Arctic Monkeys Grow Old With Their Fans. From Cute Teenagers To Big-Mouthed Rockers To Cosmic Variety Artists
The group was formed 20 years ago and its 7th studio album, The Car, has just been released.
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How many rock bands, that were born 20 years ago, are still relevant and not just a parody of their early work? Pleiades of sensations from the beginning of the millennium such as Franz Ferdinand, The Vaccines and The Kooks glimpsed the peak of popularity, and their sound faded over time or ended up as empty versions of themselves.
Arctic Monkeys led by Alex Turner was never a commercial or critical success, and that's why the work they do today is miles away from their debut. Alex Turner recently admitted that at first they didn't even think about staying active and on stage for so long. Which he says is evident from the rather childish name of the band.
When 505's more than two-decade-old song was trending on Spotify this year, users of the platform, who are often younger than the hit itself, started rightfully asking, "Who The F**k Are Arctic Monkeys?"
Even the generation of young people in their thirties, who grew up with the band, came to their music via the Internet. The first fans downloaded the mysterious compilation "Beneath the Boardwalk" - named after the Sheffield club where the budding "monkeys" performed - via the Napster or Limewire applications.
Guitars as a Christmas present
In 2001, high school classmates Alex Turner and Jamie Cook, inspired by the success of The Strokes, decided to learn to play the guitars they had received as 16-year-olds for Christmas. When they learned how to control them acceptably, they started a band. They had nothing better to do in the suburbs of Sheffield, without internet and proper transport links to the centre.
Alex Turner told Stereogum that Julian Casablancas' band was the only one at the time that could reach 14- and 15-year-olds and change their perspective on the world. As the remaining members, they later chose classmates - Andy Nicholson and Matt Helders. Alex started singing. The other members refused to take the microphone.
The band's first producer, Alan Smyth, saw exceptional potential in Alex. His originally fast diction was based on listening to rappers like Roots Manuva, Eminem and Snoop Dogg, and the band quickly built a reputation in Sheffield as energetic punks and as hard workers.
The name Arctic Monkeys was coined before they recorded a single song by guitarist Jamie Cook. It was supposed to refer to the pejorative designation of the inhabitants of northern England "Northern Monkeys". It won over the alternative name Death Ramps.
Big on the internet
Arctic Monkeys played their first concerts in June 2003 in their hometown of Sheffield, giving out demos on CDs to fans on the spot. These were later spread on the Internet by enthusiastic listeners. Ironically, the most active was Mark "Sheriff" Bull, who distributed a compilation with 18 demo songs under the unofficial name "Beneath the Boardwalk".
Internet listeners quickly flocked and set up fan pages on the now-defunct Myspace forum. Drummer Matt Helders told Prefix magazine that the spontaneous way of spreading their work suited the band, since they didn't want to make money from the records, and this way, when playing at concerts outside their hometown, people at least knew words to their songs.
The lyrics caught on quickly, mainly due to the theme of universal problems of growing up. This is how energetic songs got onto the Internet, which already appeared on the debut and breakthrough album "A Certain Romance", "Dancing Shoes" and "Riot Van" a year later.
British listeners made "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" the fastest-selling debut album in history in 2006. In its first week, it sold more carriers than the rest of the top twenty combined.
The first album, like all the others, was recorded under the Domino label. The near-instant success, without the help of a major label and a massive marketing campaign, marked a historic shift in the perception of how success can be achieved, according to The Guardian.
On the musical side, Alex Turner is most proud of "A Certain Romance" from the first album. In an interview with NME, he said that while composing the final part of the song, something happened that shook up their previous practice. "That was the first time we prioritized emotional effect over words, and I feel like we've been trying to do that again and again ever since. It showed our ambition to go further than we originally thought we were capable of.”
(Don't) believe the hype
Just three months after their debut, the foursome released the EP "Who the F**k Are Arctic Monkeys?" and they managed to confirm the success of the first album a year later, when they released "Favorite Worst Nightmare" (2007). The album, according to long-time producer and, according to NME, unofficial fifth member James Ford, took the burden off the band and proved that its rocket success was no accident.
The album with a cleaner and more spectacular sound, like all the band's recordings to date, was at the top of the UK album chart. The foursome's new self-confidence was reflected in a more colourful sound underlined by more playful arrangements and guitar riffs.
During the follow-up concert tour, they also played the two biggest concerts up to that point at their own mini-festival at Manchester's Old Trafford Cricket Ground. The festival, which also featured Amy Winehouse, was described by NME as a generation-defining moment comparable to Oasis' Knebworth shows 10 years ago. The group established their reputation and convinced the biggest UK events to entrust them with the main evening slots.
After taking over the English scene, Domino Records boss Laurence Bell felt the Monkeys needed to try something new, and sent them to audition with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, of whom all the members were fans, according to The Spin.
The Sheffield band breathed in the Californian air while recording in the studio in the middle of the Joshua Tree National Park. According to Jamie Cook, Homme instilled an authentic confidence in the band. "He had the charisma to convince us to do things differently. We didn't play slow, heavy rock songs until then. It was a different world for us. I don't know if we would have started this if it wasn't for Josh. He told us - It's harder to play slowly."
Under Homme's baton, they recorded the more psychedelic "Humbug" inspired by Nick Cave, Jimi Hendrix and Cream in 2009. It contained hits such as "My Propeller", Crying Lightning and the ironic ballad "Cornerstone".
