hangin with the arctic monkeys
not literally lol I wish. but they fr hangin with me in my eardrums
Thoughts on the Arctic Monkeys’ seventh studio album, The Car, out October 21.
A few (live, semi-edited) thoughts upon listening to the album as a full project.
The Car is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you listen to music.
lounge pop wins, guys. I am so sorry to everyone who wasn’t ready for this revolution
Alex Turner’s voice was always that romantic, baroque type of velveteen singer, and he’s very much leaned into the orchestral side of the band’s explorations in the past few years. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino wasn’t for everybody, especially not those who arrived and stuck around during AM. (I re-listened to TBH+C right before the drop to prime my smooth little brain.)
Earlier this year, Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders said that the upcoming album, which continues our journey from TBH+C - and the band’s sound - “will never be like ‘R U Mine?’ again.”
Yes, change is hard! We hate her. But at the same time, we absolutely must allow the band to transform in its natural way. What they’ve created together is, yes, different, but could they really remake AM? What they’ve created together is stunning, riveting, and totally unique. Originality is a rare, rare gem.
The Car will, for sure, be a heavily orchestrated album - we can tell by the three released singles, all with that thick musical chord tying them together. They have a nice complementary texture to them, and I was very curious to see how these three selected pieces represented the whole.
Here we go.
“There’d Better Be a Mirrorball”
Yeah … “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” just came on and all coherent thought flew out of my head.
This was the first of the singles released ahead of this album, and also the song that brings us leads the album. We heard this back on August 30, and though I knew it was wonderful at first, it really took until today for it to touch me. I felt the same with so many songs on TBH+C.
Here we have that slow dancing in a burning room drama of “Ultracheese,” “No. 1 Party Anthem,” and, to an extent, “505.” We’re getting cynical, he says - throwing the rose tint back on the exploded view. Darling, if I were you…
(Proper grammar, Alex. Fair play to ya.)
How’s that insatiable appetite?
For the moment when you look them in the eyes…and say, ‘
Baby, it’s been nice’
so do you wanna walk me to the car?
I’m sure to have a heavy heart.
So can we please be absolutely sure that there’s a mirrorball … for me …
Do you - I’m - we - a mirrorball for me. I just think the transference of pronoun here is something to notice. “There better be a mirrorball for me…” not sure why it stuck out but it did, it definitely did. Visualizing a scene as Alex so easily lets us do in his narrative, I do feel solitude in this song even though he’s singing to someone - I’ll reread this tomorrow and it’ll make no sense. Then I’ll hear the song and it’ll make sense again.
I’d throw the rose tint back on the exploded view …
“Mirrorball” (and later, “Body Paint”) - this is a song that really allows the band’s musicality to shine. Naturally, we’re quick to talk about Alex, his sound and lyrics, but we have to remember that so much musical interpretation and influence is driven by the members of the band beneath the lyrics - especially one that’s been together through various eras and iterations like these lads.
“I’m Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am”
Though the release schedule had us listening to “Body Paint” next, it’s “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” that follows Mirrorball - a funk beat comes right up along with a lovely vocal. This was a song the band debuted back in Zurich during the Openair Festival (check out this fan’s video here).
Formation displays of affection fly over
(Eyes roll back) and I can see both islands now
From my vantage point
It’s the intermission, let’s shake a few hands
Blank expressions invite me to suspect I ain’t quite where I think I am
Stackable party guests to fill the awkward silences the disco strobes in the stumbling blocks -
Wait! There’s the other island now. Formation displays …
I love Alex’s voice here, he really lets himself settle into such a good, solid croon. A bit of call and response too. Love the cyclical nature and the growing depth of the harmonies and strings as it goes on. And, of course, I love any song with the phrase “my way.”
Watch the band performing this live at King’s Theatre in Brooklyn below.
“Sculptures of Anything Goes”
I knew this song was going to have me in a vice grip by the first three seconds. WHO INVITED HANS ZIMMER.
How am I supposed to manage my infallible beliefs?
This is an absolutely gorgeous song - sometime in the future, Alex says he still wonders if our mother still ever thinks of him.
How gut-wrenching…blank canvasses lent against gallery walls. Art by lack of art.
Sculptures of anything goes - a vague sense of longing. The song fully embodies this. What is it leading to? The blank canvases leaning against a gallery wall …
Is that vague sense of longing kinda like trying to cause a scene?
