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September 7, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Arctic Monkeys: Humbug (Domino)

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Considering the ridiculous NME-driven hype surrounding the Arctic Monkeys you’d be forgiven for not realising that underneath it all they’re actually a rather brilliant band. Debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not burst out of an intense internet-fuelled bootleg fan culture, wowing critics and fans alike with its acerbic tales of youth, ingeniously simple hooks and irresistible catchiness. Follow-up Favourite Worst Nightmare deftly avoided the dreaded second-album syndrome that often catches promising debut acts out by showing the band’s natural evolution and strengthening of their sound and song-writing abilities. This only increased the pressure for their third album, and begged the question: could they do it again, or would they finally stumble?

The answer Humbug offers is a resounding yes, but not in the way you might expect, displaying a less frenetic and more mature, relaxed approach that richly rewards repeat listens. Many of the songs don’t provide the immediate satisfaction of their previous work, but instead gently simmer in the ear, slowly warming the listener to the Arctic’s darker, more textured sound. That’s not to say that their traditional elements of jangling guitars, persistent rhythms and infectious vocals aren’t present, but rather that they’re worked into a deeper, more atmospheric overall sonic feel.

Opener ‘My Propeller’ showcases this change well, layering Alex Turner’s soothing delivery of his double-entendre rich vocals over an ominous riff and tom-filled beat, before bursting into a chorus refrain backed by a woozy guitar line. Dreamy ballad ‘Secret Door’ perhaps shows best the influence Turner’s foray with side project The Last Shadow Puppets has had on his songwriting, while ‘Potion Approaching’ creates a brilliant concoction of rolling toms and snares, sliding guitars and gnarled vocals which develops into a sludgy, pulsing breakdown that oozes awesomeness. Turner’s lyrics are as clever and poignant as ever, and while the endearing stories of teenage larks are largely gone, his words can still be incredibly affecting, evidenced on ‘Cornerstone’, a tale of obsessive love lost drenched with feeling. ‘Dance Little Liar’ and ‘The Jeweller’s Hands’ close the album on a layered note, displaying their increased ear for effects and subtle atmospheric touches no doubt influenced by Josh Homme’s production work and serve as examples of the Arctic’s most fully-formed, perfect songs to date, all the while sandwiching ‘Pretty Visitors’, the heaviest and most energetic song of the album, cleverly intertwining the band’s origins with their new directions. While perhaps not as instantly accessible as their previous albums, Humbug shows this group of Monkeys fully matured at the height of their song-crafting powers, showing no sign of relinquishing them but rather a broadening of the musical palette with which they create them.

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