Atwood Magazine’s writers discuss Arctic Monkeys’ seductive, heavily orchestrated seventh studio album ‘The Car,’ from its cinematic landscapes to the band’s continuous and dramatic evolution.
featured here are Atwood writers Lilly Eason, Adam Davidson, Josh Weiner, Rachel Leong, and Mitch Mosk.
To start, what is your relationship with Arctic Monkeys’ music?
Lilly Eason: I was a little late to the AM craze but once I was into them I was pretty obsessed. I really dug into their music during my study abroad in Ireland. They became almost all I listened to for a few months, them and The Last Shadow Puppets (the supergroup feat. Alex Turner, Miles Kane and several members of Mini Mansions). Though I love the band still, there are so many songs that evoke this deep and consuming nostalgia of walking around Dublin. I can put on “A Certain Romance,” close my eyes, and instantly be transported to walking along the River Liffey. I can feel that excitement that came with being in a new and foreign city supplemented by a soundtrack that just felt so right for that time in my life. I’ll always connect them to those feelings, those memories and I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about music, how it can be such an intoxicating portal to the past. But beyond their nostalgic sweetness, they’re one of, if not my favorite band.
Rachel Leong: The Arctic Monkeys have always been around through my growing years, and even more so when I went to university in the UK – they’re a cult favourite and the culture around their music over there is so real! I first heard about them when the AM album came out, and that’s when I started to backtrack to their older albums too. They’re one of our generation’s bands that I frankly have no doubts will go on to be one of the greats.
Josh: I still remember when I was in middle school and their album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not came out. I remember thinking that the title was clever and renegade-y, plus I enjoyed the lead single, “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor.” Since then, I’ve continued to listen to their music here and there and am definitely impressed to see that they have lasted this long.
Adam Davidson: I am from Chesterfield, a town very close to Sheffield, so Arctic Monkeys are basically universally loved there as the local boys who took over the world. I have brief, half-connections to the band which give their music a personal edge to me. I have lived just down the road from Hunters Bar. My band recorded in a studio they once demoed in. I am 99% sure I know the bouncer Alex is talking about at the beginning of The Ritz To The Rubble. As a lover of guitar music, I would have probably got into them if I were from New York or Uruguay, but the fact that they came from my area and are only a year older than me is exciting. I’ve been into them from the very start, and they are a great musical love of mine.
In one word, how did this album make you feel?
Lilly Eason: Entranced.
Rachel Leong: Mesmerised. Or maybe badass.
Adam Davidson: Luxurious.
What are your immediate reactions to The Car?
Rachel Leong: That it sounds like a film soundtrack. I really liked it – it’s really different, and really interesting. Not just from the usual Arctic Monkeys discography, but just the music of today in general. The arrangements are also really unique, and the orchestral soundscapes under Turner’s vocals make the whole energy of the record feel so grand. And then the lyricism – just wow.
Lilly Eason: It just kind of felt right, inevitable almost. I couldn’t have pinned down exactly what I thought it was going to sound like ahead of time but once I’d heard it, I mean it couldn’t have sounded any different. Given their sharp left-turn of Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, I figured there would be similar elements in the pacing and the instruments, but the biggest unknown would be the subject matter and the lyrics given how conceptual and cultural-commentary-ish and story based Tranquility Base was. But now looking at the two albums together, it’s clever how they paced that shift in sound. Tranquility Base felt intentionally impersonal, I mean Turner was kind of playing this character of the hotel and casino owner. It felt like the band was donning a persona to accompany a new sound which gave them leeway to make changes without committing too hard. This album feels like they really sunk into that shift in sound, owned it, committed to it.
Adam Davidson: WIthin the first few minutes, I knew this was better than the last one. Tranquillity Base Hotel And Casino represented one of the biggest stylistic turns in rock history, kinda like their Kid A moment. It hit the fanbase cold though, and there are some people who I know got fully turned off by it. I was personally in two minds – Not that interested in the style, but certainly supportive of their decision to try something different. With The Car, they have developed this side of their sound and expanded the palate into succinctly crafted orchestral pop, with a well balanced twist of lounge of psychedelia. It’s an improvement in every way in that respect. There’s still that 18 year old guitar music nut inside me that wants to hear riffs, though!
What images come to mind when listening to this album?