Who could put on this song but this band alone? I was simply blown away by this track.
With your horrible new sound
Baby, those mixed messages ain’t what they used to be
When you said them out loud
Blank canvasses lent against a gallery wall flowing toward sculptures of anything goes
On the marble stairs leading to almost wherever you want them to …
And then some of my favorite. Favorite. FAVORITE. Moments I’ve heard from this band in so long. From 1:26 onward I was simply in a trance. From the first beat, honestly. From the count-in when they recorded it, before the tape rolled. I loved this song before I even heard it. WOW.
Roll your eyes and help me to get untied from the chandelier …
“Jet Skis on the Moat”
That little funky groove is back on, croony Alex back.
Shot it all in Cinemascope, as though it’s the last time you’re gonna ride.
The title and mention of Cinemascope certainly sets a scene, no need for a music video.
You know that it’s all right if you want to cry?
Upon first listen this was an underwhelming song, but I needed a break from the last track. On my second listen, I could visualize watching a vinyl spin around as this song played. I’d consider this song a palette cleanser but nonetheless a nice listen. Could be a grower.
Is there something on your mind or are you just happy to sit there and watch while the paint job dries?
When it’s over you’re supposed to know…
Then “Body Paint.” We know her, we love her. It’s interesting to hear this track right after “Jet Skis,” with its call back to the paint job, rather than as the second standalone single.
You’ve made quite the bed to lie in…you don’t let the sun catch you crying.
The first phrase we hear feels dreamy, but this is a song that feels almost punishing, accusatory, and very much tactile.
So predicable, I know what you’re thinking.
Also, if there’s one thing Alex Turner’s gonna do, it’s use a word like subterfuge. His intentional lyricism is not lost on any listener. He doesn’t choose a word or a phrase flippantly. This is a craft he is particularly expert at and something we’ve come to expect from Arctic Monkeys records.
My teeth are beating and my knees are weak. It’s as if there’s something up with the wiring.
And then. The most theatrical strings switch up that I absolutely adore. Broadway, even.
I’m watching your every move. I feel the tears are coming on. It won’t be long, it won’t be long
Straight from the cover shoot, still a trace of body paint on your legs and on your arms and on your face
It’s a vaudeville, gaudy but loving melody that blends back into our first theme … this one took me a few listens, like “Mirrorball,” but it really is just perfect.
And I’m keeping on my costume and calling it a writing tool
And if you’re thinking of me, I’m probably thinking of you …
I don’t mind that the band takes its time on these tracks. I’m not sure when short albums became the thing to do - but for a band like this, where nothing is superfluous, everything is intentional and each word, lick, note, melody means something, each single minute is just a gift and I love how the jams go on. I could listen to them go and go forever. The band just expands within these songs, I really feel that they took advantage of time and space in a different way on this record.
Here we get our title track. First thoughts: the bossa nova. (Surely his use of amigos helps this along.) This guitar is just so tantalizing. There’s no other sound like this on this record.
It ain’t a holiday until they force you to make a wish…They say, ‘Climb up this.’ And ‘Jump off that.’
And you pretend to fall asleep on the way back.
The most romantic string interlude, heart soaring … then electric. YES. Loving this. It feels so darkly romantic. Like thunder.
It ain’t a holiday until you go to fetch something from the car.
Alex has got some ideas, including mandolins, creating The Ballad of What Could’ve Been. This is such a creamy intro to the song musically and his voice is top tier on this.
Over and out. It’s been a thrill. I had big ideas, the band was so excited. The kind you’d rather not share over the phone. But now the orchestra’s got us all surrounded and I cannot for the life of me remember how they go.
Wow. I mean, he absolutely just said it right there. Truly - the orchestra’s got them all surrounded…what was AM? Another planet, lightyears away. We can barely remember at this point.
I cannot for the life of me remember how they go.
This line was deeply moving to me. I saw the future world and a slippage of memory past an understanding music - a dark, starless, soundless world.
Another electric moment. Wonderful, full-bodied motifs carried through.
I just can’t for the life of me remember how they go …
Faster and again, that funk. Giving “Four Out of Five.” LEGO Napoleon movie? Sure, Alex. The business they call show.
Still dragging out a long goodbye?
