Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Music Review: HUMBUG by Arctic Monkeys

Way back in 2006, during my San Diego years, I feel under the spell of the Arctic Monkeys’ fast, high-energy rock. The Sheffield, UK quartet have been amongst my favorite bands ever since I got my first earful of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.”

I’ve played their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, ragged – three of my top 10 most played tracks on iTunes are from this stellar debut. I’ve downloaded all their EPs. Their cover of “Baby I’m Yours” was prominently featured at my wedding last month.

After their follow up album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, I again tried to force it down all my friends’ throats. And when lead singer/guitarist Alex Turner put the Monkeys’ future on hold to toy with The Last Shadow Puppets last year, I supported that too – with slightly less enthusiasm.

Today, the band released their much anticipated third album, Humbug, and I’m already on my seventh listen.

Now I’ll readily admit that I get a false sense of coolness out of embracing a UK band with limited US appeal (akin to the feeling Zach probably gets when he wears one of his European soccer scarves). That said, I have another very elitist thing to say: “I like Arctic Monkeys old stuff better.”

To paraphrase Stuff Hipsters Hate: Irrespective of how good the new album is, hipsters have been listening to these guys for years, and they like their old stuff better.

With that very long-winded preface out of the way, let’s finally dive in… another installment of Jeff’s Music Review: Hipster Edition.

I got my first taste of Humbug more than a month ago with the release of the album’s first single, “Crying Lightning.” It was a start departure from Favourite Worst Nightmare’s debut single “Brianstorm.” Gone were the fast, high energy rockers. “Crying Lightning,” though I enjoyed it, lacked thunder.

It appeared Turner had embraced a new “tormented relationship” phase. Borrowing from Pitchfork: the Monkeys’ delivered “a jargon-y single about a candy-coated Veruca Salt-style ice queen and a guy looking for something a bit sweeter.”

“Crying Lighting” was a sign of things to come. Humbug is decidedly more of a whispering psychedelic trip than blitzkrieg rock. It’s melancholic. Their trademark riffs and rhythms are still front and center but are coming from a much darker (more mature?) place.

Key tracks:Crying Lightning,” “My Propeller,” and the Morrissey-esque “Cornerstone.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed the album and who knows, maybe one rainy day I’m not feeling my jolly, happy self Humbug will be more resonant. But I don’t think any of these tracks are going to shoot to the top of my Play Counter and I definitely don’t think that this is the album that will break the Monkeys on this side of the pond.

Maybe I should be relieved; I can still carry that sense of superiority.

Verdict: B-

I would be remised if I didn’t mention that as a B-side to “Crying Lightning,” the Arctic Monkeys covered Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand,” which I have previously posted here. Check it out.

As far as their covers go, I prefer “Love Machine” and “Baby I’m Yours.”

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