Skip to content

Album Review: Arctic Monkeys - The Car

From a career meandering away from Sheffield’s nightclubs, the Monkeys leave us down and out in New York and London, orchestrated to near sublime beauty.

By Jake Paterson, Co-Deputy Music Editor

Alex Turner has never been one for direct interviews. His music post AM has set up a simultaneously glitzy and sleazy talk show where he seemingly interviews himself – the tweed and leather of a 70s TV set the backdrop for a dive into his own haze of a psyche.

After a foray into the modernist cosmos on Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, an album in which the Monkeys laid aside their guitars, The Car is less instinctual, nasal and piercing. Melancholy and solitude permeate its heart, surrounded by a sound that warps time before your very eyes. The short film accompanying Tranquility was titled ‘Warp Speed Chic’, The Car hails a more contemporary nostalgia.

‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ would be a suitable title this time around.

The Car Album Cover / Matt Helders, Black Arts PR

Whilst Turner’s identity seems divided between decades, his art is precise and is the most beautiful it has ever been. The record does get caught in its own undertow on occasion, so enveloped by orchestration that it creates a sense of density away from lightness. Turner seems to suggest that we’ve been on a detour since 2009, "I elongated my lift home / yeah I let him go the long way round", he wrote on ‘Cornerstone’. With AM landing back in the charts after their headline Reading set and release of new singles, for many their direction since that record has seemed a little too pretentious and indirect.

Yet having taken 'From the Ritz to the Rubble' on tour on their setlist, and announcing dates back in Sheffield for 2023 it feels like the band are, at least, a little more grounded on planet earth.

Shaking hands with himself and at times constructing a caricature of what the band’s place in the modern world is, Turner’s lyricism never faults. "Didn’t recognise ya through the smoke / Pyjama pants and a Subbuteo cloak" he sings on ‘Jet Skis on the Moat’, clearly caught in a daze of his own image, whilst the band’s reception is an undercurrent throughout. "As that meandering chapter reaches its end / And leaves us in a thoughtful little daze", we reach in ‘Hello You’, and the even more scathing "Puncturing your bubble of relatability / With your horrible new sound" on ‘Jet Skis on the Moat’. Moving away from the spunk of their first releases to take hold of their own artistic direction didn't come without ruffling a few internal feathers.

This doubt plays out in the style of a post-industrial glamour magazine found under a pile of brown leather jackets in the boot of a burned out car in street-lit downtown LA. Its gradual meandering through a soundscape of full orchestration and Turner’s highest register of his career thus far, touches a portrait by an old master with a new layer of varnish – whatever had coloured slightly yellow since Tranquility, is now light, expansive and new.

This lightness comes out in the record's most defining material: ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’, ‘Body Paint’, and ‘Perfect Sense’. 'Mirrorball' is close to nothing short of a masterpiece. It's swell of piano and strings, accompanied by Turner's most fragile presentation since the soundtrack to Submarine, create a refined moment of unrestrained beauty. 'Body Paint' delivers the late night TV show live segment to perfect effect. The likes of Later with Jools and Jimmy Fallon have already seen its explosive guitar, whilst 'Perfect Sense' tails off the album with a sense of supersymmetry.

Yet, other than ‘Scultpures of Anything Goes’ puncturing the rhythm to such high quality, the record produces its own drag and it’s easy to get lost all the way through to the end. ‘The Car’, ‘Hello You’ and ‘Mr Schwartz’ all seem weight laden or at worst slightly tedious.

Arctic Monkeys / Zackery Michael, Black Arts PR

The liminality of the record touches and holds onto obscurity by turning minimalism inside-out, leaving a depth that cannot be grasped at without walking down the same high-street hundreds of times and finally noticing the stranger watching you from an open window lit by a hazy lampshade.

"Yesterday’s still leaking through the roof" Turner posits on ‘Mirrorball’. Maybe allowing The Car to drip through into our everyday reflections on the past will reveal its true beauty, but its impact on the present seems limited to occasional moments of unwavering brilliance.

Featured Image: Zackery Michael, Black Arts PR

Have you listened to The Car?