Having recovered from the lukewarm critical reception and the public indifference that greeted 2009’s Humbug, Arctic Monkeys have returned with an album that is, more than anything, an attempt to put them back in the public’s consciousness: an album full of big choruses, major keys and conventional pop formulae. Where Humbug was full of ideas but thin on tunes, this latest effort is quite the opposite. The fusion of its predecessor’s abstract lyrics and stoner-rock with the retro stylings of Alex Turner’s The Last Shadow Puppets forms the makeup of Suck It And See.
Disappointing at times, here, is that a band that had such a strong identity – a group that had been parodied and imitated when they first arrived with 2006’s instant classic Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – are revealing their influences far too easily. At times, the group is imitating other artists with what are, essentially, pastiches. The melody of opener ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ bears more of a resemblance to Richard Hawley, while the predictable and well-trodden G-D-C progression of ‘Black Treacle’ recalls the Byrds-esque pop of Teenage Fanclub. Add to this track three, ‘Brick By Brick’, an unremarkable throwaway homage to The Vines, and you sense that this is already a false start. The chorus of ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ offers a shot in the arm and will, no doubt, be a staple of future live sets.
There is, however, flatness in the middle of the record. At times, you can’t help but feel that they’ve lost the bite, spike and edge that not only defined the best moments of Favourite Worst Nightmare but which made them so attractive in the first place. ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve moved Your Chair’, ‘Library Pictures’ and ‘All My Own Stunts’ are a trio of flat, distortion-led tracks that find the band reverting to their already exhausted Queens of the Stone Age influence. Turner’s litany of intended witticisms on ‘Don’t Sit Down…’ (“Run with scissors through a chip pan fire fight”) never really connect. They aren’t funny and fall wide of the mark, much like the “Give me an eeny meeny miny moe/or an ipp dipp dogshit rock n’roll” lines of ‘Library Pictures’. On ‘Love is A Laser Quest’, Turner’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry a song with such a slow tempo.
It’s a given that Turner could no longer go on singing about fights at taxi ranks or Saturday nights out in modern Britain, but somewhere during his transition in his writing style, he seems to have lost the unique talents he once had for rhyme, sharp concrete images, wit and outward-looking lyrics. While the opening words of ‘Piledriver Waltz’ seem impressive (“I etched the face of a stopwatch on the back of a raindrop”), the pseudo-poetic, pseudo-psychedelic wordplay too readily recalls John Lennon’s opening lyrics to ‘Across the Universe’ and the song itself feels like a collage of classic ballads.
The highlights on Suck It and See are those songs lead by guitarist Jamie Cook, who seems more inspired than Turner when he’s playing the higher strings. Fired up, no doubt, by the great, Northern English guitar players, he shines with the Johnny Marr-type chime that ends and defines the Pixies-influenced ‘Reckless Serenade’, which is among the most memorable songs here. Also particularly memorable and infectious are the guitar parts that drive album closer ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’. It would be easy to dismiss the song as sounding like Echo & The Bunnymen covering LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’ – which it does – but it works so incredibly well and ends the album on such an intriguing note that it’s hard not to admire what they can do with just two chords.
In all, there are some very well-crafted pop songs here that may win back those fans who no longer felt involved after their era-defining debut album. It’s certainly their best since Favourite Worst Nightmare, and a step in the right direction but quality control lets them down too often. Where they go next is anyone’s guess, but if Turner, lyrically, gains the inspiration and focus that Cook has here and if the band, collectively, regain their edge, there’s no doubt that album number five could be their best yet.