The Arctic Monkeys move towards the sinister side of rock seemed to begin back in 2009 with the release of Humbug. Dark lyrical themes and brooding beats entered into the British pub-rock band’s lexicon, and the hand of co-producer Josh Homme was obviously hovering over the album like an ever-watching Methuselah.
Now, with Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album AM set to hit shelves on Sept. 9 via Domino Records, it seems that the quartet has found a way to recall the helter-skelter rhythms from their early releases while keeping an air of mystery.
In addition, frontman Alex Turner has been very vocal about the R&B and hip-hop artists that have influenced AM.
“We took a Dr. Dre beat from like 2001, gave it like an Ike Turner Beatles bowl cut and then set it off galloping along on a Stratocaster into a liquid live show,” he recently told NME when explaining the album’s direction.
The idea was to make the new tracks “sound less like four lads playing in a room this time,” Turner noted. “Essentially, that’s what it is, but if you can find a way to manipulate the instruments or the sounds to the point where it sounds a bit like a hip-hop beat that’d be boss in your car, then I think there’s something quite cool about that.”
Hints of the Monkeys’ continued direction came in February 2012, when they somewhat surprisingly dropped the hard-hitting “R U Mine?” The song immediately blew up the radio airwaves and became a highlight of their live performances, showcased in full when they closed with it on Coachella’s Main Stage that year.
“R U Mine?” hits the listener in the chest like a Mike Tyson jab, with drummer Matt Helders’ aggressive attack on his kit daring everyone to turn their headphones up a notch or two at their own risk. Helders’ falsetto accents Turner’s unforgettable voice throughout, as well.
“Arabella” features the crashing cymbals and electric-shock guitar strokes that could fit perfectly in their own version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”
The guys channel the Velvet Underground with the sexy “Mad Sounds,” complete with Turner turning in a sultry croon over his background singers’ “Ooh la la las.” It’s understated, but will definitely make you want to grab your partner tight and circle slowly around the dance floor.
It’s no coincidence that the album title is quite similar to the Velvet Underground’s 1985 compilation VU.
“I actually stole it from the Velvet Underground; I’ll just confess that now and get it out of the way. The ‘VU’ record, obviously,” Turner said to the London Evening Standard. “Did we cop out? Yeah! [Something] about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right to just initial it.”
Arctic Monkeys also tabbed Homme for some guest vocals, most notably on “One for the Road.” The inclusion of the Queens of the Stone Age frontman also lends a desert rock vibe to AM.
“It’s a really cool, sexy after-midnight record,” Homme told NME.
As for the hip hop Turner’s talked about, perhaps “heavy hop” is a better term for what Arctic Monkeys have with their latest effort. Helders and bassist Nick O’Malley lay down a thumping floor that recalls some of hip hop’s hits from a decade ago, but Turner and fellow guitarist Jamie Cook bring a bombast that calls to mind metal heavyweights.
AM might not be Dr. Dre reinvented, but as Turner has previously suggested, this album certainly sounds evilly “boss.”