Friday, April 30, 2010

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

Rating: B-

Another new album by a band I like that's a little disappointing. Unlike Built To Spill's, Jay Farrar's, and Spoon's latest efforts, Humbug's flaw is not that it's too safe, too little of a departure from what has come before. Humbug does branch out, but it loses a lot of the intensity that made Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare such strong albums. The band's frenetic punk edge is heavier and hazier here, but while the energy translated well live, on the album it falls a little flat.

It's trite to credit / blame changes on the producer, but in this case it's unavoidable: Josh Homme, of Queens Of The Stone Age fame, brings a lot of the QOTSA sound. Opener "My Propeller" sets the tone: after an opening flurry of drums, it falls into a medium-tempo bassy minor-key riff that runs through virtually the whole song. It's not that it sounds bad, though it is pretty generic; the problem is that over such a subdued background, singer / guitarist Alex Turner's voice gets lazy to match, with none of the ferocity or edge that marked the Monkeys' previous efforts. "Fire and the Thud" is another example, a dark, plodding track that doesn't go anywhere until three minutes in.

It's the high points more so than the low points that highlight this issue. The album's best moments are tracks that would fit in nicely on the Monkeys' freshman or sophomore efforts: vicious cut-down "Crying Lightning," ode to a femme fatale "Dangerous Animals," and irreverant social observation "Pretty Visitors." Maybe "Secret Door" is indicative of what the band was trying to do here on the album: the chorus almost sounds like it was pulled from a Suede song, with its Bernard Butler-like spacey guitar solo. The verses match military beat drumming with aggressive, almost hip-hop speed vocals. "Potion Approaching," and "Cornerstone," also have their moments, with some QOTSA spaciness mixed with Monkeys' brashness.

I'll never come down too hard on a band for trying new things. In the Arctic Monkeys' case, it's difficult because there wasn't a lot more they could mine out of the sound in their first two albums. Humbug is a step in an interesting direction, but the Arctic Monkeys need to make sure they don't completely lose their way.

Buy it from Amazon:
Arctic Monkeys Official Site

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