Lilly Eason: I see a man, sitting alone at a smokey, dark-wood jazz bar, swirling whiskey in a glass and smoking a cigarette. As he wistfully stares at the glass, contemplating everything from his youth to the mundane problems of his current life, his attention turns to the door as if a spotlight hit it. A woman, the woman, walks in. Suddenly everything around him disappears. His mind goes blank. The room dissipates and all that exists is him and her and the music that surrounds them. They lock eyes. And suddenly his life changes forever.
Rachel Leong: Grainy film textures and high exposure images on old film cameras. Visually what also comes to mind is something between a 1980s classic rock-music video kind of vibe, and a Scorsese gangster heist film.
Adam Davidson: It’s obvious what Arctic Monkeys are attempting with The Car. Since Humbug, the band have been curating a certain image, which even though has seen them take several stylistic changes over the years, has stayed to some extent. The best way I can describe this is in a contradictory way – Timeless Old School. They evoke the kind of classy atmosphere that people were searching for 4 or 5 decades ago, but are able to subtly twist it to still feel up to date. Alex Turner seems like he’d be most at home sporting a pair of James Dean style shades and a crisp white shirt, coursing down the interstate in a corvette in the 70s. The album gives visions of that time, but visions of what the future looked like back then. Robots doing menial jobs, pre-packed food that tastes like gourmet cooking. Hotels on the moon (hey, someone should write an album about that!)
Which songs stand out for you on the album, and why?
Rachel Leong: With albums like this, the standout songs change everyday! But at the moment it’s “Big Ideas” and “Hello You.” I love how soulful “Big Ideas” is; I assume it’s about Turner’s perspective of his fame and creative mind, and I love that it is. Who else can pull of a story like that, really? And then more simply, I love “Hello You” because I love how the guitar solo in it pairs with the piano and the violins.
Adam Davidson: “Body Paint” is a pure masterpiece. It’s one of the more complicated pieces on The Car, but it definitely deserves its status as a single. Some songs just need to be given a wider audience. It’s a song about being cheated on, but is delivered in such a delicate and considered way that it almost feels shameful to enjoy it. When the song breaks right down to just strings and Turner’s voice, it’s got an almost haunting quality. Everything gets a little too quiet, but then the guitar stabs and orchestral hits come back in to guide the song into a grandstand finish. Dressing up a bad experience in such splendour is an old, well worn songwriting trick which when done right gives a piece a level of stunning beauty. The band aren’t particularly known for this, but if Body Paint is an example of where they’re going, the next album could be very special indeed.
Lilly Eason: “Jet Skis On The Moat,” I just really liked that one. I love the guitar tone, the slow sway of it, it’s just a pretty song. To me, it almost sounded like a song the Beatles would write.
If this album was the soundtrack to a film, what would be the plot? Or who would direct it?
Rachel Leong: I’m thinking a gangster heist movie, à la Al Pacino in The Godfather, Henry Hill in Goodfellas… something like that. To be honest The Car kind of makes me feel like I’m a Robert De Niro character (haha!), and anything off record feels like an amazing substitute backdrop for this Robert De Niro scene in particular (swoon!).
Adam Davidson: It’s gotta be a love story with an edge to it. Maybe a 50s mobster falls in love and tries to leave the criminal world to lead a normal life. Perhaps a young couple can’t be in a relationship because their families are abusive, so they try to run away together. Or an older man finds himself in a vulnerable emotional state after divorcing his wife, and ends up stalking a beautiful young woman. That undercurrent of sadness, loss, regret or just plain malevolence running through these stories would be perfectly soundtracked by The Car.
This type of music often feels cinematic, and some kind of sepia-tinted, highly emotional story would naturally go together with it. We may even see that manifest from Alex Turner at some point – He has of course already provided a partial soundtrack for Submarine, but these recent Arctic Monkeys albums and his work with The Last Shadow Puppets point towards something much grander in the future.
Should Arctic Monkeys still be considered a “rock” band?
Mitch: I think what’s important to keep in mind here is that rock is an umbrella term; I sometimes think of it more as a mindset than a sound, at this point, so yes, we should absolutely consider Arctic Monkeys a rock band; they’re one of the most defining rock bands of our time, and with The Car they are expanding the genre’s boundaries – in a sense, redefining what a rock record “is,” and what rock music sounds like.
