Arctic Monkeys discover new frontiers on their newest album ‘The Car’


From the surface of Suffolk’s Butley Priory, it sounds as if the traditional constructing is collapsing in on itself. Located inside a secluded and rural pocket of southern England, it’s the sanctuary of this transformed 14th Century monastery that Arctic Monkeys have chosen to name residence for a fortnight. Behind the stained glass home windows, guitarist Jamie Cook is conjuring up a rousing squall, jiggling on the spot. His bandmates look on, eyes ablaze with pleasure on the wall of noise unfolding earlier than them.

It’s the center of July 2021, and that is the Sheffield band’s remaining week at Butley Priory, the place they’ve been engaged on ‘The Car’, their masterful seventh album. Prior to recording, the constructing had been a part of the four-piece’s legend for a while: it’s the place longtime producer James Ford – recognised amongst followers as ‘the fifth Arctic Monkey’ – celebrated his fortieth birthday. Before they reunited right here for the primary time since lockdown, nonetheless, the band’s preliminary intention for the file was “to write louder songs than we had for some time,” says frontman Alex Turner, however rapidly realised that this assortment was evolving past a bedrock of heavy riffs. “I think what I found myself wanting to play when the band were around was actually very surprising to me,” he provides.

Every efficiency was recorded, with the outcomes influencing what the band preserved, honed, and finally ditched. And for 2 weeks, the world exterior of Arctic Monkeys’ short-term studio was properly and really banished. When the band – comprising Turner, Cook, bassist Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders on drums – weren’t strolling across the wilds of the Suffolk countryside collectively, they shared pints and watched on as England’s journey on the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020 event performed out. For a fortnight, time virtually appeared meaningless. The gang had been lastly again collectively.

As Turner relays this story to NME, he’s about as removed from that reminiscence as you may get. We meet the frontman in an east London pub on a deceptively heat October afternoon just a little over a yr later, simply as ‘The Car’’s launch week is beginning to kick off. Almost unbelievably, the band’s 2009 hit ‘Crying Lightning’ is taking part in quietly from the stereo downstairs, as if on cue. Considering that Turner is about to cool down for a drink – or, er, an English Breakfast tea – on the ground above, whoever is in control of the playlist this lunchtime is blissfully unaware that they’ve managed to tempt destiny. Turner seems to be too busy attending to his little china teapot to note, anyway.

Arctic Monkeys
Credit: Zackery Michael

The group’s highly-anticipated reunion comes together with ‘The Car’, a 10-track assortment that, in a five-star evaluation, NME described as “a summary of the band’s story so far: sharp songwriting, relentless innovation and unbreakable teamwork.” Under the supervision of ensemble director Bridget Samuels [Midsommar, The Green Knight] at London’s RAK Studios, it’s the primary album on which the band have labored with a full orchestra, permitting Turner’s voice – which sounds extra brooding and malleable than it’s ever been – to pierce by way of a cinematic panorama of strings, piano motifs and low-slung bass rumbles.

Elegiac opener ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ instantly raises the stakes. A breakup tune that quietly anguishes over vanishing sensations of violin and harpsichord, the album’s lead single was the primary to be demoed at Butley Priory. “And picture this: while recording, I’m running around with a 16mm camera that kind of kept me out of the way of everybody a little bit,” says Turner. He finally saved a few of the footage for himself, and the remainder was interspersed all through the monitor’s understatedly retro video, making for a touching time capsule of that specific recording session.

Crucially, the brand new album – with the duvet art work shot by Helders – presents each a extra cohesive and collaborative band than the one we heard on 2018’s divisive ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’. That file riffed on consumerism and expertise with a burnished depth, however traded it’s wildly profitable predecessor’s tsunami of bravado, riffs and hairgel – 2013’s a number of BRIT-winning ‘AM’ – for looking out lounge-pop. Its writing credit reveal that many of the band had been maybe under-utilised as performers, on condition that O’Malley solely seems on seven tracks, and Helders’ drumming is essentially restrained.

‘The Car’’s daring centrepiece, ‘Body Paint’ flips the script totally: you possibly can virtually hear Turner wink as he sings, “and if you’re thinking of me / I’m probably thinking of you”, earlier than swirling atmospherics and O’Malley’s tumbling bass make approach for a gale-force guitar solo from Cook. It’s the full-bodied sound of the Butley Priory journey, which was solely about having enjoyable and bringing that feeling into the brand new file.

