Don’t be tricked by the ‘Linkin Park’ guitar tinkling that starts this album. These are the same Sheffield boys who made me start coughing into my glass of whisky-tinged milk with their 2006 debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not. In their fourth album, charmingly titled Suck It And See, the music is less frantic; more billowy at times, and certainly more tuneful. But at the front of it all is song-writer-vocalist Alex Turner’s gambolling, daisy-chaining lyrics.
The peppy mood of ‘She’s thunderstorm’ has Alex singing “She’s been loop the looping/Around my mind/ Her motorcycle boots give me/ This kind of acrobatic blood/ Concertina cheating heart beat/ Rapid fire.” I don’t quite know what the lines mean, but I totally get it. The magical ‘Black treacle’ — “Now it’s getting dark and the sky looks sticky/ More like black treacle than tar” — has guitars buzzing all around like dragonflies as a simple song with delirious words walk hands-in-pockets.
The pump shoes come out of the shoe-rack in the heaviness of ‘Brick by brick’. We heard the Arctic Monkeys take this 70s route well enough in their last album, Humbug. The tempo changes along clunk gears and the boys infuse a bottle of swagger into the song worthy of their southern Londoner counterparts. ‘The hellcat sprangled shalalala’ meanders sweetly, bubbling into the eponymous chorus. Is Alex having a dig at his own lyrics when he sings, “I took the batteries out of my mysticism/ and put them in my thinking cap”?
‘Don’t sit down ’cause I’ve moved your chair’ is a a Yorkshire crawler of a number. The constant guitar plonk forms a hard exoskeleton that protects the song from the piledriving going on all around it with its anthemic chorus trying to breach the fort.
We return to vintage Arctic Monkeys in the frenetic ‘Library pictures’, a song that zips past all other vehicles, even as it goes slo-mo in the middle. How a tune like this can ride on bricks of solid words as drums and guitars charge 50s rock’n’roll style, I have no bloomin’ idea.
Queens of the Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme can be heard as a vocal halo in the Yob Goth track ‘All my own stunts’. When Alex sings “Been watching cowboy films/ On gloomy afternoons/ Tinting the solitude/ Put on your dancing shoes/ And show me what to do/ I know you’ve got the moves”, we enter a territory where usually we find Morrissey sitting regally.
That is one funky bassline from Nick O’Malley in ‘Reckless serenade’ (shades of ‘You’re gorgeous’, that 90s blingy hit from fellow Sheffield band Babybird). After which comes the stunning ‘Piledriver waltz’, that through pure tune and words unravel a whole world (“I heard the news that you’re planning/ To shoot me out of a cannon/ I heard the piledriver waltz/ it woke me up this morning.”) If it seems that this dreamy piece of music is dying to become a soundtrack of a film, it already has — Richard Ayoade’s 2010 coming-of-age film Submarine. Yes, as Alex calmly sings “And do you look in the mirror/ to remind yourself you’re there/ Or has somebody’s goodnight kisses/ got that covered?” in the next song, Love is a laserquest, we are indeed looking back at our youths, strangely even if most of us are still youngsters. The title track is a cranky, lo-fi song that is charmingly old-fashioned. And the album ends in a suitably anti-climactical fashion with ‘That’s where you’re wrong.’
This album, to my bootstrapped mind, is the Monkeys’ finest record to date. It contains the scattiness of their early albums. It pours the music out in the right temperature. And the street poetry takes on a seamless wing with this filled out, filled in sound. With Suck It And See, the Arctic Monkeys aren’t a brash, young keds-wearing band any more. They’re on top of their game and have earned the leather.