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Single Review: Arctic Monkeys - 'Body Paint'

A creative and self-assured single that inspires faith in Arctic Monkeys' post-AM direction.

By Teddy Stoddart, Second Year Engineering Design

In what is becoming their signature move, the Arctic Monkeys’ new single ‘Body Paint’ completely defies the work of their peers and the current zeitgeist of indie-rock music, and instead unapologetically changes the conversation.

The new song, a development of the sound of their last album Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino, swaggers along in its own time. A piano led instrumentation is supported by ornate strings and a sparse drumbeat, lending the recording a retro quality. Over the top lead singer Alex Turner hangs a wistful, falsetto-adorned vocal that harks back to David Bowie’s performances on Hunky Dory.

The song slowly builds momentum until reaching a crescendo with two consecutive choruses, before being brought to a close with the help of a Beatles-spirited guitar part. Sections of the single almost sound like the soundtrack to a musical, but an ambiguous set of lyrics help it step back from the brink of musical cliché.

The overall effect is a baroque rock ballad which, while hard to get into on first listening, becomes an unlikely earworm after a few repeats. Turner’s lyrics and the tender strings section conspire to create a song that is more emotionally compelling than most on their last album, which at time could feel clinical in its experimentation.

The aural likeness to Bowie and The Beatles on this release is intriguing because the similarities don’t end with the music. Both influences were prone to self-reinvention between albums, particularly Bowie who would transform his very persona (Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke), a fact that can’t be lost on Turner who undergone similar transformations from 50s Teddy-boy to jazz singer-in-residence on previous albums. Whether Turner’s desire to reinvent the Arctic Monkeys between every album is a conscious gambit to follow in the wake of previous greats, or simply his compulsion as great artist himself, it is hard to tell.

Regardless of whether ‘Body Paint’ compels you or not musically, every note on the new single seems deliberate and considered; it is hard to imagine that the final product sounds any different to how Alex Turner envisioned the song in his head. If the transformation of the Arctic Monkey’s sound in Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino was a statement of intent that the band was ready to step off the trajectory of success that had catapulted them from Sheffield to Los Angeles, this latest release suggests a band that is reaching cruising altitude in their new direction.

Featured Image: Zackery Michael courtesy of Simon Blackmore Press

Have you listened to 'Body Paint'?