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Arctic Monkeys 

+ {The Last Shadow Puppets} + {Alex Turner}

In a short space of time ARCTIC MONKEYS have catapulted into the hearts of minds of not only the post-Britpop indie brigade, but mainstream and global appeal. Led by their enigmatic boy-next-door pin-up Alex Turner, the quintessentially English quartet have excelled in bringing us their own brand of boisterous and visceral pop, while contemporaries around them (FRANZ FERDINAND and The LIBERTINES) have faded by comparison. ARCTIC MONKEYS success story is one of the more unlikely of recent years, built on the digital DIY ethos of internet self-promotion.
Formed in High Green, Sheffield in 2003 by singer/guitarist Alex Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook, bassist Andy Nicholson and drummer Matt Helders (all but Jamie from Stocksbridge High School – initial singer/guitarist Glyn Jones was an early member), ARCTIC MONKEYS drew in a substantial following through their keen distributing methods. Their popularity was such that their debut single (issued in May 2005 for their own Bang Bang Records), entitled `Five Minutes With…’ and featuring two 3-minute songs `Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ b/w `From The Ritz To The Bubble’, quickly sold out, with a value now soaring skywards.
Virtually hidden away in the studios by Laurence Bell, boss of Domino Records (home to a plethora of acts including FRANZ FERDINAND) for over a year, the Sheffield simians finally released their debut single proper, `I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, that October. Charming record buyers with its lippy, cram-it-all-in phrasing and tales-of-everyday-life lyrics, the track entered the UK charts at No.1, confounding commercial and critical expectation. Early 2006 saw the ‘Monkeys climb to the top of the charts again via follow-up single, `When The Sun Goes Down’, another shrewdly observed urban vignette tracing the missing link between modish punk, Brit-pop and The LIBERTINES. The old guitar-music-is-dead proclamations were definitively shot out of the water with the release of WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT (2006) {*9}, the fastest selling debut album in rock/pop history. The ‘Monkeys even had the cheek to enter the US Top 30, while the Brits & NME hailed them as “Best New Act/Band” at their annual awards. The Mercury Prize winning album itself – the title stemming from a line in the Alan Sillitoe novel, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning – was quirky and rollicking as one would expect, opening by way of `The View From The Afternoon’ (also the lead track to subsequent EP, `Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?’). Not since their inspirators The STROKES hit the music scene some five years earlier, and OASIS several years previous to that, did the indie fraternity have a new band to tap into. Smart, slick and wistful, choice cuts came courtesy of `Dancing Shoes’, the aforementioned `Fake Tales…’ (and its flipside), the 2-minute `You Probably Couldn’t See For The Lights But You Were Looking Straight At Me’, the spiky `Still Take You Home’ and `Mardy Bum’ – but one could just about pick anything.
ARCTIC MONKEYS had to find a quick replacement (Nick O’Malley) for the exhausted Nicholson that April, the newbie fitting in on the band’s fourth hit, the Top 5 `Leave Before The Lights Come On’; B-sides were covers of `Put Your Dukes Up John’ (The Little Flames) and `Baby I’m Yours’ (Van McCoy).
It would be hard job to follow their exciting debut, but FAVOURITE WORST NIGHTMARE (2007) {*8} made a worthy attempt as it rocketed to the top of the charts (Top 10 in America). `Brianstorm’, `Fluorescent Adolescent’ and `Teddy Picker’ all achieved Top 20 status as the tongue-twisting Turner ran off his confident and cocksure gob in machine-gun fashion; solitary among them was the horizontal croon `Only Ones Who Know’.
Moonlighting with his mucker MILES KANE (of The Little Flames and The Rascals), plus producer/drummer James Ford (of Simian Mobile Disco) and the London Metropolitan Orchestra (arranged by Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett), co-vocalist Alex Turner took a step backwards in time donning his 60s Baroque-symphonic cap for The LAST SHADOW PUPPETS album, THE AGE OF THE UNDERSTATEMENT (2008) {*7}. Dipping into nostalgia from nigh-on half a century past (think JACQUES BREL produced by Phil Spector), the exuberance and drama was clear on tracks such as `My Mistakes Were Made For You’, `Calm Like You’, `I Don’t Like You Any More’ and the opening title track salvo; look out too for B-side covers of `Paris Summer’ (LEE HAZLEWOOD) and `My Little Red Book’ (Bacharach-David), the latter better known to LOVE acolytes.
