It’s evident that Alex Turner and his fellow bandmates are no longer interested in the sounds that first brought them into the spotlight; Arctic Monkeys’ broody, exhilarating guitar riffs and pounding drums are absent from their new album “The Car” and are unlikely to come back.
Trading in the overdrive for a vibrant orchestra, the band creates a compelling soundscape of instruments to go with the crooning of lead singer Alex Turner. Each song features distinct sounds playing in the background, with the album’s production quality as strong as ever. The band, along with their team of engineers and producers, have honed their craft over 20 years, creating music so cinematic and complex that it’s fitting for any Christopher Nolan movie. Despite what some people may think, this change to a more mature, mellow sound should be welcomed.
“The Car” takes itself seriously, but never teeters into the realm of self-importance. Turner’s always had a penchant for strong wordplay mixed with a paranoid self-reflection, but here, he truly dives deep below the surface. The album dedicates itself to love, maturity and the confusion that comes with the both of them.
This is not an easy listen by any means, and that can be off-putting to some. This is music that makes you think. It’s the type of album you put on and get lost in the granularity of the sound and production, feeling as if you were in the very studio it was performed. “The Car” invites you to trade in beer and teenage angst for adult contemplation and wine. However, an album isn’t a strong album unless it has clear highlights that leave an impression on the listener.
This album is worth listening to in its entirety. The songs mesh together so well that there’s no clear deviation from the album’s prevailing sound, and despite having two lead singles, none of the songs feel designed for the sake of radio play. The single “Body Paint” is simple in its approach to the point it could be seen as formulaic. Take bright synths, a punchy piano and Turner crooning over a doomed relationship and you get a recipe for success. A recipe that works so well that we see it repeated for the other single “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball.”
But not all love is woe on the album; Turner takes the time to reveal insecurities involving the band and their careers on the cuts “Big Ideas” and “Hello You.” Reflecting back on the sound that first made them popular, Turner wonders aloud whether such success could ever be possible again. He recalls the excitement of the formation of the group on “Big Ideas” and then bids farewell to those times on “Hello You.”
“Perfect Sense” is a fitting farewell for this relatively short album (it’s only 37 minutes long), being that it’s the shortest song on the album as well. Sparse in its construction, the song has Turner come to terms with the 20-year fame enjoyed by the band, seemingly making peace with the journey so far.
Across its 10-song catalog, the album is filled with moments of contemplation and acceptance. Though shrouded in mystery and a tangled mess of thoughts and ideas, Turner give us glimpses of himself in interesting ways. Each song feels like a slice of a dramatic soundtrack and that’s no small feat. Production is soaring, chord progressions complex and vocals sparse yet powerful. Despite having slow enough songs to fill the final 30 minutes of a wedding, the album never feels like it meanders. Every song has a climax that almost makes it feel as though you are watching the climax of a film, and like a good film, a synopsis doesn’t do it justice.
For all the raving I’ve done, the album is not without its flaws. Its production-heavy, with lots of complex changes within each song. It also wouldn’t make for good playlist music since it ditches large parts of its rock roots for something more refined. These things can prove to be major turn-offs for those who were expecting to rock out. It lacks many memorable lines and most certainly isn’t karaoke material for anyone – excepting those with the vocal range and training to match Turner’s softest enunciations. But if you isolate this album in a vacuum on its own, what you’ll find is something thematic, complex and capable of moving you with a strong narrative expressed through a series of vignettes. Arctic Monkeys is fully-grown and despite their rock past, that’s a good thing.