“Humbug” – ‘Arctic Monkeys’ [Joint Review]
Michael Hodder went absolutely ballistic when he heard that “Humbug” was creeping out this month [maybe an overstatement, but we'll need some melodrama today], and although I didn’t share his optimism, it’s been an album full of surprises. First impressions are a key aspect – for me – when it comes to bands in particular, and I uncannily pick the worst they have to offer at times; conversely, their best on a good day. And I must say that back in ’08, ‘Arctic Monkeys’ left a bitter aftertaste on their first date; no chocolates and I had to foot the bill. The music was just shy off alternative, with some rock-like influences: but they were/are mainly indie, a different kind of indie that probably draws attention in its direction more often than not, in retrospect. And me?
Well, ‘The Killers’ had me hanging off their every word last year, with “Sam’s Town”, and for an adolescent, once you’ve got your heart set on a style of music, it’s hard to shift from artist to artist, from genre to genre. ‘Arctic Monkeys’, other than ‘Franz Ferdinand’, were probably my first taste of the other indie-pioneers making the world go round. And what about “Humbug”, you ask?
Here it is:
To be honest, I’ve avoided listening to the album overall. I played it, once or twice, on the odd occasion after dinner, during some homework, or the usual R&R. But trip-hop has left a real empty-space in my chest – probably where my heart should be – that really needs to be filled. So, instead of dutifully listening to this weeks Joint Review pick, I’ve been distracted with “Mezzanine”, and all things ‘Massive Attack’.
It doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t stopped to smell that rose called “Humbug”, despite it’s wilting-appearance this fine afternoon. Well…
I suppose it does. And maybe that’s one of it’s downfalls. “Humbug” is one of those typical albums: and they fall into two categories – keep-you-coming, or leave-you-hanging. I’m left on a cliff-face, personally, trying to climb upwards. I want to come back, time and time again, and fall into the rut called ‘AM’, but there’s something clinging to my foot – a branch, or something, you think imaginatively today – that keeps me from irrespectively enjoying myself. The album has it’s indie-backing, but it has this dark, despondent feel to the music – a slow-and-steady trudge, with mind-numbing percussion and zombie-like vocals.
The album follows the classic gooey-crunch routine, an album caramelised in opening and finish, with a somewhat buttery interior. Maybe this is to entice listeners, get them in the ‘Arctic Monkeys’ atmosphere that is “Humbug”. It’s difficult, the least to say, impossible, to distinguish between individual-tracks. Maybe after a solid monthly listen, things might start to come into focus, but my offhand-opinion is that the album lacks a pinnacle, some sort of climax that makes the statement: “here I am, this is ‘Arctic Monkeys’, this is “Humbug”, and we’re going to blow your minds…“
Genre-wise, fans might find that ‘Arctic Monkeys’ have matured significantly since their beginnings, and it’s easy to see – five of their past-singles have made it to the top of the UK charts, or whereabouts. It’s a really impressive feat when you come to think about it; so far though, not much mention of “Humbug”, perhaps they’ve peaked. This growth is mired in its repetition, however: listening to it afresh really does make a difference, though, a simplistic change of scene. So, you’ll find the classic instruments that come with indie, plus some. There’s your vocals, which tie in interestingly with percussion, or lead. For instance:
“Crying Lightning” and it’s lyrical-syllables work harmoniously with the bass and beat. It’s a stark contrast in other-band comparisons, because it’s the first time I’ve noticed it – if there’s another band that does the same, ‘Arctic Monkeys’ utilise it emphatically, here especially. It’s the second track on the album, and it lacks any distinction with the first, “My Propeller”, because it follows the same musical-composition. It has the percussion, it has the bass, it has the lead, it has the lyrics. And it’s one of indie‘s downfalls – bands like ‘Franz Ferdinand’ and ‘The Killers’ have been able to manipulate their distinctive key-and-tempo shift throughout their songs, and it’s what makes them so successful, because they shake off that rut like an old skin. There’s little, if any, difference here – other than the instrumental-vocals which appear quietly, but not enough. If anything, you’ll remember the phrase:
“… Have a spin of… my propeller…”
Other than that, not much to salvage. One thing that does make indie a great genre, however, are it’s lyrics. The lyrical genius of ‘Arctic Monkeys’ is overshadowed by the music, which I feel, is bringing it down a notch. The phrasing is interesting, but I’m put off by the rest. It’s a really disappointing thing to say, but I could do without the sound, and have the sheet-music instead. And if lyrics are what make an album for you, then you’ll be in heaven. I think it’s the only thing keeping the album together on a whole.
I won’t go into any great detail, I don’t want to be too critical, but summarising: the album lacks definition, it’s music remains overly-simplistic, it needs to shake it up, but other than that, it’s lyrics are fine and the vocals are great. ‘Arctic Monkeys’ could be plateau-ing, and I hope not – maybe next time, they’ll conjure up an album I can fully appreciate, or maybe I just don’t have the right ears for their music. Just the same, a 3 from me.
The Enantiomorphic God