The Car | Zoey Preston
After a four-year hiatus, Arctic Monkeys is back with two singles off their new album The Car, set to release October 21, 2022. Their new music, needless to say, has a very different flavor from their earlier albums. For an Arctic Monkeys fan, this shift from their old Brit-pop and indie rock to an orchestral, string-laden sound is somewhat jarring, especially when we were all hoping for an AM 2.0. I know when I pulled up their new release on Spotify, I was shocked by how different the instrumentation was from their previous albums that I listen to and enjoy so much.
But, when I contextualize this shift between sounds within the band’s history, it becomes not all that surprising.
I have always been a fan of Arctic Monkeys’s album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and its dirty garage band sound. Its punchy guitar riffs and lyrics about running from the police and dancing like a robot from 1984 characterize it as part of the 2000s post-punk revival, similar to sounds of the Strokes and the White Stripes. After their rise to fame on the internet from early demos, their first full length LP was a massive success, even being regarded as one of the best debut albums of all time. Tim Jonze wrote in his review of the album in NME magazine, “Essentially this is a stripped-down, punk rock record with every touchstone of Great British Music covered: The Britishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of The Stone Roses, the anthems of Oasis, the clatter of The Libertines.” Their 2007 sophomore album, Favorite Worst Nightmare had the same indie rock crunch and biting humor, only more refined and with tighter dynamics. Still, the songs were full of storytelling, staccato, almost rap-like lyrics, and lots of romance. The band was relatable and witty, skyrocketing their popularity.
Surprisingly, the band’s style evolved while creating their third album, Humbug in 2008. Recorded in the famous Joshua Tree studio Rancho De La Luna and produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Humbug sounds swampy and psychedelic. Beyond Homme, the band cited Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and Cream as influences and it’s apparent: the sound is a lot darker and almost surfy. Frontman Alex Turner said about the album, “It just feels like, before, we were trying to catch up with ourselves constantly and this time it doesn’t feel like that. It felt more considered and more thought-out. And while it was still… we never really had a plan or anything like that, and it was still kind of chopped and channeled to some degree, but it just seems to be more… thorough.” Humbug was an apparent step in a different direction, but was intentional; the first two albums may have been a mass success, but the band knew turning in a different direction was the right choice for their future and relevance. In his review of the album, Alexis Petrides writes, “You can either keep chasing an elusive past, relying on your fans' nostalgia, or you can press on, keeping your gaze fixed forward.” They continued down that path, releasing more sparkly brit-pop tracks on Suck It and See. Arctic Monkeys grew as experimenters, songwriters, and musicians with these two albums, bringing a refreshing taste to each new release.
But their next form of evolution with AM was shockingly perfect. Turner described the album as “like a Dr. Dre beat, but we’ve given it an Ike Turner bowl-cut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster.” It’s an iconic, masterful, genre-spanning accumulation of Hip Hop, R&B, and classic rock. AM really is a musical coming of age. It keeps the band’s character with the same rhythmic, romantic lyrics. It has Humbug’s haunting darkness with a perfectly clean and curated sound. It is still full of charm and personality even without the dirty, sharply snarky teenage rebellion in their early albums, a break from their former “four lads playing in a room” kind of style. Of course, it was massively successful and remains relevant and popular today. Ryan Dombal perfectly sums this up in his review of the album: “over the last eight years, as they've gone from spastic punk, to doomed stoner rock, to sparkling guitar pop, to this new album's skinny-jeaned funk, Arctic Monkeys have stayed close to the spirit of their debut's title while minimizing its excess at the same time.”
Both singles off of The Car sound out of place to those who have only listened to Arctic Monkeys’ earlier albums. They almost feel like something out of Hamilton, and Alex’s upper register on Body Paint is a part of his range we have not heard much of in the past. Considering Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, their 2018 album, kept the same moody, brooding attitude and undertones of rock even with a piano-heavy feel, I only hope the new album stays aligned with the band’s previous spirit. Even so, Alex Turner has experimented with orchestral instrumentation in the past. The Last Shadow Puppets, a collaboration between Turner and Miles Kane from the Rascals, have several LPs with cinematically orchestrated tracks. The new album’s instrumentation is interesting, sure. But it’s not completely unexpected.
Say what you will about The Car, but looking at their past discography, change in Arctic Monkeys between each album is inevitable. Foo Fighters, on the other hand, are often criticized for their refusal to evolve. They let fans relive the grunge movement of the 90s and have kept a similar core sound throughout their career. They do it well, selling out stadium shows and making Grammy award winning rock albums. They are literally in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their genre has never shifted though. They’ve experimented but stayed aligned with the same style they’ve always had: big thundering drums, Dave Grohl’s gravely belting, and jammy grunge guitar riffs. All of this is not to say I don’t love Foo Fighters — they are a powerful band and have continued to make fantastic rock music over literal generations. But they lack a musical coming of age.
Will The Car be a good album or not? That’s up to you to decide. But it definitely won’t be the garage rock anthems I was hoping for. Whether we like it or not, Arctic Monkeys has always, and will always be a band that evolves. Each album occupies its own unique sonic space, encapsulating different points in time yet remaining timeless in their own sense. Listening to them chronologically feels like growing up with the band. The Car is just their next innovative step.
I, for one, am not completely sold. Spoken like a true music snob, maybe I’ll just stick to the classics.