I really do think Arctic Monkeys have always been a substantial step ahead of their British indie rock cousins, not just because of Alex Turner’s superior, witty social commentary, but because the band’s progression as musicians has been a joy to listen to. From the wiry post-Libertines indie of their debut, through the melancholy surf rock of Favourite Worst Nightmare, to the dramatic Scott Walker balladry of Turner’s Last Shadow Puppets side project, it’s clear that their influences are far-reaching and constantly in flux, and they’ve never been afraid of channelling other sounds through what could otherwise be a pretty typical British aesthetic.
August will see the release of their third album, entitled Humbug, but before then, we are now privvy to the forthcoming lead single, “Crying Lightning”. A brief approximation would suggest the following result: it sounds like a hybrid of much of the second album, crossed with the epic grandeur of The Age Of The Understatement. It’s presently unclear which of the two producers (James Ford, Josh Homme) is responsible for this particular cut, but there are certainly elements of both individuals’ œuvre. There’s a chilling, carnival, forest vibe that echoes Queens of the Stone Age circa-Lullabies to Paralyze, but this is complemented by the breathy sense of space that I so loved on older songs like “Do Me A Favour” and “Fluorescent Adolescent”. For certain, the drums are less crisp and more military than on their sophomore effort; meanwhile, the gnarled tone of the bass and the eerie Theremin-esque guitar solo are very reminiscent of the output of Josh Homme’s day job.
Predictably, the lyrics reveal plenty of nuanced details, from the references to “pick and mix” and “strawberry lace” (which immediately reminded me of Jarvis Cocker’s similarly creepy confectionery in “The Wickerman”), to the humidity of lines like “And your past times consisted of the strange / And twisted and deranged”. Turner is evidently frustrated about something, and the cracks in his armour are appropriated in his lavish descriptions of the subject of the song – who “puff[s] your chest out like you never lost a war”.
Only the rest of the album will tell to what extent Arctic Monkeys have let their travels of the last couple of years percolate into their music, but on the evidence of “Crying Lightning”, they’ve lost none of their knack for deriving catchy melodies from surprisingly tuneless chord changes; they’re still willing to pile on the drama and the frisson through Alex Turner’s developed and mature lyrics; and, in all honesty, I can’t really imagine Humbug leaving the charts this side of the apocalypse.