When asked why she only published one novel, Harper Lee, author of the widely successful 1960s American classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” replied that she had said what she wanted to say and would not say it again. Nearly half a century later, English indie-rock band, Arctic Monkeys released their debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” to similar critical acclaim as Lee. The music world celebrated the group as the ‘second-coming of the Beatles,’ though unlike Lee, Arctic Monkeys continued to produce record after record. In an attempt to reach that same legendary status as the fab-four, however, the modern incarnation began to stray further from that very sound that brought them so much initial attention.
On Sept. 6, Arctic Monkeys dropped “AM,” their follow up to 2011’s lukewarm “Suck It and See,” which seems to pick up right where the previous record left off. At this point, Arctic Monkeys have almost totally abandoned the garage-rock sound from their first album for one that resembles the lovechild of Queens of the Stone Age and a post-“Brothers” era Black Keys.
“AM” kicks off with the grueling, bluesy riff, “Do I Wanna Know?” the record’s second single. At first, the riff enthralls with its raw force, though several minutes without change becomes redundant. Seconds after “Do I Wanna Know?” closes, the first single off “AM,” “R U Mine?” screeches in, with a faster yet almost identical riff as the album opener. But any momentum that “Do I Wanna Know?” may have initiated with its catchy guitar-work stops short due to the sloppy structure and overall poor composition of “R U Mine?”
The album only picks up on the fourth track, the Black Keys- and Black Sabbath-influenced “Arabella,” about a fantastically complex love-interest. Frontman Alex Turner describes her in eccentric detail as “a modern lover,” “made of outer space,” with “a 70s haircut” and “interstellar gator-skin boots.” “Arabella” stands out as the strongest track on the album and is followed by the almost equally dominant “I Want It All,” which could easily fit in on Queens of the Stone Age’s “Rated R” or “Lullabies To Paralyze.”
“AM” does in fact feature Queens’ frontman, Josh Homme, on “Knee Socks” and “One For The Road.” This is not Arctic Monkeys’ first encounter with the desert-rockers though, as Turner was featured on their most recent album, “…Like Clockwork” and Homme produced the band’s 2009 release, “Humbug.”
The next interesting moment appears on the seventh song, “Mad Sounds,” which strongly resembles a 1960s California surf-rock tune and builds up quietly with some Creedence Clearwater Revival-like organs that appear all across the record. Like many of the aforementioned songs, “Mad Sounds” is nicely written, but could not even be identified as an Arctic Monkeys song if it weren’t for Turner’s Paul McCartney-esque vocals. This trend continues into the next song, “Fireside,” which sounds like a sequel to “Mad Sounds,” and continues throughout the rest of the album, which includes two of the album’s best tracks, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “Snap Out of It.”
“Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” epitomizes the album’s extremely sexual lyrics in one line. Turner is clearly preoccupied with both chasing women and reassuring himself, almost self-consciously, that he can retain control of his relationships for their duration. “Snap Out of It,” which is about trying to rekindle a struggling relationship, drives like a classic piano-driven rock and roll song, and makes the album more enjoyable before the album comes to a reflective and slow close.
“I Wanna Be Yours,” the final track, sums up the record perfectly. While most of the songs depict neurotic characters either obsessed with the pursuit of sexual release or anxious about losing their current sexual interest, “I Wanna Be Yours” discards any superficial relationship by simply admitting that above all the difficulties and distractions, nothing can top simply finding yourself with that one special person.
Both lyrically and musically, Arctic Monkeys present sounds familiar to the weathered music fan. While “AM” maintains a solid rock and roll vibe from start to finish, highlighted by several upbeat tracks and raunchy, female-obsessed lyricism, the record doesn’t quite feel like the typical Arctic Monkeys’ release. While the musicianship and much of the songwriting is quite strong, “AM” will leave many longtime Arctic Monkeys fans yearning to hear some fast-paced feedback-heavy guitars that harken back to the band’s earlier material.