The Arctic Monkeys are a modern English rock band from outside Sheffield, UK. I am not alone among Americans who didn’t discover them until “Fluorescent Adolescent” got some air play here in 2007. I have been a fan ever since, and was lucky enough to see them live at Lupo’s in Providence, RI in 2008.
They are clear admirers (and emulators) of the 70’s British Punk sound, but I find their music to be more of a refresher of the genre than a throwback. What characterizes their canon for me is: very clean guitar work, clever song construction, and great lyrics. Suck it and See was Arctic Monkeys’ fourth studio album, released in 2011. It has a softer feel than the other three, lots of guitar effects are used and there is a dreamy California rock vibe to many of the songs.
The first lyrics of the album are “I’ve been feeling foolish. You should try it.” I can think of few phrases that would draw me in faster. I am instantly curious as to why the singer/song protagonist feels foolish, and I love the twist of (sarcastically or earnestly) recommending the sensation. Indeed “Thunderstorms,” goes on to deliver some of the best lyrics on the album.
“Black Treacle” (track 2) has some great musical moments in it but to me the song feels like it was finished but not perfected. The match of lyrics and melodic line in the chorus feels clumsy. “Brick by Brick” and “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” are easily the best and most satisfying tracks. They could have thought again about placing two songs with moments of ‘oooh aaah’ background vocals back to back, but both songs are so unique, creative, and strong that the pairing is okay. Atmospheric and transporting both demand to be listened to repeatedly.
Yet, my favorite song on the album is “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” (track 5). Though this song is hardly characteristic of the Arctic Monkeys I think it is a bit of litmus test. If you like this song you will like the rest of what they put out. The reverb and repetitive baseline will either grab you (pleasantly) by the gut, or drive you screaming from the room. The lyrics, hint at “Superstition” but with far less gravity, and include line after line of silly adage mash-ups in this heavy, minor driving, tune that builds and builds with layers of dissonance. It is a joy to listen to, particularly at volume.
Here I must admit to being a 7 track wonder. I often do my album discovery while driving and 7 tracks covers my commute to almost anywhere local. Though my CD player starts where I left off, I often back track to a favorite, and in this way the first half of the album has gotten more ear time than the second. Still there are two notables from those last five tracks. “Piledriver Waltz” is a wonderful bit of storytelling, and here the slight lyric/melody mismatch doesn’t bother me as much. Also the title track “Suck it and See” has, perhaps, the best lyric in the bunch: “That’s not a skirt, girl, that’s a sawn-off shotgun. And I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me.”
Suck it and See is satisfying, listenable, and not a bad entry point for new fans. It could easily be the soundtrack to 40-ish minutes of a small party or a scene unfolding across the street, or whatever is dancing behind your eyes as you lie in the dark. It also holds up track to track as an album, another thing I like about Arctic Monkeys. Each album has a specific sound, and clear thought has gone into what tracks go on it. Check them out.