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Altrok Showcase w/ Sean Carolan

CD of The Week

Week of 10/31/22

    Arctic Monkeys - The Car (Domino)

    The career trajectory of Arctic Monkeys is truly unparalleled. Breaking out with 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the Sheffield quartet became superstars in the UK and even a gold-selling act in the U.S., marking them as one of the biggest of the onslaught of post-punk revival bands that emerged around that time. Three subsequent albums followed with the band gradually incorporating different sonic textures, but largely receiving diminishing commercial success and critical attention across the pond. Their fifth effort, 2013’s AM changed everything. Adding arena rock influences to their sound and marrying these influences to catchy-as-hell tunes about universal, rather than distinctly British, subject matter, Arctic Monkeys became one of the biggest bands in the world. Rather than bask in the glory, frontman/primary songwriter Alex Turner composed a lounge-y, decidedly non-rocking science-fiction concept album with 2018’s follow-up, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Almost intentionally designed to be divisive, the band’s commercial status in the U.S. faded upon the album’s release (it still topped the charts in most of Europe), but the album revealed itself to be deeply rewarding and frequently hilarious upon multiple listens even if the hooks were often buried under an abstract exterior.

    That brings us to The Car. If Tranquility Base… was a sharp left turn from the Monkeys’ previous work, The Car continues down the same road as before, but the scenery outside looks different. The album is a good deal less challenging than its predecessor and the mood tends toward melancholy rather than irony.  It’s far from conventional rock though, as the luxurious string arrangements by Turner, producer James Ford, and collaborator Bridget Samuels, often form the primary soundscape. They complement Turner’s lyrics (which are the rare combination of cryptic yet emotionally evocative) beautifully, reflecting heartbreaking sentiments such as “But it ain’t a holiday until they force you to make a wish / they say climb up this and jump off that / and you pretend to fall asleep on the way” on the title track. Turner also utilizes his falsetto croon frequently to great effect on the album in order to express desperation and vulnerability, new qualities not usually associated with Arctic Monkeys, or contemporary male-sung indie in general.

    On a song-by-song level, The Car’s wonderfully adventurous spirit comes clearly into view. If Tranquility Base felt very consistent sonically, Turner and his band draw on a broader range of influences on the new album. “Sculptures of Anything Goes” takes cues from industrial in its spooky opening verse while “Hello You” feels reminiscent of 80s synthpop with its bright chorus and lightly funky groove. “Body Paint” is The Car’s best song, using a baroque blueprint for lyrics that cleverly address the cumulative impact of deceptions and lies in a romantic relationship all before wah-wah pedals are given a spotlight on an intense guitar-driven outro.

    The Car is not designed to return Arctic Monkeys to the top of corporate radio playlists, but Alex Turner and his exceptionally gifted band have crafted a spectacular, singular, string-filled album that rewards active listening. Sincere and audacious in equal measure, the album confirms that Arctic Monkeys are one of the best rock bands around, even if they don’t “rock” nearly as much as they used to.

    Arctic Monkeys will return to Philadelphia along with Fontaines D.C. at The Mann Center, but not until September 5, 2023.
    Review by Sol

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