an ARCTIC MONKEYS music musing
The first time I came upon Arctic Monkeys was during their live performance on SNL in March 2006. I just remember being blown away by their relative youth (I was 12 at the time), just as I was learning how to play and really get into guitar. The sweet melodies of “A Certain Romance” and the frenzied “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” hooked me instantaneously, and I bought their album soon after that performance. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not turned out to be one of those albums that I can put on without skipping a single song. And just like that, Arctic Monkeys became one of the biggest influences on my life.
I remember playing that album on my CD player, always making sure to skip the bad word songs when hooking my player up to the car system on long drives up to the Bay area. My parents understood my devotion and obsession with them, having seen it before with Linkin Park and The Strokes before. But something about Arctic Monkeys was different. Maybe because I discovered them just after their first album and could ‘claim’ them as my first love, or something. But their songwriting and chord progressions always had something interesting about them, especially with the way Alex Turner (lead singer of Arctic Monkeys) would weave tales about life in Sheffield, England.
I couldn’t necessarily relate to the narratives Turner wrote, but those hard hitting riffs and soaring choruses unlocked a special place in my music-loving heart. The guitar parts were relatively easy and fun to learn and show off in middle school, drummer Matt Helders’ drum fills were badass, and, most importantly, Turner’s voice was in my vocal range. As I matured, so did Arctic Monkeys’ sound and melodies.
After the early 2006 release of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys followed it up with a sophomore effort in mid-2007, Favourite Worst Nightmare, that still captured that youthful energy of the first album but adding creepy, more mature melodies throughout. This successful second album immediately cemented them in my music hall of fame and encouraged me to be fearless in creating melodies that might seem off-putting to most listeners. That summer was a transitional one, going from middle school to high school, and Favourite Worst Nightmare was there to help me through it.
Early in my junior year of high school, August 2009, brought Humbug to my earholes. It was a major departure from the garage rock sound from their two previous albums, and explored organ-ic filled tunes. I wasn’t too happy with this album at the time, but the few bops made me like it. Most of the songs on this album are pretty ominous and written in a minor key. They also showed restraint on Alex Turner’s vocal range, as he chose to not go for much high notes on pretty much any song. The highest he goes is an A5, which he only does once; Turner would frequently stay up/reach this range in the first two albums.
In 2011, mid-trip to the Philippines, I learned that Arctic Monkeys released a fourth album, Suck It And See. I remember being extremely pissed at not knowing this and taking it out on my girlfriend at the time, internet be damned. I searched and searched every CD retailer in Cebu malls for the new Arctic Monkeys album, only to be disappointed. I finally got home in July 2011 and bought the album, and that instantly became a transitional and important album in my life. Many of those songs, including “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” which culminates in a glorious climax, shaped my high school to college months. Even through discovering many other artists via friends at LMU, I still found myself revisiting Suck It And See regularly. That whole album is pretty much Alex Turner’s take on The Beatles, and I love every minute of it. It continues Turner’s trend of staying in his lower range. The music is more folk-like, not necessarily relying on riffs to drive each song, rather letting interesting chord progressions and guitar and vocal melodies take the lead.
I didn’t have to wait long for new material from them, as they released “R U Mine?” as a single in February 2012. I bought a shirt of stills from the video off eBay, and still wear it to this day. That did well to tide me over until their next single, “Do I Wanna Know?” which dropped in June 2013. I remember this distinctively because of all those nights my parents were gone and the Diamond Bar homies were over, and I learned the song over night and we all sang it together. News of the new album began my excitement for that September.
On top of that, 2013 was a huge year for attending concerts for me (but not for my savings…). I went to 12 concerts that whole year, so I was pretty on top of being first in line on pre-sales. I purchased tickets to see Arctic Monkeys on September 29 at the Wiltern, and couldn’t wait for that night.
They obviously named their fifth album, AM, after my initials. Just ask them. Go on.
That album was another game-changer in my life, and in their music. They successfully transitioned from small-town UK angsty teens to a suave, sexy and groovy band within those 6 years. Their sound changed dramatically, as they modified their garage-rock sound, like a wildly swinging axe, to be more of a precise hammer-to-a-nail on this album, letting their moments of ecstasy and unleashing hit at just the right moments. (See: “Arabella”.) Turner lets hip-hop influences seep into his lyrics, delving into strings of fast-paced wordplay and similes.
AM made me realize that Arctic Monkeys is truly Alex Turner’s band. He’s the one really writing the songs and the one that has final say. It’s interesting to arc their discography and see how far they’ve come. Their music has been such a huge influence on my life and how I see music. I modeled my voice, inflections and diction after Alex Turner early on in my songwriting ‘career’. I’ve since (obviously) matured and have let other artists sneak into my songwriting, but Turner’s influence is too strong to ignore, even as I (attempt to) write this rap EP I’ve been working on for what seems like forever.
This Friday, May 11, 2018, marks the release of Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album, and I find myself wondering how Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino will change my life. It’s been 5 years since their last album, and the wait seems like an eternity; Alex Turner’s side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, released a second album in 2016, but that only kept me satisfied for so long. Each of their albums is a landmark in my life, and I am preparing myself this week to go in positively, so that I can start off this new era on a great note.
I was lucky enough to attend their show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on May 5, 2018, as they debuted some of their new songs. The song they played during the encore, “One Point Perspective,” made me tear up at the beauty of the chord progressions they used. It’s not an entirely unique progression, but there’s something so dark but dreamy that the band can conjure up within my head that made me immediately love it. I look forward to whatever uncommon, fearless melodies Turner chooses, and what the whole band will bring to the table with their sixth album.