I ought to apologize for one of the last times…
There’s such a solid rhythm and good momentum in this song that I would’ve loved to hear it the first half of the album rather than as it’s winding down, to be honest. This song feels like if I put my notes section of poetic phrase scraps to lyrics but like … actually good. It’s a mishmash, I’ll say that.
Read the message I left on the thank you card
Didn’t love the song on first listen, but they can’t all be winners (on the first listen. See: TBH+C).
I could pass for 17 if I just get a shave and catch some Z’s
Something Julian Casablancas lives by, for sure.
Back on that guitar!
Come here and kiss me now before it gets too cute
Mr Schwartz is stayin strong for the crew. Wardrobe’s lint rollin your velveteen suit.
And smudgin dubbin on your dancing shoes.
I love this storyline - and a wonderful bass and gentle guitar part that’s just transfixing. That sort of Spanish guitar actually feels very present in this song.
Gradually it’s coming into view. It’s like your little directorial debut.
As fine a time as any to deduce the fact that neither you or I has ever had a clue.
Another tactile song - velveteen suit. A full character we embody.
And if we guess who I’m pretending to be, do we win a prize?
Having attempted twice, both incorrectly, do we get a third try?
The gloved hand’s reaching in to hit the switch
There’s not one goddamn thing that you can do about it
But Mr Schwartz is having tea with the grips
Asking after all the wives and the kids
Is that the heart of what the business is?
Favorite lyrical and musical ending so far. I felt really transfixed by this song.
Strings chopping it up. We are winding down here and you can tell this is the statement piece. This track is, as The 1975’s Matty Healy says, mint.
Love those classic Turner lyrics. We’re throwing everything in there. But lyrically, it’s the shortest song on the record, which just shows you how full the instrumentals make it feel. Wall to wall deep, beautiful sound.
If that’s what it takes to say goodnight, then that’s what it takes.
This might truly be the most gorgeous moment on the album. So glad it’s here at the end.
A revelation or your money back
That’s what it takes to say goodnight
Sometimes I wrap my head around it all and it makes perfect sense.
Keep reminding me that it ain't a race
When my invincible streak turns onto the final straight
If that's what it takes to say goodnight
Then that's what it takes
And then, we’re done with The Car. Much to unpack. Wow wow wow.
my thoughts once i’ve collected my initial thoughts
“Sculptures” is an absolute masterpiece, I still stand by that. It was an absolute standout for this album. I think “Big Ideas” and “Perfect Sense” are songs that absolutely soar.
Turner sounds as good as he ever has, if not better. Like its predecessor, The Car allows the instrumental arrangements to shine on each track. Some standout moments for me in terms of arrangements included “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.”
I’d love to know more about the intention behind the ordering of the tracks, if there is any (surely there is).
I have the distinct sense that, like TBH+C, this album will very much grow on me with time. Without allowing myself to read too many reviews or comment sections for fear of their subliminal influence, I could understand that there was a similar reception to this album as the last.
I feel there’s a real narrative here that responds to that kind of feedback - things like “insatiable appetite” and the romantic surety of “Perfect Sense” reads to me as an understanding of this new chapter in their musical journey. He can see “both islands” now - “The spare set of tingles'll race up your spine if I get it my way” - I trust you, Alex. We’re with ya.
TBH+C is the music they’d play when you first arrive at a new planet after the end of the world. The Car is the music they would play at the first dance in our new galaxy.
important people to credit
I think it’s important that all parts of an album’s creation be credited, so I wanted to mention each element of this project by name:
Alex Turner on vocals, guitars, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, drums, string arrangements
Jamie Cook on guitar, synthesizer, organ, slide guitar
Nick O'Malley on bass
Matt Helders on drums
Tom Rowley on guitars
Tyler Parkford on backing vocals
Loren Humphrey on engineering
James Ford on production, string arrangements
Bridget Samuels on string arrangements
If you’re an Arctic Monkeys fan, or just happen to give the album a listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
If you’re still here, you’re legit braver than the US Marines
Oh! And since this is in place of a Monday newsletter, don’t forget that these albums are coming out this week:
The Beatles, Revolver special edition
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Changes
Smino, Love for Rent
Drake & 21 Savage (prod. Metro Boomin), Her Loss
You know I’ll be listening over here.