It’s a common misconception that a good Arctic Monkeys album should hit you like a punch to the face. It’s easy to see why one would feel that way — their ferocious 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not earned its spot in the ‘00s rock canon largely by sounding like the musical equivalent of a bar fight, and their two subsequent LPs both feature their fair share of songs that seize your attention with brute force.
It’s understandable, then, if fans used to connecting to the Sheffield lads’ work like a chin to a fist after a few too many pints are a bit confused by their fourth album Suck It and See. Sure, frontman Alex Turner’s in top form on up-tempo tunes like “Library Pictures” and “Brick By Brick,” and he absolutely sneers his way through “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” but on the majority of the 12 tracks he’s crooning with new maturity. You won’t hear buzzwords like “rollicking” or “raucous” being tossed around about this record, but don’t for a second think that means Turner and company have gone soft — on Suck It and See, the Monkeys are evolving.
For the first time, the band has produced an album in which Turner’s lyrics are truly given room to breathe. Lines like “Your waitress was miserable, and so was your food” (“Piledriver Waltz”) that might have been buried with a rapid-fire delivery in the past are instead front-and-center. Whether he’s chronicling “the type of kisses where teeth collide” on the catchy “Reckless Serenade” or lamenting “that’s not a skirt, girl, it’s a sawn-off shotgun and I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me” on the title track, Turner brings the same smart turns of phrase he’s always contributed to the band’s catalog, only this time around we’re allowed a closer listen.
If we were to dust off a couple of the ol’ Tired Comparisons to Essential English Rock Bands, we’d say that this latest effort has more in common with The Smiths than the Sex Pistols, but that’s oversimplifying it. In actuality, it’s not so much a departure, but rather the sound of a band finally settling into itself.
As a whole, there’s a relative subtlety to Suck It and See. You wouldn’t think so, given the title, but it works as a natural next step after 2009’s Josh Homme-produced Humbug, proving that five years deep into one of the most hyped-up careers in recent memory, the Arctic Monkeys still have a few tricks up their sleeves. The album won’t blindside you or beat you over the head with anything — but it’ll sure leave a mark.