Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

Rhian Daly 26/08/2009

Rating: 4/5

2006: Following on from a sold-out-on-pre-order limited edition EP and a chart-topping debut single, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history, cementing Arctic Monkeys' place as the Saviours of Rock, confirmed further with countless awards nominations and subsequent victories.

2007: Favourite Worst Nightmare arrives 15 months after the debut (and a slight personnel change) and continues t'Arctics' relentless rise. Even more awards nominations are piled on the quartet and yet more trophy wins follow. A near-triumphant headline slot at Glastonbury is marred by technical difficulties.

2009: Having decamped to the Californian desert with Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme, the Steel City boys head back home with their third album Humbug completed. Mostly, people moan about Alex Turner's lustrous hair. This weekend, the hair and the songs will be centre of attention as Arctic Monkeys headline the Reading and Leeds festivals. But what of the songs, and why is the response to Humbug so tepid compared to that of the debut?

It may be a little naive to expect such unprecedented reaction to every record the band releases as was seen upon the release of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Enthusiasm like that doesn't make an appearance too often, at least not on the side of the general public anyway (compared to the hyperbole-addicted press) and once we'd all gotten used to the lyrical charms of one Mr Turner and the impressive racket he and his bandmates could make... well, we seem to have become a little desensitized to it. If anything, the group have graduated from the kitchen-sink social commentary of old, progressing rather nicely onto the art of fantasy, with Humbug fit to burst with sexual desire, innuendo and euphemism. Traces of this has always been visible in Turner's words, from first album b-side Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts to Favourite Worst Nightmare single Teddy Picker, but here it's more mature and altogether a bit more twisted.

Of course, the most oft talked about side of Arctic Monkeys is Alex Turner's exquisite way of words, so much so that the world seems to forget about Messrs. Helders, O'Malley and Cook's contributions. On Humbug, they prove to be the perfect example of musical pathetic fallacy, embodying they varying emotions of lust, despair and longing evident in Turner's lyrics through prowling riffs and beats - something which is key taking Turner's monotonous drawl into account.

You'll have heard lead single Crying Lightning by now, no doubt, with its pick'n'mix imagery. Its a good ambassador for the rest of the album; the first time I heard it, lying in bed ill, I couldn't work it out. It confused me, made my head hurt even more. For the most part, Humbug is a bit of a headfuck but once you've got yourself into the mindset of it, it becomes another beast entirely. From the pretty melancholy of Cornerstone to the obviously Josh Homme influenced Dangerous Animals, its a record that may not have the immediacy that its predecessors had in buckets but one that with every listen opens up and shows you something new. Its a brave move from four boys who clearly don't give a damn about sales or what the fans want. Its the sound of Arctic Monkeys stepping up their game and you know what? Its bloody brilliant.

Release date: 24/08/2009