Arctic Monkeys get funky on album number five
As Arctic Monkeys make a triumphant return with AM, Alex Turner and Matt Helders reveal how the LA lifestyle and their love of hip-hop has found its way into the fabric of their sound
Teddy pickers: Jamie Cook, Alex Turner, Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders
Monkey business: On the main stage at Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois, on Sunday night. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
We’ll say one thing for Arctic Monkeys: they’ve certainly come a long way since their first Irish gig at Whelan’s in 2005, when they were spotty of face, baggy of jean and bad of haircut. We’re backstage at Electric Picnic with frontman Alex Turner and drummer Matt Helders, an hour before they eviscerate the crowd with a storming main stage set to close the festival.
Right now, the dapper Turner is perched on a chair in the media area, hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket and looking for all the world like he’s channelling a young Elvis in his drainpipe jeans, slip-on shoes and the magnificent Teddy-Boy quiff that he’s been sporting of late.
Yes, you could say that things have changed. The days of the young cheeky chappies who met at Stocksbridge High School in Sheffield are long gone, only to be replaced by lean, mean rock-star machines 11 years after they first formed. But that doesn’t mean that egos are out of control, either; confident and charismatic, Turner happily leads the conversation as the more reserved Helders is content to interject with witty asides along the lines of “I do have a Twitter, but I rarely tweet anything of worth – mostly pictures of Ron Atkinson and Nando’s”.
Arctic Monkeys - R U Mine?
Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know?
“Do people really think we were cheeky chappies?” winces a worried-looking Turner. Well, perhaps once they did, but not nowadays. The quartet have been through a number of stylistic changes over the years, both fashion- and music-wise. Their most pronounced transformation was from loveable, droll rogues to purveyors of highoctane indie-rock on third album Humbug, an altogether scuzzier proposition than what had come before. 2011 saw them scale the aggression back slightly with Suck It and See, and their fifth album AM sounds like a natural progression from what has come in the recent past, taking elements of both rip-roaring riffs, irresistible sonic grooves and Turner’s trademark amusingly astute lyrics.
“I do think there’s been a thread to it all,” says the frontman, nodding. “The starting point for this album was this song R U Mine? that we put out about a year ago. There was something quite accidental about that, to be truthful; it was designed to be a single between albums. It felt like we ran out of steam on that last record – we’d been touring it for a year and we had this other tour booked up with The Black Keys in America, and we thought maybe we should just do a new tune to just kind of powder our noses, so to speak. And we stumbled across this thing on that, specifically in the vocal production of it; there was just something going on with the guys doing the backing vocals, and the way the melodies moved around. We thought ‘That’s really something’, and everybody else seemed to agree, so then it became about making an album that can just embellish that tune, really. I think there’s similarities between this and the last record: the foundation is kind of the same, it’s just that the building’s a little bit different on top.”
The album is compelling, and will cement Arctic Monkeys’ reputation as one of the most consistent mainstream indie-rock bands of the last decade. For AM, they decamped to California to record; both Turner and Helders have American girlfriends and much of the band’s time has been spent in Los Angeles over the past few years in any case, soaking up the lifestyle and learning to ride motorbikes. For a band that is, in many ways, quintessentially British and perennially influenced by bands such as The Kinks, The Smiths, The Jam and even Oasis, Stateside living has had an audible effect on their last few albums.