“We weren’t mentally ready to play stadiums up until now” – Alex Turner

By throwing themselves into new, extra daring sounds, Arctic Monkeys have emerged fearless, Turner says decisively. “The records we’re making now are definitely different now to the ones we probably thought we would be making when we started out – actually, we didn’t think we’d be even making records anymore,” Turner says. “20 years ago, I didn’t envision ourselves going beyond…” He seems to be deep into his cup of tea as if looking for the remainder of his reply, whereas taking an infinite pause from which you worry he could by no means return. “Well, the fact we gave ourselves the name ‘Arctic Monkeys’ alludes to the extent of ambitions we had.” He stops once more. “Clearly hardly any.”

Yet Arctic Monkeys’ friendship has endured, partially, as a result of the band have all the time recognized when to say no. They constructed a fanbase on the premise of some early demos shared by followers by way of MySpace, and earlier than the four-piece signed with the impartial Domino Records – additionally residence to Wet Leg and Hot Chip – they’d already made a pact to by no means comply with their music being utilized in promoting. They even turned down a then-coveted provide to look on Top Of The Pops. Weeks later, their monstrous debut single ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ stormed to the highest of the UK Singles Chart immediately – no imply feat for a band with out main file label money or mountains of press on their facet. They’d set a precedent to observe their very own guidelines, and it had labored.

Stardom would quickly show to be inescapable, nonetheless: the band appeared perpetually shellshocked after they broke out as unassuming youngsters with their enduring and now-seminal debut album, 2006’s ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. “Somebody call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed!,” Turner famously joked, because the band, wanting someplace between a haze of drunkenness and feeling flustered, collected the Mercury Prize later that yr. The following decade would see them evolve into the UK’s greatest, most culturally vital band: they’ve gone on to headline Glastonbury twice, carry out on the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and, maybe most significantly, have remained constant, whereas their friends in sound have did not maintain comparable longevity.

“When I think back to earlier times, I feel like we were just running on instinct, creative decisions included,” says Turner, with a mild snicker. “I mean, like, first and foremost, we didn’t really know how to play our instruments at the start. But beyond that, I don’t really think that much within the band has changed a great deal; we might know a few more tricks, but we’re still rolling on that very same instinct.”

Dressed in a royal blue Lacoste jumper, Turner entertains NME for an hour with a boyish and mischievous attraction; his few concessions to age embody a proper, paisley-patterned silk scarf and a few stubble. A gold hyperlink chain lays round his neck – a gift from his grandfather that he’s worn in all places since 2006 – and glints towards the autumn solar. As he solutions questions, Turner typically leans again in his chair and begins re-enacting scenes, giving it some actual gusto. No man this effortlessly humorous is an accident – behind all of it lies a shiny, astute and infrequently humorous songwriter.

Trying to debate his lyrics – which, on ‘The Car’, are sometimes uncharacteristically reflective – within the pub with Turner is a special matter, nonetheless, met largely with some hesitant, but endearing musings on private progress. We briefly broach ‘Hello You’, which performs with excessive drama, and references Turner’s youth spent in north Sheffield – however like a giant Hollywood manufacturing, what’s pizazz on digicam is usually ache behind the scenes. “I could pass for 17 if I just get a shave / And catch some Zzzs”, he sings at one level, solely half-jokingly. “So much of this new music is scratching at the past and how much of it I should hang on to,” he says. “I think that song is pretty on the nose… as uncomfortable as that may be.”

Arctic Monkeys on the cover of NME
Arctic Monkeys on the duvet of NME

It’s when describing ‘The Car’’s lushly organized instrumental sections, nonetheless, you can sense the cogs in Turner’s mind are beginning to flip just a little faster. “Around the last album, the big story was like, ‘Wow, he’s got a piano’, which was true to an extent, but I wonder now looking at it, that it was this thing that I now do – recording ideas as you go – that got me going,” he says. His sudden pleasure strikes him to clench a trademark pair of black Ray Ban sun shades so tightly in his hand, you worry there’s each probability they may immediately snap.

Working on the album led to Arctic Monkeys scrapping their outdated rule that every part they recorded needed to be playable stay, opening up unseen potentialities. Turner experimented with the wah-wah guitar for each ‘Jet Skis On The Moat’ and the ridiculously funky ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ – suppose ‘Station To Station’-era Bowie meets ELO – the latter being the second “where everything clicked,” he affirms. Where a youthful Arctic Monkeys would have raced by way of punky verses with deadly precision, ‘The Car’ marinates within the textures of upward sweeps and delicate, honeyed soul.

