Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Sheffield’s finest.
Arctic Monkeys have enjoyed more than a decade-long reign as tastemakers and frontrunners of modern rock and roll. Their energetic guitars, indefatigable drums, and moody bass lines are what first caught our attention, but it was frontman Alex Turner’s writing that made us fall in love with them. Turner’s balance of poetic and picturesque meets blunt and brusque lyrics was a highlight from the first time we heard them as rowdy, North England teenagers.
Thanks to the then-burgeoning world of MySpace and the democratization of music, they were already considered the biggest new band in rock music since Oasis before their first album dropped. We’ve seen them through their early years, when they were passionately jaded and unpolished, all the way to their last album, AM, where they brought us perhaps their most popular songs to date.
Now, with a new album out, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, we’ve reminisced and re-listened to every album (like we ever stopped) in an attempt to make sense of the Sheffield rockers’ remarkable catalog.
06. Humbug (2009)
“Calm, Collected and Commanding” (Mood): Following the accelerated indie-punk of the band’s previous two albums, Arctic Monkeys opt for something calmer and more foreboding. Queen of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Humbug’s producer, is largely responsible for this stark musical change. It was recorded out of Homme’s studio in the desert, and he incorporated a sense of maturity and restraint, two key elements that distinguish Humbug as a historical shift in the band’s sound. Songs are slower and not quite as catchy, but this results in a gradual work. Humbug opens itself to the listener with each listen.
“I Play It on Repeat” (Catchiest Chorus): Humbug isn’t a record laden with instantly recognizable choruses such as “Fake Tales of San Francisco” or “Fluorescent Adolescent”, but its lead single, “Crying Lightning”, is bound to get stuck in your head. Its repetitive drum pattern and Alex Turner’s vocal melody complement each other to make for one of the most memorable choruses from this record.
“Through Curly Straws and Metaphors” (Standout Lyric): “What came first, the chicken or the dickhead?” from “Pretty Visitors”
“Oh, There Ain’t No Love” (Most Underrated Track): Although “Cornerstone” was released as the second single, it still doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. As one of two songs from Humbug written in a major key, “Cornerstone” is a standout among the album’s ominous atmosphere. However, don’t let the joyous instrumentation fool you; this is perhaps the most bleak song on the album. Turner desperately misses his ex-girlfriend and sees her everywhere he goes. He even insinuates the death of his former lover (“Under the warning light/ She was close, close enough to be your ghost”).
“One for the Road” (Best Live Song): “Pretty Visitors”, a song about the band’s immense success and their own live show, is also the most exciting from Humbug to witness live. It’s the most lively song on the album, and Matt Helders’ impressive drum fills infuse the song with a brisk, kinetic energy. The bridge is loud and brazen and slows down into one final sing-along chorus, a necessary element to an engaging performance.
“I Gotta Tell You the Truth” (General Analysis): Humbug is often an overlooked piece in Arctic Monkeys’ discography. Although it’s the weakest album they have released thus far, it’s still an integral part of the band’s style and history. It’s important to recognize what this record did for the band. It was a reinvention of songwriting that paved the path for albums such as Suck It and See and AM. It might not have as many memorable moments compared to their other albums, but this maturation was a necessary step in Arctic Monkeys’ evolution and success.