‘I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a Synthesiser’ –Black Treacle–
Any album with a title likely to cause offence to anyone, particularly conservative Americans is surely one to listen to. While many criticised The Arctic Monkey’s third album Humbug for it’s lack of commercial draw, and void of such playful songs which brought the band such immense early success, the boys from Sheffield return with Suck It and See, an album which successfully extends the band’s increasingly diverse back catalogue.
Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme produced and dragged the Monkey’s out of their comfort zone with Humbug. While it remains heavily immersed in the ‘difficult third album’ camp and divides loyal fans down the middle, it demonstrated the musical drive and direction of the band. This, and Alex Turner’s impromptu hiatuses with Miles Kane and solo projects makes Suck It And See an impressive follow-up. A new producer, but with heavier expectations from die-hard Monkey lovers, Alex and co. are really up against it.
The early pre-release single Brick By Brick is Queens of the Stone Age through and through, particularly the harmonies on the chorus, while the hard desert guitars on the second release, the rather brilliant Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair containing the rather exciting offer of going into business with a grizzly bear suggests early on, that this is Humbug part two. The opening riff on the album’s opener She’s Thunderstorms similarly reeks of the darkness and brilliant zany obscurity of Humbug, but to utter delight, Turner suddenly begins to croon sweetly in this tender love ballad. The album contains the ‘typical’ Monkey songs, which will have the die-hards humming along in no time. Black Treacle and Reckless Serenade are formulaic numbers, familiar to most fans both musically and lyrically with Turner singing about young naive experiences with sex, drugs and going out, whilst one of my personnel favourites the song Suck It And See is just waiting to become a fan favourite on Mardy Bum proportions. If it’s one thing these boys do well its tongue-in cheek. Turner’s unchallenged skills as a witty wordsmith is retained in this song ‘You’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock, and those other girls are just post-mix lemonade’. Yet what makes Suck it And See a crowning accomplishment is Turner’s developed writing skills about love, heartache and all the gushy emotions attached to it. There is still time for wacky and obscure numbers, including the marvellous (possibly drug-induced) Library Pictures: ‘Trust some ellipses/To chase you round the room/Through curly straws and metaphors and goo’ and All My Own Stunts, which is as Humbug as it gets (featuring guest vocals from a certain Josh Homme and containing QOTSA guitar effects on Lullabies to Paralyze proportions), yet Turner’s lyrics have developed into something more profound than previous albums.
Nostalgia; tenderness; misery and likening one thing to something entirely different and obscure are the essential ingredients to successful British pop music. The Smiths, Blur and Pulp are impressive and mighty benchmarks of this. The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala is both a great pop song and a mockery of the very institution they are muscling their way into the helm: ‘What you waiting for? To sing another fuckin’ shalalala’ – poking fun at generic harmonies and chorus. This post-ironic stab is a new level of exploration into Alex Turner’s lyrics, and one hopefully he will continue. While many now believe that Britpop is dead, Suck It and See is a fine attempt in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, yet no one, especially the Monkeys will see themselves as Britpop revival group per-say. Reckless Serenade also follows a typical Britpop formula, while the aforementioned She’s Thunderstorms has aromas of The Stone Roses, Blur and The La’s: ‘She’s been loop-the-looping around my mind/Her motorcycle boots give me this kind of acrobatic blood’. Turner’s obsession with the femme fatale, that evil bitch who is irresistible, but ultimately damaging to his feelings and sanity is perhaps a worn-out record. From Mardy Bum, to 505 to Crying Lighting, Turner can’t let go off his muse, the ones who bring joy and misery in one song. But he doesn’t have to let go. With spellbinding songs such as Love is A Laserquest and the heart-wrenching conclusion to the album That’s Where Your Wrong: ‘She looks as if she’s blowing a kiss at me/ And suddenly the sky is a scissor sitting on the floor/ With a tambourine crushing up a bundle of love’ demonstrates Turner’s successful tapping into a mindset about music and Britpop which many still find appealing: that poetic heartache, the tortured and effortlessly cool.
Essence of Dylan, Cohen, Lennon, Bowie, Reed, Morrissey, Cave and Cocker are consistent on Suck It And See. The beautiful sublime and tragic Piledriver Waltz, (previously heard on the soundtrack for Richard Ayode’s British Indie film Submarine and credited as a Turner solo song) is bolstered up in the studio with a delicious guitar twang line, the piano is dropped, the bass and drums turned up, and with these minor touches by new producer James Ford, makes this a contender for my track of the year. ‘I etched the face of a stopwatch on the back of a raindrop/And did a swap for the sand in an hourglass’ could be lifted straight out of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Try singing it like Dylan does). Thankfully it isn’t. Despite the obvious subject matter, Turner makes such songs his own. These ballads reveal an added level of abstract in Turner’s words, a dimension not fully seen on Whatever People Say or Favourite Worst Nightmare.
An overall improvement in drummer Matt Helders’ singing on Brick by Brick, and his pulsating rhythms; Jamie Cook’s increasingly epic guitar skills notably on those big ‘Humbug’ numbers Don’t Sit Down and All My Own Stunts and even the often anonymous bass player Nick O’Malley seems to be making a more prominent contribution to the music (take Reckless Serenade) demonstrates a band who are improving. Suck it and See is certainly no Whatever People Say. The success of that album will be hard to reach, let alone match, let alone top. Suck It and See’s brilliance is its combination of the previous three albums. Its entertainment levels of wacky and obscure lyrics and metaphors are matched by an increasingly beautiful poet in Alex Turner and well-produced mixture of clean sounding ballads with raw and rough rattle rock and roll. Many critics will call for bands with early commercial success to grow and mature with each album, and based on Suck and See, the boys from Sheffield are well on the way to becoming a more well-rounded ensemble.