Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Arctic Monkeys, "Humbug" (Domino) [3.5 out of 4 stars]

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Anyone who saw the aging English buzz band Arctic Monkeys perform at Lollapalooza earlier this month got a preview of the curveball coming their way with the group's new disc: Rather than the frenetic energy of their signature single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," which helped make their 2006 debut "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" the fastest-selling debut in British chart history, frontman Alex Turner and his mates reveled in far murkier and more sinister sounds.

As live party music, it was a bummer in the sunny festival setting. But as the sounds wash over me now in my cool, dark cave, the group's radical shift from bouncy Britpop and angular dance-punk to a combination of those groves with the warlock soul music of Nick Cave and Scott Walker is absolutely enchanting, and welcome evidence that the group's interests and ambitions far exceed a bit of flirty, fleeting fun at the disco on Saturday night.

Though the band's choice of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss) as producer seems bizarre at first blush, the king of hallucinogenic desert rock turns out to have been the perfect choice, given the back alleys the group chose to explore this time around. Sure, the fine line between exuberant good times and soul-threatening excess is familiar turf in rock 'n' roll (witness: Lou Reed's entire career). Yet since Turner ranks beside Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker as the best modern heir of the time-honored U.K. school of lyrical sociologists founded by Ray Davies, Bryan Ferry and Morrissey, there are devilishly delightful twists and turns in every droning mood-piece and intriguing dungeon slow jam.

The second track, "Crying Lightning," exemplifies the decadence and the wit. As a tom-heavy groove pounds with the fury of Sunday morning's hangover and the guitar line beckons like a snake charmer's pipe, Turner relates one of the several "twisted and deranged" encounters that fill these tracks, this one with a Lolita-like lass who "puffs out her chest like she never lost a war" while munching on her Pick 'n' Mix sweets and filling our hero with rude thoughts he knows he'll regret, even if we love every minute of living through his mistakes.

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Preface: I don't listen to Sound Opinions as often as I'd like to do, and usually limit my intake of album or concert criticism to concerts I'm about to attend or those I've just attended.

There. Now:

I listened to most of Sound Opinions last night [8/28/09], and just came across this article. Now I find myself curious about a few things.

Which came first--the recording of the radio show or the writing of this article?

Is the album so narrowly precise in its sound and substance that it is impossible for even a professional [pop] music critic to conjure up any descriptors or tangential imagery beyond "dark cave," "desert rock," "back alleys," "lyrical sociologists [specifically: Ray Davies, Bryan Ferry and Morrissey]," a "tom-heavy groove" with the fury of "Sunday morning's hangover," "Lolita-like," etc? Or do you simply figure that people who listen to the radio don't read, and/or vice versa, or that those same words in that same order deserved some extra hammering home?

Or perhaps the question has to be: What else have you got?

Let me know.

Appreciatively,
joey

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on August 25, 2009 4:10 PM.

This weekend: Bye-bye M.O.T.O., hello Jake Burns was the previous entry in this blog.

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