A sinister-sounding guitar hook marks the tantalizing start to Arctic Monkey’s fourth album. Whilst the first few bars would sound at home in a 60s spy film, the disconcerting feel soon disappears and ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ settles down to become a major key pop song, with Alex Turner enthusing about a woman whose “motorcycle boots give me this kind of acrobatic blood”. When Turner sings “I poured my aching heart into a pop song” on the album’s title track, it’s pretty clear that love and 60s guitar-based pop are the main influences on the songwriting for Suck It And See.
Even though we’re all familiar with the influence of 60s groups on The Last Shadow Puppets, it comes as a surprise that the latest Arctic Monkeys album has this retro feel, especially since the first pre-release track was the plodding rock number ‘Brick by Brick’. The second release ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ also had a rock feel to its guitar lines but at least it had a comically dark edge to its lyrics, “Run with scissors through a chip pan fire fight”. Aside from these rather misleading album-teasers, the rockier production of Humbug has been left behind in favour of a template that combines 60s pop with a revival of their own homegrown charm.
On ‘Black Treacle’ Turner sings “Does it ‘elp you stay up late? Does it ‘elp you concentrate?”, recalling the Yorkshire-accented soft aitch pronunciation of ‘Still Take You Home’ from their debut album. But the new song also builds on their guitar sound, effectively alternating moments of fuzz with some impressive glissando. That shimmering guitar sound is also evident on ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’, as is Turner’s tendency to subvert clichés: “Home sweet home, home sweet home, home sweet booby trap”. And ‘Library Pictures’ has the frantic guitar and percussion drive of early tracks like ‘The View From The Afternoon’ or their breakout, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’.
On a thirteen-track album there are bound to be less-impressive moments. ‘All My Own Stunts’ feels like a filler with no standout melody. And whilst ‘Reckless Serenade’ has some lyrical charm (“the type of kisses where teeth collide”) it fails to deliver the kind of hooky chorus that we’ve come to expect from the band.
‘Piledriver Waltz’ is imported from Turner’s Submarine soundtrack EP but its vibrato guitar, waltz rhythm and lyrics about waitresses and “comfortable shoes” do not feel out of place, given the retro-infused arrangements of Suck It And See. The tambourine beat of the love song ‘Love is a Laserquest’ recalls 60s girl-group percussion. Its lyrical conceit has Turner daydreaming about a girl and forecasting that he will still remember her “When I’m pipe and slippers and rocking chair”. It’s a standout track that lyrically reworks the lover’s imagination idea from ‘505’ on Favourite Worst Nightmare.
The album’s title track is also a highlight. Again, Turner’s songcraft is evident in another warped love song (“Be cruel to me ‘cause I’m a fool for you”). ‘Suck It And See’ charms the listener with its stripped vocal and guitar opening and its brand of peculiarly-British nostalgia, “You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock”. Turner’s voice is so crisply recorded here that the glottal stop at the end of that phrase is quite startling. The track then expands on the title line to become a beautifully- layered pop arrangement. ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ closes the album in similar style with some fine echo-laden guitar flourishes. It’s driven forward by an unrelenting bassline and some impressive drum fills, finished off with plenty of cymbals and dashes of tambourine.
All in all Suck It And See marks Arctic Monkeys’ return to form. It’s not perfect but it’s poppier and more immediate than their previous album. Those fans wary of the rock direction taken on Humbug will surely find something more to their taste on Suck It And See.