To paraphrase Rory Gallagher, another musician who shunned the inanities of the media circus, Arctic Monkeys have combined brute force and wisdom on their thrilling new album. If you reckoned they’d lost the supreme punk swagger and damned insouciance of their debut in the desert with Josh Homme last time out, wrap your tongue around Suck it and See, a devil (lots of devil) may care return to spiky but poetic form.
Spiky on Brick by Brick on which Matt Helders (surely the best drummer in rock music right now) takes the lead vocal on a tightly-sprung guitar assault that seethes with pent up anger. Poetic on the marvellous Piledriver Waltz, in which Alex Turner delivers his finest lyrics and proves that the Monkeys have leaped up the evolutionary scale to the point where they now share the air with upper primates like Scott Walker and Morrissey (when he was good).
Apparently Suck it and See was recorded in the same LA studio where Fleetwood Mac alchemised heartache and A class drugs and turned them into soft rock gold on Rumours but don’t let that seductive provenance fool you. Suck it and See is a beast of a record. Don’t Sit Down `Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair may be funny but it’s also vicious and the spectral guitars that whirl like a haunted funfair at the heart of The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala hint at the sinister gleam to the band’s Sheffield steel. A frenzied sense of abandon also seizes Library Pictures and All My My Own Stunts.
If possible, Turner’s talent for penning quotable pop couplets has actually become even more commanding. “I feel like the sundance kid behind a synthesizer” he sings on Black Treacle; “Your love is like a studded leather headlock” he notes on the title track which (not the kind of sweet nothing you’ll ever hear Michael Buble singing any time soon) and on Reckless Serenade, Turner calls up “the voice of reason” only to get the answering-machine.
But it’s Piledriver Waltz with its strange mix of sixties nursery rhyme psychedelia (“I etched the face of a stopwatch on a raindrop”) and sombre, wistful introspection that really stands out. You can imagine it being crooned by a defeated nightclub singer up north in the seventies. That song and the title track echo some of Turner’s excellent side project The Last Shadow Puppets and he himself has described Suck it and See as a combination of the Monkeys’ first three albums.
If they’ve accomplished this much in a mere five years, Arctic Monkeys clearly have a lot more to say and do.