Rachel Leong: I think because of how much at the forefront they are of modern rock music, they’ll always be a rock band in the minds of the masses. The Car still feels very much within the genre of rock to me – maybe within the realm of David Bowie, experimental rock, rather than the classic grouping of the genre.
Josh: Our dear editor-in-chief Mitch once wrote me an email expressing something to the effect of, “What are ‘genres,’ anyways? They’re just words that people throw around. They don’t really mean anything to me.” So, I guess I’ll echo that sentiment in response to this question.
Adam Davidson: They can’t move away entirely from their past, and will presumably always drop I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor into setlists. But the deliberate changes the band have made are undeniable, and releasing a 2nd album in this kind of style is a huge statement to that effect. Turner said they were going into the studio to bring back their rock sound, but that this kind of music felt more natural to them. That’s a big clue as to what we should expect from them in the next few years.
The public perception of Arctic Monkeys will surely always be that they are a guitar band, but that may wane as those high energy, loud tunes fade from view. So I’d say they’re not strictly a rock group anymore. There’s more to it than that. Perhaps the next album will solidify the direction they want to take. I’m already looking forward to it.
Lilly Eason: I mean, what else would you consider them? I totally agree with Rachel’s comparison to Bowie, “Body Paint” sounded like something off Ziggy Stardust. And I’ll echo what pretty much everyone else is saying about the broadness of genre, especially a genre like rock. Though it’s been around for less than a hundred years, rock and elements of rock music have remained prominent in popular music since its inception. And in that time, rock’s grown and fractured and evolved to the point where it’s hard to say what “rock” music sounds like these days. Any “rock” band can be sorted into alternative categories, punk rock, indie rock, brit rock, psychedelic rock, whatever King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is-rock. I’d struggle to name a rock band to exclusively label “rock”. Just because it’s slow or orchestral doesn’t mean it’s not rock. It just lives in a pocket of the cargo shorts of rock.
Is Alex Turner the last great crooner?
Mitch: Frank, Dean, Bing, Elvis, Aretha, Ella, Sam (Cooke), Otis, … and Alex. That’s how I see it. Turner doesn’t have to be the last great crooner, but somehow the same guy who sings “Dancing Shoes” and “Riot Van” has evolved into someone I can readily compare and contrast with some of music’s greatest vocalists of all time. Personally, I think he wears it well – and having caught the band’s Kings Theatre show in September, I can also say that Turner embodies the “crooner” persona as well.
Lilly Eason: Maybe. But he doesn’t have to be.
Rachel Leong: I do believe that Alex Turner will be one of, if not the, iconic frontman of our generation. His whole energy and voice is just so distinct, and instantly recognisable anywhere. That’s not to say that there won’t be others that follow – and I can’t wait for those singers to come about and onto our radars!
Josh: I’ve seen people describing various musicians as the “last XYZ,” and it usually hasn’t been the case. Rolling Stone once wondered whether Lil Wayne would be “the last artist who will ever sell one million copies in a week” (he wasn’t). VIBE put Akon on its cover in 2007 and described him as “the last hit maker” (I could swear a few more have come along since then). So, even though I think Alex Turner is a beautiful vocalist, will he be the last person in history with a refined ability to “hum or sing in a soft, low voice, especially in a sentimental manner” (the dictionary definition of “croon”)? I’ll go with “No” on this one.
Adam Davidson: I think Black Midi’s Geordie Greep would have something to say about that!
What direction do you think Arctic Monkeys will take next? What direction do you want them to take?
Rachel Leong: Given the pattern of their sound, I think they’ll keep becoming more lyrics-driven, and perhaps more experimental with this grandiose atmosphere that they’re invoking with their music. Personally for me, the beauty of any Arctic Monkeys release is that you can really feel them trailblazing their way through modern rock – boldly and unapologetically, and they never waver. That’s what ultimately keeps us going back for more, authenticity can always be felt and is always what we connect with the most at the end of the day!
Adam Davidson: They will probably take this style to it’s conclusion over the next record or two – Whatever that is will be seen in time. I think the next album will be even more divergent structurally, you can hear it in some of the more complex pieces on The Car – Arctic Monkeys are clearly wanting to switch up the verse/chorus/verse philosophy which has underpinned their music for so long and go for something more adventurous. That to me is an exciting thought, and while The Car isn’t going to end up being my favourite Arctic Monkeys album, I think they still have the potential for their finest work yet in them.
