Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See

by Alexander Segall Rating:7 Release Date:2011-06-06

It's been a short two years since Humbug, and Alex Turner's not been hiding away - solo songs, songwriting for others, scoring Submarine. Back in the bosom of Arctic Monkeys, he's churned out a solid bit of retro-leaning rock music in Suck It and See.

Lyrically, there are references to popular songs past and present, including the classic Arctic Monkeys song 'Dancing Shoes'. This is a problem for me, as instead of taking another great leap forward as they did with Humbug, this effort seems like a consolidation. Sonically, the album melds the slightly-faster-than-midtempo groove of the first albums, the wide open desert-rock spaces of Humbug with the Phil Spector obsession of his Last Shadow Puppets persona. Even the artwork references the 60s, with the White Album being the obvious parallel.

Kicking off with 'She's Thunderstorms', Turner introduces his main allegorical theme on the album, the weather. There are storms, skies, stars, and a lot of craning back the neck and looking up. Considering the 'you' isn't a bunch of mates, but a seemingly significant other, I could get psychoanalytical, but that would belie the point that he's certainly moved away from the observational to the metaphysical. The opener is a good example of the sonic consolidation, with the epic echo of the 60s pop maestros, allied to twangy Humbug era guitars, and that more mature lyrical imagery.

'Black Treacle', apart from being the Sheffield answer to the Stones' 'Brown Sugar', carries this sky-laden lyrical theme into the stratosphere. Cleaner, clearer and tighter, it's a great song, but not as punchy as its successor, 'Brick By Brick', a brilliant dig back into the punkier vitality of their youth, but glossed with a huge wall of sound. The guitars are pure Homme, though, and this is one of the only gripes I have with the album as a whole - there are times when I do wonder how much working with Josh Homme has taken away the incredibly tight feeling of a band you felt on the first two albums, and turned it into the Alex Turner show.

'Hellcat Spangled Shalalala', apart from having a ridiculously stupid name, fails because it sounds too much like a lost 60s recording. As with other bands who mine the past a little too religiously, here Turner and Co lose sight of what made them so good in the first place, and focus on sounding like Phil Spector and The Small Faces, with a smattering of The Beatles for good measure. The best phrase on the album is buried deep within one of the verses, though: "I took the batteries out my mysticism and put 'em in my thinking cap/ She's got a telescopic hallelujah hanging up on the wall/ For when it gets too complicated in the eye of the storm".

Despite having a title like a Fall Out Boy song, 'Don't Sit Down 'Cos I've Moved Your Chair' has real menace, darkness and bite, as well as being one of the heaviest, most stoner sounding songs they've ever unleashed. This promises to be one of the best songs to translate into a live setting, as the ending guitar solo could go on for quite a long time; conversely, 'Library Pictures' is almost a throwback to 2008, sounding like a perfect fit for Favourite Worst Nightmare.

This more aggressive midsection provides the momentum to carry through to the second side. 'All My Own Stunts' seems, lyrically, like an update to the classic 'Dancing Shoes'. Sonically, it's a screaming pounding rush of a tune, dragging the Californian desert to Yorkshire. It's the last really aggresive tune, as the album calms down with 'Reckless Serenade', another debut-esque ballad. Like that album, it's rather heavy on the observational detail. In direct contrast, 'Piledriver Waltz' is almost reminiscient of Blur's Parklife in the elevation of the mundanity to something stellar, in this case, turning the roadworks outside his window into a classical dance. Chucking in references to Elvis's 'Heartbreak Hotel' into the half-time chorus is a stroke of genius, which makes up for the utter boredom that is 'Love is a Laserquest'.

Rounding out the disc are the title track, an echoey paean to the shortness of skirts and the writing of pop song odes to the rarity of his girl (the fairly suggestive title and its use in the chorus just screams 'roadie sex' but who am I to judge...) and the last song, 'That's Where You're Wrong', which almost seems titled and placed to ensure that we really are wrong about Mr Turner. A fine way to end the album, with "jealousy in technicolour" and "love by numbers" ripping his heart apart alongside machine gun drums. There're yet more sky-based images and a suitably widescreen production.

In the end, it seems that the stay out in the US, the experiments outside the band and Turner's growing maturity have taken Arctic Monkeys from the TV series detail of their first albums to the cinematic scope of their latter period sound. A solid effort, but the sky is quite literally the limit for Turner's imagination, it seems.

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