There’s something compelling about an international rock star being infatuated with a crush. The sting of rejection and longing manifests itself on the Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album, “AM.” With influences ranging from Outkast to Black Sabbath, “AM” delivers some of the band’s most sophisticated and well-produced songs yet.
As they did with 2011’s “Suck It And See,” the Arctic Monkeys recorded “AM” in Los Angeles. While the former was infused with sun-drenched nostalgia, the latter sounds like the result of staying in California for too long. The bright guitar riffs and verses about short skirts and shotguns are replaced with grizzled bass lines and inebriated phone calls.
The album has been described as having a hip-hop feel in several interviews prior to its release, and the band has cited artists such as Aaliyah, Outkast and Black Sabbath as influences. The hip-hop elements are more subtle than overt. “Snap Out of It” features a piano-infused melody that would impress Andre 3000, and “Arabella” is a smart blend of funky rhythm and harsh electric guitar. Keeping in line with the album’s central heavy-rock tone, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age makes an appearance on both “One for the Road” and “Knee Socks.”
Bassist Nick O’Malley provides backing vocals on many tracks with a falsetto that flawlessly echoes lead singer and frontman Alex Turner’s sultry crooning without being overbearing.
A standout lyricist, Turner is at his best when writing about the women he can’t get out of his mind. “AM” offers plenty of this. The verses on “Arabella” are some of his best, rife with astronomy metaphors — “Her lips are like the galaxy’s edge/And her kiss the color of a constellation.” In “Snap Out of It,” Turner begs a woman to not settle for anyone unless it’s for him, and on “Do I Wanna Know?” — a top contender for best track on the record — he describes the painful uncertainty of wondering whether someone returns your feelings — “Been wondering if your heart’s still open and if so I wanna know what time it shuts.”
The album ends with “I Wanna Be Yours,” a sly answer to the two questions posed at the beginning of the track list (“Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?”). Here Turner names all the things he wants to be to a woman, including a vacuum cleaner, a Ford Cortina and “If you like your coffee hot/Let me be your coffee pot.”
With such a strong opening and finish to the album, the songs that fill the space in between may seem weaker by comparison but would undoubtedly be standouts if not sandwiched between excellent tracks like “One For the Road” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”
Overall, “AM” continues the band’s winning streak with innovative melodies, impressive vocals and Turner’s poetic verses. Their foray into hip-hop and R&B is too subtle to carry much weight on the album, but its presence is still felt on various tracks. As fans delve deeper into Alex Turner’s mysterious mind with each new album, one can only wonder where his brooding creativity will lead to next.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sep. 10 print edition. Alexandria Ryahl is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]