On Humbug, Alex Turner finally said goodbye to straightforward lyrics and started playing around with metaphors. Clash wrote of the album's atmosphere that "the band defied all expectations and stepped out of their comfort zone, with Turner becoming an exceptional lyricist whose themes play out in allegories so powerful they take your breath away".
Two years later, the foursome confirmed their growing affection for American soil and recorded the album "Suck it And See" in Los Angeles in 2011 with songs "She's Thunderstorms" and "Brick by Brick". A special controversy was also connected with the recording. In the US, the cover was sold with the name pasted over, for its allegedly straightforward sexual connotation.
Leather jackets and gelled hair
In 2013, the band returned in an unexpectedly spectacular form with the album AM, which won not only fans but also critics after a long time. The new image of rock stars with gelled hair in leather jackets was first introduced in February 2012 with the music video for the song "R U Mine?" That summer, the group also had the honor of performing at the opening ceremony of the London Summer Olympics.
For Turner, the famous 'aha moment' of recording AM was the song that spawned its biggest hit, 'Do I Wanna Know?' "That's exactly what we wanted. It didn't sound like anything anyone else was doing.” His words have been borne out by time, and today the song has 1.4 billion views on YouTube.
According to Pitchfork, AM is characterized by a sound that defines the zeitgeist, somewhere between the hip-hop directness of Outkast, Eminem and Wu-Tang Clan and the iconicity of rock giants from the 70s. Like the previous two, they recorded the album at the Rancho de la Luna studio under the production supervision of Josh Homme. His vocals on "Knee Socks" were cited by Alex Turner as his favorite moment from the album.
Turner recently admitted to Uncut magazine that speaking in front of an audience is still his worst nightmare and that he was definitely not born to be a performer. He says he enjoys working in the studio much more than performing. "Standing on stage is extremely unnatural for me. I don't like to be the center of attention. In short, I can't relate to it. And even though sometimes I get out how I really feel, I feel a little weird about myself afterwards.'
The unchanging lineup is key to stability
Childhood friends Alex Turner, Matt Helders and James Cook were originally accompanied by Andy Nicholson on bass. However, on the first North American tour, he was replaced by Nick O'Malley due to "fatigue from the intense touring period". And he stayed in the band.
After years of silence, Andy Nicholson told NME in 2019 that leaving the band he helped found was extremely painful. For several years after his involuntary departure, he allegedly suffered from mental problems, the search for his own identity, and even contemplated suicide.
Even after almost 20 years and several genre detours, according to Turner, almost nothing has changed in the atmosphere of the band. We are not witnessing ego battles or big-mouthed statements that have suffocated the potential of many groups.
Public performances are always relaxed and interspersed with sometimes banal, sometimes pseudo-philosophical, but always light-hearted expressions. Matt Helders said they have more in common than music. "After the concert, the band and the concert is probably the last thing we'll talk about. We talk about childhood nonsense. For example, someone will say – Do you remember when Chris fell off his bike?'
Back to the future
In 2017, Arcitc Monkeys returned in an unexpected and intimate "future retro" style with an album that disappointed a large part of the newly acquired fans attracted by the global sexiness of straight AM. Both the 'Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino' album and its videos have a heavily stylized feel inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s.
The illusion was also underlined by the change of the dress code from rock icons to men in loafers and ankle boots. The concept of the album, from which the guitar riffs almost completely disappeared, was the incarnation of a group playing in a hotel hall on a monthly basis.
"I'm actually pretty happy with how it turned out. We have achieved something that we would not have decided to do in the past. I think it definitely gave us the confidence to go to new, unexplored places" said Alex Turner about the album. Starting in 2017, the group's work becomes more intimate and harder to grasp.
All the tracks were composed by Alex Turner on a Steinway Vertegrand piano, which he received as a 30th birthday present from his manager, and he invited the bandmates to comment only after he had recorded all the demos.
In an interview with BBC Radio 1, he said that the guitar lost its ability to offer him ideas during the creation. "Every time I sat down with the guitar, I already knew what direction the creative process would take me. It's completely at odds with what I feel when I sit down at the piano today." The album's mood was also influenced by his love for French film soundtracks, which he discovered through his relationship with French singer Louise Verneuil.
The Car – Completion of rebirth
The latest chapter of the band's journey was released in October 2022 under the name The Car. On the surface, it may seem that the other members of Arctic Monkeys have become the definitive backup band of their leader. However, according to NME, the album represents a shift from its cosmic predecessor and sees greater creative involvement from the rest of the band.
The ten-song recording consists of a mosaic of a wide range of musical skills and expressive elements, which it uses extremely sparingly. Song construction is more refined than ever. Furious guitar riffs and ecstatic drums have definitely given way to a calmer arrangement and are heard exclusively in carefully selected moments.
However, the quartet from Sheffield can still get the audience moving on stage. At the concerts, they put a new virtuosity into the old songs, and into the recent "lounge" ones, for a change, a harsh animality. They bend the songs and enrich them with new elements to make them sound more mature.
Piano keys and guitar strings pass under Alex Turner's hands, while he occasionally sings with free hands occupied by theatrical gesturing.
Today, Arctic Monkeys sell fewer albums than they used to, and their music videos get less views than in the "golden era" of AM. However, Alex Turner indicated to Rolling Stone that he is not making a big deal out of it. “I think we can say that this record has a tone of letting go of the past. It's about the things you see when you look over your shoulder while you're already walking the other way."
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