Arctic Monkeys - Suck it and See
Record Label: Domino Recording Company
Release Date: June 6, 2011
For those who ventured into the desert with the Arctic Monkeys and producer extraordinaire Josh Homme for 2009’s Humbug, many of the sounds on Suck it and See aren’t surprising. What’s surprising is how Alex Turner and company blend their newfound riffs and psychedelic explorations with genuine songs. The real treat is that the album is remarkably subtle. My oh my how they’ve grown since that iconic debut that shattered the windows and kicked kids to the dance floor. In many respects, they revived interest in the Jam and Paul Weller, perhaps more so than their heroes in the Libertines. You wouldn’t think so after hearing Suck it and See.
Subtlety was the lesson Turner learned from the Last Shadow Puppets. The greatest successes on his album with Miles Kane were the songs that were cooler, such as "Standing Next to Me" and Turner’s own "My Mistakes Were Made for You." The Age of the Understatement suffered in its most pompous moments, or where some of the material sounded as if it were culled from unused ideas for the Monkeys.
Subtlety was also the lesson Turned learned from Humbug’s greatest achievement: "Cornerstone." Turner’s lyrics are direct, yet still somehow elusive. The story unfolds beautifully and without Turner’s trademarked witty repartee. Instead, he unveils an astonishingly defeated tale of searching for lost love. The melody carries his narrator’s earnest quest, particularly in the yearning bridge where he wonders if he imagined the girl all along. James Ford, who produced "Cornerstone" and two other tracks from Humbug, captures the melancholy spirit of the tune by focusing on Turner’s vocals and subtle guitar treatments—even featuring a reversed guitar solo after the bridge. The song is all the more surprising coming from the same group that blew out "The View From the Afternoon" and "Fluorescent Adolescent." Their ballads never quite gelled very well until "Cornerstone."
Suck it and See meets the subtlety of "Cornerstone" with Humbug’s strange riffs and dark twists and turns, but instead of strictly dark psychedelia, this album offers up some startlingly sensitive songs. The melodies of Jaime Cook’s and Turner’s guitars are by and large much more inclined to sweetness than brash outbursts. Even when Matt Helders’ drums bash the chorus of "She’s Thunderstorms," harmonized vocals effectively sing the titular phrase in a legato manner.
The leadoff single "Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I Moved Your Chair" summarizes Humbug better than anything from that album even could. The dark riffs and surreal lyrics are wholly compelling, and the band’s psychedelia sounds much more lived-in. Coupled with this track for the pre-release was "Brick By Brick," featuring Helders on lead vocals. Simplistic lyrics yes, but the song is served best as a slice of unbridled rock & roll, featuring some guitar work that easily would find itself at home with anything Ron Asheton ever laid down on a six string.
The hardy rocker "Library Pictures" might be the most blistering thing the band’s recorded since "Brianstorm." It gnarls at the roots with Nick O’Malley’s powerful bass, and tosses in some hushed polyrhythmic guitar runs before hurdling into overdrive. It’s a hell of a ride, and easily one of Suck it and See’s highlights. Again, Turner makes use of his new obsession with the surreal, while the band employs some bitter dissonance.
Apart from that, this is the album that explores the Monkeys’ sensitivity. Turner and the group’s ballads are entirely impressive: "The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala," "Reckless Serenade," "Piledriver Waltz," "Love is a Laserquest," and the title track are a remarkable far cry from the debut and Favourite Worst Nightmare. The drudgery of Humbug has been made slick, retaining the weirdness but the emotions are fresher, bracing. It even seems that Turner is more emotionally invested than ever before. Though he might be occasionally self-deprecating, or quite surreal, his melancholy delivery sounds sincere. This is fairly new to the Monkeys’ pallet, and Turner’s. Again, perhaps a lesson learned from "Cornerstone."
By the time the record is over, it’s perfectly clear how much the band has matured and changed. It’s astonishing. Suck it and See proves that the Monkeys are more than just riffs and a turn of phrase, and it pays off in spades.
The only real complaint to have with the album is that there’s no big single. You won’t find a "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" or "Fluorescent Adolescent" here. But, the album plays more consistently than anything the band has put out before. Sure, the debut rips a ton of riffs, and Nightmare is just about perfect except for "Only Ones Who Know," but Suck it and See is constantly interesting, between variations in mood, Turner’s lyrics, and the band’s command of the sounds they discovered on Humbug. For a band who very thoroughly identified themselves through their singles, the shift of focus to the art of the album is no doubt startling for fans who expect a full blast, decidedly unsubtle affair. As the band matures, their grasp of subtlety and aesthetics will only grow stronger, which is positively a good thing. It might be their best album yet.
I like this record, it sounds like a refreshing mood in Arctic Monkeys.
It sounds like they're trying to make us forget about how good were "I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor", and go on to a new level, not above, not below, but far far away from the antecessors.