Updated: Oct 26
"That rock’n’roll, eh? That rock’n’roll, it just won’t go away." said Alex Turner eight years ago. He had dropped the mic, murmured "Invoice me if you have to." and swaggered back to his seat with a palpable confidence that only comes from knowing that you're the rock star of the generation, inspiring millions of young dudes to put copious amount of grease on their hair.
Alex Turner might not recognize that version of himself today. He is light years away from the MySpace crowd and being an observer outside Sheffield clubs but he's also quite far from preaching about Rock'n'Roll and carrying a comb in his bum pocket. Over the course of the years Arctic Monkeys have publicly confessed that they are never making an album like AM again and that they are done making music to please listeners. Above all these resolute expressions, what proves their determination on a concrete level is what we have in our hands today, which is the luxurious and cinematic album that is their magnum opus, The Car.
Before moving forward and making statements saying this album is their best, I want to acknowledge that this album is a fight-starter and a public-divider one. The temper tantrums thrown upon TBHC's release will be amplified this time around. Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not revival is never happening but you can go jerk off to guitar music compilations on Youtube if you desire. However, if you enjoyed the darker sonic arrangements and imagery that TBHC conjured, you're in for a treat.
The Car opens with There'd Better Be A Mirrorball, an artistic triumph of a song that paints the picture of what's waiting for us around the corner immediately. It's not Rock'n'Roll ready to make its way back through the sludge and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever. It's not a space ship that would take us to an abandoned hotel in outer space where we could down a few martinis in the waiting lounge.
Sci-fi is off the table and they have returned back on earth while keeping the retro splendeur intact. The 60th Bond reference is very clear and Turner embellishes the song with elegant vocals that portrays the bittersweetness of the song perfectly. I Ain't Quite Where I Think I Am is a delicious funk-dipped song that could get anyone dancing upon hearing the groovy riff. The third track, Sculptures Of Anything Goes is the undeniable star of the show, their ultimate tour-de-force. If you listen close enough, you'll hear a glimpse of Do I Wanna Know somewhere in there. The darkness and the overpowering gloom painted through synthesizers and drum machines pulls the listeners in within the very few seconds. The raw and echoey vocals create an atmosphere of an immediate danger, a terrible unease. It's the best Alex has ever sounded, it's the darkest they've ever went. Body Paint is arguably one of the best songs they have ever produced to this day. The two-chorus piano-led track moves in its own time before reaching a powerful crescendo. It's impossible not to be enthralled by Turner's falsetto delivery and the Beatles-esque guitar numbers towards the end.
"Lego Napoleon movie / Written in noble gas-filled glass tubes." Turner signs on Hello You. His lyricism is more cryptic than ever. Following him through the years and witnessing how his writing style have changed over the past years has been a joy, to say the least but this time around they require serious meditation. Sometimes the lyrics seem to be coded in another language but funny enough, this one is of their most emotional and moving work. The magnetic pull of the instrumentals and the production is deeply intriguing. Just as you're losing focus trying to understand what "Vortex to vortex" means the flavourful orchestral sounds lure you back in, like you're a gambling addict in a casino, not being able to say no for another round of Hold'Em. If you hate this album and would rather listen to AM, play Knee Socks first and Hello You right after that. You might be surprised how much you like it.
Arctic Monkeys may seem like shapeshifting creatures drastically taking up a new genre while abandoning another one quickly. They can jump from producing sand-soaked desert rock to writing love-ballads in a span of two years. The heavily themed albums create all-encompassing worlds which are vivid enough to stand alone on their own. However independent the albums may seem though, each body of work "bleed into the next one more than you perhaps felt it did at the time". Every album is a continuation of the previous one even when the guitar fades out to leave its spot for piano-driven ballads.
The Car is a masterfully constructed record, bold enough to pull in new fans on its own yet it still winks to band's older works. Listening to Arctic Monkeys, you might find yourself in outer space or in a rusty bar in Sheffield but you'll always have a common thread that will guide through your journey. This time around, it's the abandoned highways that keeps us company through our circuit. It's all the yesterdays that are still leaking through the roof. It's the light reflected on a past lover's face through a broken mirrorball.
The Car isn't trying to replicate a distant past where the band was wooing the world with their mean guitar riffs and their modern rockstar auras. They aren't playing characters nor clinging onto what brought them mainstream success. Having the liberty to explore so many different worlds within the catalogue of the same artist is what makes Arctic Monkeys irreplaceable. Our final destination for now, The Car, is the the band's magnum opus. It's a timeless road trip which will be enjoyed whenever we want to traverse its route.