Sheffield bunch Arctic Monkeys have never seemed concerned about being famous. They named their second EP Who The Fuck Are the Arctic Monkeys to dampen any airplay it got, acted indifferent to becoming the biggest band in Britain, and third album Humbug seemed to eschew the hyper/snotty garage rock that got them where they are. I took all of this into consideration when the band announced that 1. The new album was called Suck It and See, 2. Yes, this is the cover art, and 3. released the thudding Queens of the Stone Age imitation “Brick By Brick” as a preview song. It rang of the self-sabotage that has plagued a lot of bands, and almost doomed The Strokes.
But that’s not the case here.
On Suck It and See, Arctic Monkeys take elements from their previous albums, and see how they can reconfigure them to work together while still moving forward. In terms of sound, this album seeks to balance Humbug‘s weirder tendencies with the firm sense of direction in Whatever People Say I Am… and Favourite Worst Nightmare. Thanks to long-time collaborator/producer James Ford, Suck It and See has an instantly familiar Arctic Monkeys sound: clean and clear while reminiscent of guitar pop bands of years past.
The secret to Arctic Monkeys’ success has been how incredibly solid they are as a band. Jamie Cook and Alex Turner’s guitars come up with nimble leads, clever riffs, and “Why didn’t I think of that?” progressions, and Nick O’Malley’s bass playing finds a groove in whatever gets thrown at him.
But the two strongest parts of Arctic Monkeys as a band are Turner’s lyrics and Matt Helders’ drumming. Helders rarely repeats himself, and keeps a steady yet intriguing beat on just about every song. Turner, far from the best singer in the world, makes up for it by injecting a ton of personality in his delivery, etching out great melodies, and coming up with witty, insightful lyrics that can paint a picture (“Black Treacle”) or have a great one-liner, like “Called up to listen to the voice of reason/And got his answering machine”.
So how do all of these good on-paper components work in practice? After the surprisingly sweet opener “She’s Thunderstorms” comes the first truly promising song of the album, “Black Treacle”. The song lands right in the sweet spot of a strong rock sound with a hell of a chorus and a great hook. Something similar happens with “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” (the intro riff is gorgeous), which makes it a shame that the so-so “Brick by Brick” comes between them.
From there, the album hits a furious middle section. First single “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” is a grower, and doesn’t sound dissimilar to other songs off Humbug with its lumbering beat and dark atmosphere, but ends up being enjoyable. But it pales in comparison to “Library Pictures”, which combines the frantic energy of the band’s first albums with their improved musicianship. There’s more Queens of the Stone Age riffage on “All My Own Stunts”, but sandwiched between “Library Pictures” and “Reckless Serenade” (one of the band’s best songs) doesn’t do it any favors.
Starting with “Reckless Serenade”, Suck It and See enters a subdued back half. “Subdued” merely means that there’s nothing as aggressive as “Brick by Brick”; Arctic Monkeys are still able to keep the energy going, especially on closer “That’s Where You’re Wrong”. It’d be hard to pick out a favorite, but “Love Is A Laserquest” is a little prettier than the rest, and as mentioned, “Reckless Serenade” begs for repeated listens.
Suck It and See isn’t entirely blemish free, though. There are some less interesting moments, and a song or two that falter (“Brick by Brick” and “All My Own Stunts” come to mind). The back-end of the album could use a little more life to it, as well. As it turns out “Suck it and see” is a British expression meaning “Try it out”, and Suck It and See rewards anyone who listens. Four out of five stars.
tl;dr: it doesn’t suck, 4/5.