Review: Arctic Monkeys – The Car

The Car is, ultimately, the sound of pennies collectively dropping – or if it isn’t, it should be. That if there was to be any career it would always be one of shape-shifting, doubling back, hopping across and testing the limits and boundaries was signalled from the very first: Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not.

The clue really was in the title.

This is why five years after we went to the moon and back, we’re being teaser trailered again and encouraged to work out just what the scamps are up to now they’re all grown up and we are too.

So, the overview: The Car is tactile. Tears are cried in tanning booths. Body paint is worn. Photo shoots happen. It’s retro styled. We expect this now. Pop music was once about discovering a new sound. Now it’s about playing dress up in the expectation that people get the references. The work still has to have inner integrity, however, or it’s just pastiche. Thankfully, The Car does. There are elements of soul in it – all types, not just musically; and a kind of sultry honeyed ambience whose sweetness could give way at any moment to a sugar rush headache or the dark sourness lurking beneath the gloss.

This is a contemporary album for the contemporary moment: there’s a growl to the opening of Sculptures of Anything Goes that nods to the fact that the promise of the title also extracts a price; Body Paint lopes and grooves – people forget that the Arctics were always a rhythmically elastic band: it’s what made the poetry and the melodies so damned addictively exciting in the first place; and Jet Skis on the Moat indicates that the sense of humour is still there: the wah-wah guitars contrasting nicely with Turner asking if we / he are happy to sit and watch ‘the paint job dry.’

There are elements of soul in it – all types, not just musically; and a kind of sultry honeyed ambience whose sweetness could give way at any moment

Material that references how hard it is to be wildly successful can be a tough sell – and the central theme of the album is, essentially, the idea that behind the glamour, the mirrorballs, the Riviera, the photoshoots, disco strobes, marble, champagne and international travel something is desperately, quietly wrong. Hey, this is the business we call show, we’re told, and it’s all singing in ‘Spanish on Italian TV’, a dusty apartment and a heavy heart.

But the riding the tension between anticipation and reality was there even when the songs were about sprawling nights out, anticipation, dancefloors, drama, taxi rides home, the cold light of morning.

So too was negotiating expectations – something anyone who grows up in a Northern town caught between its industrial past and possible futures is familiar with – regardless of whether or not you then go on to become international pop stars. And if you do manage to, how does the journey look now there to here has enough distance under the wheel to allow reflection? ‘I’ve snorkelled on the beaches fruitlessly,’ Turner sings on Hello You. ‘Why not rewind to Rawborough Snooker Club? / I could pass for seventeen if I just get a shave and catch some Zs.’

The songs aren’t indie bangers anymore because the protagonists aren’t indie bangers anymore and nor are their audiences. They’re songs for now, not then. And they’re damned good ones. If the first three albums secured the legacy, AM paid off any mortgages still outstanding on any properties still waiting and Tranquility Base was a phone call from a group with nothing left to prove …

The Car is the album where they prove it all again, again.

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