“I’m pretty happy with how ‘Tranquility Base..’ went down” – Alex Turner

As Turner speaks, it’s straightforward to image the studio and picture the Monkeys, as soon as once more, as youngsters in a storage: Turner the chief, Helders and O’Malley the jokers, Cook the near-silent however crafty sage – or, in Turner’s phrases: “Jamie remains the gatekeeper of the band, as it were.” These days, Cook is the brilliantly straight-faced foil – normally sporting a go well with and sun shades onstage, rocking gently back and forth as he churns out weighty riffs – to Turner’s free, playful showman.

“I think that’s the key difference maybe with [‘The Car’] and the last record… perhaps we didn’t quite have a grasp of the dynamics of the bigger, newer sounds we were exploring,” he says. “But playing together live again certainly helped us to get there, and we developed a better awareness of each other. You find yourself in a different place when you take the songs to a new setting beyond where they were recorded.”

Even if ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’’s full stylistic overhaul was curious sufficient to unsettle followers of the band’s louder, scrappier early days, Turner stays adamant that it was the precise transfer for the group on the time. “I’m actually pretty happy with how it went down,” he says at this time. “We achieved something that we may not have been able to in the past. I think it definitely gave us the confidence to go to a different place on a record.”‘ The Car’’s ‘Sculptures Of Anything Goes’ – the band’s darkest tune but, a beast of distortion and weighty electronics – even nods to the general public’s blended response to ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’: “Puncturing your bubble of relatability with your horrible new sound”.

He alludes to how, regardless of ‘AM’ being the band’s most commercially standard album – having gone platinum within the US – with its West Coast rap-inspired cadences and bass-heavy melodies, it additionally felt like a daring revamp for Arctic Monkeys on the time of its launch. “‘Do I Wanna Know?’ felt like a departure from everything that we had done before – and this was similar,” he says. “We had to almost acknowledge that our sound still had a little grease in its hair, and a bit of aggressiveness.”

“I don’t think much has changed within the band since the start” – Alex Turner

Turner says, nonetheless, that when Arctic Monkeys performed the 26,000-capacity Foro Sol venue in Mexico City in March 2019 as one of many remaining reveals on that tour, it felt like a “brilliant send-off” to what had been their most artistically difficult interval. Backstage at that very same present, Turner started to “sketch out” demos for ‘The Car’, with the concept they “could close our shows.” He continues: “I found this footage of me playing a song backstage at that gig, and I thought, ‘I’m going to bottle the energy for the new record.’ It was raw, and full of downstrokes guitar.”

The songs from Foro Sol had been ultimately scrapped, but when something, that night time proved that the ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ period had actually unlocked a extra lighthearted facet to the band than we had seen in a number of years. Clips of Turner pretending to lose his practice of thought because the twinkling keys of ‘One Point Perspective’ fade out – in tandem with the tune’s remaining lyric – have since been memed into oblivion. It’s a easy, but persistently efficient act: every time, he seems to be immediately clean, scratches his chin, and factors absently within the air as if attempting to recollect one thing. “I don’t think it’s even a choice at this point. When that spotlight centres itself on me, I just can’t help myself,” he says.

Why did the routine begin within the first place? Turner’s face curls right into a convincing knot of embarrassment. “You know what? I ask myself the same question every 24 hours,” he responds.

Arctic Monkeys
Credit: Zackery Michael

In August, Arctic Monkeys formally launched their new period by headlining Reading & Leeds for the third time of their profession, and drew in one of many competition’s greatest crowds within the course of. Capping off a outstanding summer season of big outside reveals throughout Europe, the weekend proved {that a} new, younger, wildly dedicated era of Monkeys followers had come to the fore, a lot of whom arrived by way of TikTookay or streaming providers, partly as a result of current stratospheric success of ‘505’ – the primary Monkeys monitor to completely showcase their emotional depth as performers.

Lifted from 2007’s ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ album, the surging indie-rock monitor has lately surpassed hits from Eminem and Coldplay, clocking in a mean of 1.7 million performs a month on Spotify alone. The stats are much more spectacular when you think about that the band have actively chosen to shun social media all through their profession – it’s virtually as if they will’t assist gaining worldwide consideration.