Back to his day job with ARCTIC MONKEYS, Turner and his simian team of conspirators enlisted the help of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE leader Josh Homme to try his hand at producing on third album, HUMBUG (2009) {*7}. Always angular but a little darker this time around (the ‘Monkeys were no The Bad Seeds), the inclination to sound like a squeaky NICK CAVE was probably ill-advised; they even covered the man’s `Red Right Hand’ for a B-side. The album itself was colored by dense, abstract cues, the best being `Cornerstone’, major Top 20 hit `Crying Lightning’, `My Propeller’ and `Secret Door’.
Many artists have tried and failed to create music for a soundtrack, but ALEX TURNER took to it like a duck to water for the James Ford-produced mini-set/EP, `Submarine’. Best known for his acting role as Moss in The IT Crowd, fresh director Richard Ayoade was responsible for employing the ‘Monkeys man. Stripped back to acoustic basics, there was nothing rocking for moody songs such as `Stuck On The Puzzle’, the countrified `It’s Hard To Get Around The Wind’ and `Piledriver Waltz’; the latter almost immediately covered by Caitlin Rose.
2011 also saw the release of the ARCTIC MONKEYS fourth set, SUCK IT AND SEE {*7}, a record that once again employed Ford, this time in a L.A. studio. Opening with the very MORRISSEY-like `She’s Thunderstorms’, there were the usual powerhouse stomps, fuzzy logic puns and full-on bombast. The swaggering `Black Treacle’, the PIXIES-meets-IGGY-esque `Brick By Brick’ and the glam-y `Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ were typical ‘Monkeys fare; `Piledriver Waltz’ was re-vamped from Turner’s earlier OST exploit.
Making history as the only group/artist ever to have their first five sets entering the charts at No.1, and all in a 10-year span, the album in question, AM (2013) {*9}, was another stylish slice of indie-rock pie. As if Brit-pop had never sailed into the sunset some dozen or so years ago, ARCTIC MONKEYS were rightly hailed saviours of a dying breed of rock acts. Boasting three major hit singles (a rare feat indeed in today’s X-Factor-riddled market), the excellent `R U Mine?’, `Do I Wanna Know?’ and `Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, bristled with energy and aplomb, while Josh Homme played his additional vocal part on `Knee Socks’ and `One For The Road’; Attractions geezer Pete Thomas and The CORAL’s Bill Ryder-Jones also guested. Long-time fans of indie-poet JOHN COOPER CLARKE, Turner and Co were only too happy to snap up his words for the closing track, `I Wanna Be Yours’.
Exactly eight years from Alex’s previous LAST SHADOW PUPPETS escapade with Miles K, anticipation, or indeed curiosity, was rife for the pair’s lush, retro-type trip, EVERYTHING YOU’VE COME TO EXPECT (2016) {*7}. Recorded with producer/player James Ford in Los Angeles under shadowy slices of film noir (think JOHN BARRY, ROY BUDD, MORRICONE et al), the chart-topping set summoned the sounds of the sixties via soul and orchestrated chamber-pop. Mostly debonair and devilish, the doomed and debauched `Bad Habits’ possessed the magic here, whilst the Austin Powers-time-travel-effect was echoed for `Aviation’, `Dracula Teeth’, `Sweet Dreams, TN’ and the spine-tingling title track; incidentally, Zach Dawes (of Mini Mansions) played bass.
To boost their standing further, Alex and Miles convinced the powers that be that their LSP 6-track “The Dream Synopsis EP” should be given album status when hitting the Top 60 – `Totally Wired’ not so much, as their mighty FALL cover suggested.
The planet of the chart-topping ARCTIC MONKEYS swaggered soulfully back into alt-rock’s house of cards with a roll-of-the-dice gambit, TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL + CASINO (2018) {*7}. At first, Turner and Co’s decision to go retro and loungey was effectively poo-poo’d by some critics, but on closer inspection and several spins, the faux-AFGHAN WHIGS-meets-RICHARD HAWLEY overtones unearthed a myriad of coolness and lyrical abandon from the baby-faced wunderkid Alex T. From opening salvo, `Star Treatment’ and `Four Out Of Five’ to `Batphone’ and the title piece (plus more besides), the melancholy ‘Monkeys had explored a widescreen avenue that would undoubtedly stretch the band beyond mere mortals.
© MC Strong 2006/GRD / rev-up MCS June2013-Aug2018

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