What I want is that dirty, grunge-adjacent record they described in the early days of the Humbug sessions – Let’s see Matt Helders back in his tracksuit era!
Lilly Eason: I wouldn’t mind a continuation of what they did in The Car. I also wouldn’t mind Josh Homme hopping back onto that producer list and pumping out something that sounded like Humbug. I also wouldn’t mind something as new and unexpected as how Tranquility Base felt. But Arctic Monkeys have yet to disappoint so whatever their new move is, I trust them to do what’s right. I just hope next time Matt Helders gets a bit more of a challenge. He’s had it too easy these last two albums.
How do you feel The Car stands in the pantheon of Arctic Monkeys’ releases?
Rachel Leong: It feels like a natural progression in their artistic trajectory. It’s definitely more experimental, and it feels very centred in their unique creative vision. All their records feel this way, but this one even more so. The Car is so unlike anything else that’s circling the music stratosphere right now!
Josh Weiber: Interestingly, The Car is exactly the same length as Favourite Worst Nightmare (37 mins 18 secs), and the two have the exact same score (82/100) on Metacritic. In fact, that puts them in a three-way tie, along with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, for the title of the most critically-acclaimed entries in the band’s discography. I guess all of this is a sign that the Arctic Monkeys were looking to emulate some of their most popular past albums with The Car, and they have succeeded in that objective. That should do this record some long-term favors.
Adam Davidson: The Car was never going to be a universally accepted Arctic Monkeys album. Critics have obviously loved it, but there is a sizeable portion of the Arctic Monkeys fanbase who just want Brianstorm every couple of years. People grew up with their heavier sound and pine for it while the gorgeous orchestration plays on their stereo. I guess some people just like what they like!
It’s hard to say how everything will pan out, their next era may be dramatically different from this one, or they could continue on the road they’re on now. I do think though that The Car will be seen as a lyrical triumph from Turner, it’s arguably the strongest collection of words he’s put together, and to have that level of quality on the band’s 7th album shows Arctic Monkeys have longevity and will be putting out great records for a long while yet.
Lilly Eason: One thing I’m grateful that the Arctic Monkeys have always done is act their age. So many bands, for better or worse, try to cling onto a sound they created at an age they’ll never be again. Arctic Monkeys have the ability and privilege not to do that.
When I first heard “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball,” I thought about “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.” About that first album and how young it feels. About that song that Turner, when playing it live, prefaces with “when we wrote this song it meant very little. Tonight, it means even less.” And how that sentiment radiates through parts of that debut album. Not that the album was done with little care, but about the carelessness that comes with being young and how that album depicts youth as just that- careless. Free. Still learning.
And then there’s “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball.” And there’s so much care in that song. The kind of care that only comes from age and experience. There’s love in that song. “I Bet You Look Good” and “Mirrorball” are memories of dancing from the same person, nearly twenty years apart. And it shows. The dancing in “I Bet You Look Good” means very little. The dancing in “Mirrorball” means the world. Arctic Monkeys have never clung to any part of their past. They’ve never tried to hide or change the place they’re at in life, they’ve always moved forward, aged gracefully. I think The Car shows them as they are, as all of their albums do.
How will this stack up to the rest of their music in the years to come?
Rachel Leong: I think The Car is really special, and will continue to grow with us – there’s so many layers in each and every track and even though they’ll probably continue to outdo themselves with every release, I have a feeling The Car is going to be a pretty lasting definition of iconic.
Josh Weiner: I think this question is similar to the one above it, so I’ll just say that this is a very good album that I personally enjoyed and that the critics did, too. So, it should rank well in the band’s discography in the long run.
Adam Davidson: I think this album will be best viewed in the future as a key stage in their style switch-up. If you want to put it up against the first two albums it’d be pointless, because those are two different bands, with wildly different outlooks and priorities. The Car is the best product from the band’s big classy orchestral era (however long that may be) and will be seen as such in 20/30 years time.
Lilly Eason: Nothing’s ever going to be “AM.” That will stand as the Arctic Monkeys’ legacy. I’d love to be proved wrong but at the moment, that’s where it stands. Which is okay, after all it’s a great album. I think The Car will just be another great album in the Arctic Monkeys’ discography. Which is okay, after all it’s a great album.
Stream: ‘The Car’ – Arctic Monkeys
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? © Zackery Michael
an album by Arctic Monkeys