Strings, jet skis and a mysterious man named Mr Schwartz: a track by track of the new Arctic Monkeys.
1. There’d Better Be a Mirrorball
Let’s get straight to the point: The Car is not new Tranquility Base Hotel & Casinothe album with which Arctic Monkeys released the arena rock of predecessor and chef d’oeuvre four years ago AM (2013) turned his back on radically. Tranquility Base was Arctic Monkeys in space, a concept album as a Stanley Kubrick soundtrack. The Car is just as cinematographic, but a lot wider, lighter and – yes – more accessible. Or as Alex Turner put it in the British street newspaper The Big Issue said, ‘The sci-fi is off the table, we’re back on Earth.’
The proof is immediately delivered in opener and forward single There’d Better Be a Mirrorball. No disco, but a break-up song packaged like a Bond number from the sixties. ‘Do you wanna walk me to the car?’ Turner wonders. Walking to the car with your loved one will never be the same.
The sci-fi is off the table, we’re back on Earth.
2. I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am
Turner once again wrote the picket fences of the new Arctic Monkeys record solo, from behind his Steinway & Sons. It was only later that the rest of the group was brought in. More specifically during the European Football Championship of 2021, where they watched with the entire band between the recordings. (Turner gave his comeback interview earlier this year to the French sports newspaper for a reason L’Equipe.)
‘In the summer of the European Championship we spent two or three weeks with the boys as a band in the English countryside’, says Turner. “I then stepped away from the piano for a while and enjoyed playing wahwah guitar again.” It’s that wahwah guitar you hear in I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am, a song that might as well have been from Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. Of everything you put in the trunk of The Car you will find, this is by far the most funky and catchy.
3. Sculptures of Anything Goes
Dark, cumbersome but fat: with some good will you can Sculptures of Anything Goes like distant relatives Humbug (2009), the third of the Monkeys produced by Josh Homme. Although the deep bass and pulsating electronic drums are actually unreleased Arctic Monkeys, and in that respect the song is more reminiscent of that rare time that Nick Cave – in Rings of Saturn from Skeleton Tree – suddenly started flirting with electronics.
More than anywhere else on the record, Alex Turner’s on-again, off-again relationship with rock music is highlighted here. ‘I wanted the rock band bit turn it on and off,” he declared The Guardian. ‘On sculptures the rock band slide is opened here and there for a measure or two, only to be pushed back again.’
4. Jet Skis on the Moat
Summer 2014. A Canadian journalist speaks with Alex Turner and drummer Matt Helders in front of a concert hall in Toronto, on the shores of Lake Ontario, but sees his interview cut short when suddenly two men on a jet ski pass by and start calling for the Monkeys. (Things like, “Which band is playing tonight? The Arctic Monkeys? Is that you?” To which Alex Turner: “You bet!”) Turner was apparently having so much fun doing that. Jet Skis on the Moat – there are the wahwahgi cakes again! — could be based on that particular interview from eight years ago. At least, that’s what some Arctic Monkeys fans on the internet claim. Or they just have too much time.
5. Body Paint
The second forward single, and according to many fans ‘the best Arctic Monkeys since AM has made it heard,” the British newspaper polled The Independent. Anyway is body paint the most versatile song on the entire album, half a rock opera in which Turner, like the Bowie of the mid-seventies, croons over keys, guitars and strings. Lots of strings.
Turner wrote a large part of the string arrangements for this album himself and had them edited by Bridget Samuels, the artistic director of the London Orchestrate who previously produced soundtracks for films such as Under the Skin (with Scarlett Johansson), Jackie (with Natalie Portman) and Midsommar (with Florence Pugh) supervised. Do you immediately know how it is The Car sounds so cinematic and grand.
6. The Car
From big to small: title song The Car is one of the quietest on the record. Acoustic guitars predominate. The ‘sleepy amigos’ about whom Turner sings here only reinforce the mariachi feeling.
Incidentally, the album title came after Alex Turner saw a photo of patented hobby photographer Matt Helders with a car on the roof of an abandoned parking garage. “I immediately got the impression that that had to be the next cover,” says Turner. And if you get the chance to record an album The Car you have to grab it with both hands.’
If you get the chance to call an album The Car, grab it with both hands.
7. Big Ideas
Or as Turner calls it in the text itself: ‘The ballad of what could have been’. The Arctic Monkeys frontman imagines himself to be a brilliant composer who, on his mandolin and with the backing of an orchestra, devised the theme song for a film about twins received by mass hysteria. Or something.
Big Ideas received a modest live premiere last week during the Arctic Monkeys showcase at Studio Brussel, but you can expect an even dreamier studio version.
8. Hello You
Next I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am the one and only uptempo song from The Car. The Arctic Monkeys from the time of RU Mine? will never return, as Matt Helders pointed out in an interview this spring, but the guitar riff of hello you very reminiscent of that one Knee Socksone of those other crowd favorites from AM.
hello you by the way, it houses one of the funniest lines of text Alex Turner has written for The Car from his pen: ‘I could pass for seventeen if I just get a shave and catch some Zzz.’
9. Mr. Schwartz
Brian from Brianstorm. Arabella from Arabella. Receptionist Mark from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Alex Turner has featured many characters in his songs over the years. Mr Schwartz’s turn is on The Car. From the first time Arctic Monkeys played the song glued together by fingerpicking guitars live last summer, the identity of Mr. Schwartz has been conjectured. The most plausible guess came from a Reddit user who stumbled upon an Arctic Monkeys-linked Spotify playlist titled “Del Schwartz”—again: Monkeys fans obviously have a lot of time—and googled Delmore Schwartz, the late American poet. and short story writer who taught Lou Reed. Turner spoke to 3FM about ‘a huge coincidence’ and claimed that he had simply seen the name Del Schwartz ‘on the back of a nineties Alfa Romeo’.
10. Perfect Sense
Favorite Sausage Nightmare (2007) had 505, AM had I Wanna Be Yours and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino had The Ultracheese. Well-aimed closing songs are a thing at Arctic Monkeys. Also Perfect Sense is such a dead-end closing, one where you can see the credits roll across the screen. And one in which Alex Turner repeatedly wishes you good night against the background of a battery – there they are again – strings.
Of all songs on The Car this would be most suitable for performing with a string ensemble. Although it must be said right away: that will not happen. The Monkeys skillfully rejected an offer for a TV special with an orchestra. “Too predictable.”
However accessible Arctic Monkeys in 2022 may sound, the spirit of the obstinate rock band is still there.
Out on 21/10 at Domino/V2.
Members Alex Turner (vocals/guitar), Matt Helders (drums), Jamie Cook (guitar) and Nick O’Malley (bass).
Founded in 2002 in Sheffield.
greatest hits among other I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, 505, Do I Wanna Know? and RU Mine?
Albums Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006), Favorite Sausage Nightmare (2007)Humbug (2009)Suck It and See (2011)AM (2013)Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018).
Shortly will be seventh pitch there The Car added to.