Arctic Monkeys – “AM”

(Photo Credit: Spin)

Grade: C-

Key Tracks: “Do I Wanna Know?” “R U Mine?”

Bands by no means have to retain any sort of their original sound. Five albums and seven years later, the Arctic Monkeys do not need to sound like the bratty teenagers they were on their debut. But this album feels like such an antithesis to their debut that it ends up being frustratingly disappointing. When they shot out of nowhere in 2006, they were four teens playing wild, sloppy songs about underage drinking and one-night stands. Now, they’re well-dressed and playing metrical and over-produced odes to maturity and bachelor life. In some ways, a band maturing is nice, and this is the first Arctic Monkeys album where the members seem to fully realize who they are and what they’ll become. But this Arctic Monkeys seems like it would scoff at the 2006 Arctic Monkeys, and the 2006 Arctic Monkeys seems like it would despise what it’ll eventually become.

The band took a different approach to this album. Their recent, public relationship with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and a tour with the Black Keys) has largely benefited them. Homme appears on this album; Alex Turner appears on QOTSA’s “…Like Clockwork.” The band has, for whatever reason, decided to ‘Americanize’ their music by recording in the desert with Homme and basing beats off of Dr. Dre. It’s an interesting idea, and one that fits wonderfully within the band’s running thing of each album representing some aspect of life. But the new songs are so beat-based that they feel like a how-to guide for people just starting to learn music. The drum machine and artificial clapping are basic and pointless. And the album is so slickly produced that it makes old songs like “A Certain Romance” feel like underground recordings from the ’70’s. The band and the production are both so slick and so smooth, that it doesn’t feel real. And that’s the last thing I ever expected from them.

Had this album been released by a different band, it would probably be a good recording. There’s diversity amongst the tracks, and a common theme of being a bachelor. The songs ask questions, the lyrics are provocative, and the music is catchy without being overblown. Taking it out of the history of the band, it’s a pretty decent recording. I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to the band (that might go to 2011’s “Suck It And See”), but if someone were to listen to this album with no prior knowledge of the group, they might enjoy it.

That being said, the band gave me something that they’ve never given me before, and that’s a large chunk of an album that’s truly boring. There’s a section of three or four songs in the album’s midpoint that should not be as dull as they are. And a song called “No. 1 Party Anthem” should not be one the album’s slowest songs. Unless, of course, this is a grown-up party with adults discussing current events. And this may be the Arctic Monkeys that we have come to.

I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Arctic Monkeys. I keep their debut, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not,” as one of my go-to albums in my car. I loved “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” I enjoyed “Humbug,” and I adored “Suck It And See.” So to see the band go so slick and smooth felt, to me, like a total loss of principle. They may have been heading in that direction, but I didn’t think they would hit this point so quickly. This album is the direct opposite of their debut, and I find it hard to believe that these guys could truly mature this much in so few years. I will stick by this band, I’ll still see them if they come around this way, but I can’t see myself listening to “AM” again anytime soon.

If you like this, try: The new Queens of the Stone Age album I linked to, it’s another boring album by one of my all-time favorite bands.

-By Andrew McNally

Queens of the Stone Age – “…Like Clockwork”

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “I Sat By the Ocean,” “Fairweather Friends”

“…Like Clockwork,” the long-teased and longer awaited new album from hard rock heroes Queens of the Stone Age, should be listened to with “Songs For the Dead” in mind, their behemoth, Grammy-winning album from 2002. “…Like Clockwork” is similar to “Songs” in three ways. The first is the re-introduction of former contributors Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, as well as ousted bassist and founding member Nick Oliveri (who only shows up in background vocals on two songs, but it is still a re-introduction). The other two similarities are thematic. “Songs” was a concept album, imagining a radio playing on a drive in southwestern America, and featured many Christian references. “Clockwork,” too, seems to feature a number of Christian references, if nothing more than metaphors. (Compare 2002′s “God Is in the Radio” to 2013′s “My God is the Sun”) Casual listeners might equate Josh Homme’s lyrics to those of the religiously-tortured soul of Dave Gahan, but Homme frankly chooses to sing about whatever he wants to.

The third similarity is the idea of conventional radio rock. “Songs” had a running theme of QOTSA’s songs playing on every station, in an attempt to solidify themselves as the kings of conventional rock radio. It worked, oddly enough, and they reflect that on “Clockwork.” Every one of the ten tracks feels significantly more conventional and regular than anything they’ve done before, with musical build-ups in slow songs and catchy guitar rhythms in the faster ones. Homme’s vocal melodies are incredibly catchy, even radio-friendly (particularly on the track “If I Had a Tail”). The album is still heavy, of course, but this is a side of QOTSA that has always stayed subtle. It is the band’s shortest album, and has only three songs over five minutes, a departure from the five on “Songs.” Homme likes to throw the audience loops and keep things fresh, which is tough to do for a rock band. “Clockwork” is almost a bit of a joke, in a way, that the original thing about it is its unoriginality. One almost has to wonder if the almost-optimistic sound is a response to Homme’s brush with death, or whether it is more of QOTSA’s relentlessly great tongue-in-cheek humor.

This does lead to some problems, however. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” the opener, never hits the intensity it thinks it does, and although the hauntingly-rhythmic “I Sat By the Ocean” follows it up, the tepid and unnecessary “The Vampyre of Time and Money” sits right after. And having this feeling of ‘Is this a joke or not?’ is a little iffy given that people have been waiting six years for a new album. The album grows stronger as it proceeds though, bolstered by barely audible but still appealing guest spots from Trent Reznor, Alex Turner and Sir Elton John (which was a surprise to come across). Homme is still heroically egotistical at times, which is when QOTSA is at their best. The album lacks at some points, falling too far into the unoriginality, but it is yet another great entry from the band overall.

-By Andrew McNally