Arctic Monkeys – The Car

Sheffield’s finest, Arctic Monkeys, return to earth on their cinematic, sonically rich, and dramatic seventh studio album, The Car.

A band that hardly needs any sort of introduction, High Green’s Arctic Monkeys have been an unstoppable force within the music industry since the early 2000s. Over the course of their illustrious career so far, Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley, and Matt Helders have remained a culturally impactful band due to Turner’s unmatched level of lyric writing, each member’s unique musical influence in the group, and the band’s consistent dedication to pursuing something fresh on each LP. Whatever they’ve set their mind to, they’ve conquered it. 

Their 2006 debut record Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was a refreshing garage rock project filled with relatable tales about the everyday mundanities and plights of British youth. The 2007 sophomore follow-up, Favourite Worst Nightmare, expanded on themes similar to the debut but on a far more ambitious level. As a testimony to Arctic Monkeys’s unwavering stance on pushing the envelope, 2009’s third studio record Humbug saw the group shatter any preconceptions the public may have held regarding the band. Thanks to its psychedelic-rock-inspired sounds. Fast forward to 2011 and their fourth album Suck It And See was a charming mix of stoner rock and guitar pop. The America-breaking and most commercially successful album so far, AM, dropped in 2013. It showcased the band’s skillset on a far more globally mainstream stage.

Five years later, the Monkeys returned and yet again smashed any expectations with their imaginative, character-driven, sci-fi concept record, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. An album that undoubtedly divided numerous fans but it was a brilliant slice of lounge pop that further cemented the group’s genius. So over the last sixteen years in particular, Arctic Monkeys have demonstrated time and time again that they can masterfully pivot in whichever direction they so choose. Thus leading us to their gorgeous and slow-burning new record, The Car. The record is one of the year’s most anticipated releases and drops via Domino Records tomorrow, Friday 21 October. 

If Tranquility Base was a space-based saga, then The Car sees Arctic Monkeys firmly land back on earth with an array of mellow, 70s-esque and vocally impressive collection of songs. It’s also a record which sees the group fully utilise a string section in a studio project. When I was sent the album, I felt I consumed it at the best possible time, the album played out as I took a car to the airport, Turner’s crooning vocals taking effect whilst I navigated the dusty country roads of sunny Mallorca, Spain. The album as a whole feels like a soundtrack in a way due to its strings giving a cinematic quality but also because on this record in particular, each track feels like it has breathing space, allowing you to take in each sonic element whether it be the drums, guitar, bass, piano, or vocals and so on. Not only sonically, but thematically the album is somewhat inspired by Turner’s love of cinema.

The album’s opening tune, There’d Better Be A Mirrorball, is arguably one of the band’s most beautiful songs in years. There’s a real sense of poignancy as Turner sings about the end of a relationship yet you can also imagine there is a sense of relief that this breakup is happening. It’s no wonder that it was released as the first single, Mirrorball leaves you eagerly awaiting the nine other songs on the project. What comes next is the funk-driven groove of I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am. Easily my personal favourite track on the album thanks to its Bowie-esque nature, vocal harmonies, and drumbeat, it might be one of the few tunes which would appease the fans that prefer something slightly faster tempo but don’t expect anything too speedy. If Mirrorball was the opening for a James Bond film, then you can imagine I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am soundtracking the scene where the main character travels to a high-tech secret tropical paradise. Although it wouldn’t be appropriate to call this record a soundtrack to a James Bond film, it’s a versatile beast, it could soundtrack a multitude of different situations or projects.

The experimental Sculptures Of Anything Goes is a brooding, slow-paced, synth-led track. This song couldn’t have existed before TBH&C, It’s tense, eerie and feels somewhat futuristic. Turner’s vocal delivery delicately pierces through the track as he delivers the line: “Blank canvasses lent against gallery walls flowing towards sculptures of Anything Goes on the marble stairs, leading to almost wherever you want them to.” This song will be championed by some and others will detest it. Returning to a fuzzy and mellow rhythm with Jet Skis On The Moat, the song is an understated gem and O’Malley’s bass is a pleasure to listen through the three-minute tune. Body Paint is the second track to be taken as a single from The Car and it’s seemingly a fan favourite from the new Arctic Monkeys era. I managed to avoid listening to the track until I listened to the album as a whole and the culminating 70s-rock build-up in Body Paint is sublime and truly pays off. Now, just over halfway through my journey to the airport and the album, the title track offers a sonically mysterious experience as Turner muses about the typical elements found on a holiday.

Throughout The Car, there are many tales of characters plagued by sadness and unreached dreams (just like in a film eh?) and Big Ideas is certainly one of these tunes. The song conjures up imagery of once-great performers now a former shadow of what they used to be, with lyrics like: “I had big ideas, the band were 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.” It’s another sad affair that has a slice of sleek fuzzy guitar. Moving onwards, Hello You is certainly the most anthemic offering on the album, thanks to its Knee Socks-esque guitar riff, infectious synth snippet, and driving drumbeat. It feels like this is where the band’s artistic vision for The Car really pays off, each element comes together effortlessly. This is easily the most accessible song for new and old fans alike on the album.

Mr Schwartz is another acoustic-led song but this time with a narrative seemingly focused on a tv/film personality. “Mr Schwartz is staying strong for the crew. Wardrobe’s lint rolling your velveteen suit and smudging dubbin on your dancing shoes. And if we guess who I’m pretending to be do we win a prize?” It’s another curious tale and Helders’s simple brush technique on the drums is my personal favourite element in it. Finally, closing the album is the fitting Perfect Sense. A song drenched in atmosphere from its orchestral strings. 

Overall, The Car is an out-of-the-ordinary body of work from one of the most iconic rock bands in the world. But is that really a surprise when they’ve been constantly evolving and subverting expectations throughout the entirety of their career? Yes, this record will alienate some fans, especially if you didn’t like TBH&C but it feels more palatable than the previous record. It’s Arctic Monkeys at a point in their lives where they’re maturer, slower, and far more elegant. They aren’t the same wide-eyed teens that grew up in Sheffield. The strings may not be as gratifying in some places compared to the arrangements on Turner’s side project, The Last Shadow Puppets but for those that do enjoy this project, you’ll be able to bask in the heady heights and dramatic tales of this cinematic experience. Each band member shines in their own way and there’s plenty to appreciate sonically and lyrically on The Car. Now they’re back on solid ground, one can only wonder where Turner & co will go next.


The Car is out tomorrow. Follow Arctic Monkeys @arcticmonkeys

Review by Cameron Poole

Featured image by Zackery Michael

The Car’s album artwork is by Matt Helders


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