting their music solely be centred around the ramblings of Turner) and this really brings their songwriting talents to the forefront.

Track 3, Sculptures of Anything Goes features a glimpse into the routes of The Arctic Monkeys AM era, with the use of a heavy industrial drum machine which is enhanced by a Moog synthesiser, influenced by Jamie Cook’s studio experimentation. The synthesised rhythm sits perfectly with Alex Turner’s refined vocal tones which are comfortably his best work to date. The tracks like this one, where the band dive into the cascade of post-punk provides evidence that the group have found an identity which is far more complex than the former thrashing sounds amplified through Tuner’s ice-white strat back in 2006.

Alternatively, Jet Skies on The Mountain exudes a neon elegance which is perfectly contrasted with the off-white sleekness channelled through the piano progressions. It goes to show how musically diverse the group have become while still being able to articulate a sense of creative fluidity which arguably positions The Car as their most fascinating work to date. The multi-layered string arrangements paired with a rising piano motif on this track allow Turner to express his theatrical lyrics in a way that almost lets the listener right into the workings of not only Tuners, but the bands genetic makeup. 

The back half of the album moves into hit or miss territory, starting with the title track The Car, which floats endlessly without seeming to sustain a sense of direction.  Creatively sure, the track exudes captivating folk inspired instrumentation, with acoustic Spanish tones and distorted guitar solos which are dynamic, and position the listener right into a scene from a movie. However, the lyrical arrangements are nothing more than a poorly written script with no real meaning. It seems Turner has got caught recalling a sequence of events from a holiday abroad: with the boat kiosk lady and her sleepy amigos? It’s a lack of context that really lets tracks with high potential like Mr Schwartz, the Car, and Perfect Sense down. Mr Schwartz seems to fit Turner’s spiral of imagination without being able to navigate any real meaning with lines like as Mr Schwartz is staying strong for the crew, Wardrobe’s lint-rollin’ your velveteen suit.

There are even some clear nods to the crunchy guitar finesse that initially bought the group into stardom back in 2006. Tracks such as Big Ideas further strengthen the group’s case for the soundtrack to the next James Bond theme; while the stunningly beautiful Hello You brings the record home. The bright electric synthesised keyboards provide a gaze into what must be described as one of the Monkeys’ most engaging pieces of work to date. The final track, Perfect Sense sounds like it could be a love song from the ’60s which subsequently results in a charmingly beautiful sunset paired with the velvet tone heard in Turner’s voice marking the ending of a very luxurious album.