For Turner, seeing audiences proceed to react passionately to encore nearer ‘505’ has been “genuinely moving”, however he’s bemused by the revival that has come round within the first place. “Without having ‘505’ at the end of our shows for a few years around 2008, I’m not sure if it would have found the new life it has now,” he says. “I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m taking credit [for the revival] – even if it wasn’t totally unexpected, the attention around [‘505’] is really quite special.”

“The renewed attention around ‘505’ is really quite special” – Alex Turner

Arctic Monkeys’ current stay performances have additionally seen them deliver out rarities from their again catalogue, together with a moodier rendition of ‘Humbug’ standout ‘Potion Approaching’, and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’, a fuzzed-out singalong from the unfairly missed ‘Suck It And See’ period. Switching up the setlist has made the band recognize what they’ve achieved up up to now, Turner explains: “There’s quite a lot of room now for us to unlock songs and these other little things from the past,” he says. “I have almost, like, a PDF in my mind of what we could work on.” His eyebrow arches in confusion. “Wait, it wouldn’t be a PDF, would it? I think I meant to say a spreadsheet…”

It’s this endearing playfulness and intimacy to Turner that makes his disbelief at Arctic Monkeys’ present stature, 20 years into their profession, appear real. Next summer season, they’ll play a full stadium tour throughout the UK for the primary time ever of their profession, together with two big hometown reveals in Sheffield at Hillsborough Park. Better nonetheless, there’s a Glasto-shaped gap within the touring schedule, too.

The scale of those reveals is already toying with Turner: “It wouldn’t have made sense for us to play stadiums before this album, and I don’t think we were mentally ready for it up until now,” he says. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself and say that some of our songs ‘belong’ in a stadium, but they could definitely hang out in a stadium.”

He says that they received’t be taking a string part on the forthcoming tour; as an alternative, the band will probably be assisted by further keys and synth. Turner is assured that the brand new album will translate stay, and goes on to liken the wealthy emotional depth throughout ‘The Car’ to the searing, heart-raising two-minute guitar breakdown that wraps up ‘A Certain Romance’, the crowning achievement from their debut album. “I remember when we were recording ‘A Certain Romance’ and having a conversation with the producer about the final guitar solo,” he says. “There’s something that happens at the end of that track where we break some rules in a single moment. We focused on the [emotional] effect of the instrumentals over the words – and I feel like we’ve been trying to do that again and again since then.”

Are you continue to happy with that tune?

“Yeah,” he replies instantly. “If anything, for the fact that [‘A Certain Romance’] showed that we did actually have these ambitions beyond what we once thought we were capable of. Back then, we would struggle with the idea of adding anything more to the songs; but here, there’s some guitar that goes high, and then comes back in.”

“‘A Certain Romance’ showed ambition beyond what we thought we were capable of” – Alex Turner

Across the desk, he begins to play the air guitar, gleefully wriggling round in his seat. For a second, it’s as if Turner seems spookily untouched by time: eyes shiny, broad, and inquisitive; a flash of youthful, riotous pleasure writ giant throughout his face. He continues: “When we recorded [‘A Certain Romance’] we were all like, ‘Woah, woah, woah…” He raises his palms above his head as soon as extra. “‘What have we done here?’ Pushing the music that far out from what we’d done before initially felt contentious, to say the least.’”

Turner seems to be comfortable, calm and content material, and he ought to be – he’s nonetheless goofing round on the world’s greatest levels, nonetheless making music along with his childhood greatest pals, and caring much less about important reception and extra about having fun with himself. ‘The Car’ may even see Arctic Monkeys traverse a far larger distance from their zippy indie beginnings than ever earlier than, however there aren’t any regrets, Turner says, earlier than trailing off into one other heat anecdote from the time the band spent at Butley Priory.

Arctic Monkeys
Credit: Zackery Michael

“The excitement and energy of everybody being together, sharing ideas in the same room, was quite powerful,” Turner says, briefly shifting his gaze to the desk beneath. “I noticed that, for instance, when I think about how it felt saying goodbye at the end of that session…” He catches himself, and appears faintly misty-eyed – although he’d by no means allow us to see that correctly.

Turner turns to face us as soon as extra. “It’s just… you know, the air totally changes when the rest of the band leave. I don’t quite know what to call it, but I do know that being around them is how to get that magic – and I haven’t ever found it anywhere else,” he says, with a understanding smile.

‘The Car’ is out now by way of Domino Records


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