Arctic Monkeys – Humbug (2009)

Welcome to the desert! Deserting the North of England for California, Yorkshire’s finest have got all groovy. Spanking out of the traps with a very Sixties garage feel, essentially, The Last Shadow Puppets with his proper band, Alex Turner sings of his girl in a nifty little metaphor, for apparently, she’s “My Propeller”. Good song, sounds very spy film – one could imagine Mysterons turning up, too.

However, it’s gets a lot better with “Crying Lightning”. The first song on the album produced by Josh Homme, it definitely sounds like the band have swallowed some of Queens of the Stone Age’s favourite substances – the ghostly echoey guitars, the way the vocals and drums float around in the mix, all evoke Californian deserts, which, unsurprisingly, is where the majority of the album was recorded. It shows most here on the guitar solo, which twists and turns much like a QOTSA tune.

Across the album, Turner has taken a lyrical left turn – there’s a lot more elliptical imagery and metaphor, as opposed to the cheeky observations of the first, or the dark introspection of the second albums. Here, it’s all dangerous animals, propellers, potions and fiddles. However, for fans of the great British story-song tradition, “Cornerstone” will float your verbose boats. Classically Turner, it’s a pensive look at a past girlfriend’s haunting of his life, where here image pops up in an almost Hitchcockian manner.

“Dangerous Animals”, “Potion Approaching” and “Fire and the Thud” all resonate with the deserty space that Homme brings to the party, but never feels too intrusive. Much like the Last Shadow Puppets side project, Turner’s voice (both physically and lyrically) are too distinct for sonic experiments to obscure – he’ll forever be himself, and thus the Arctic Monkeys will forever sound like themselves, whatever else they add to the mix. “Pretty Visitors” is a case in point – it sounds like an outtake from a QOTSA’s album, but feels like a very very angry Northern man spitting out his favourite insults (“What came first, the chicken or the dickhead?”), and as such, ranks up there with the best songs of the canon.

It’s a pity that the whole album couldn’t have been helmed by Homme, as the songs that weren’t sometimes sound like a step backwards. If “Cornerstone” wasn’t so beautifully realised, it’d be as boring as “Secret Door”, which sounds like a sop to Turner’s side project. I’ve never been a fan of the Everly Brothers, and neither the Last Shadow Puppets, and this comes across as a pretty soppy tune. It’s a pity, but it’s out of the way fairly quickly, and lets the album get on with the better, more consistent tracks.

Finishing off with “The Jeweller’s Hands”, a great slow number, with more than a shot of Homme in the rhythms, this album certainly marks a new step forward in lyrics and sonics for the Arctic Monkeys. Well worth a listen, and certain to be a big hit with the festival goers this summer.


Key Tracks: My Propeller/Crying Lightning/Cornerstone/Pretty Visitors


One thought on “Arctic Monkeys – Humbug (2009)

  1. I agree with this review wholeheartedly.

    I really do wish that Homme was the sole producer, because the songs that he touched really do stand out.
    I do find myself thinking as I listen through the album “Oo… thats a nice guitar riff”, or, “Those drums sound awesome”.
    I really disliked the Monkeys’ last two albums. Maybe because they were over played… or maybe just because I generally don’t like Indie. But this Desert influenced album is defiantly a step in the right direction. Darker, Rockyer, and stoner-er to get respect and therefore more fans from people like myself, and I’m sure many more. Yet, still has the distinctive AM sound (Which as you rightly pointed out comes very much from the singer).
    Anyway, back to work.

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