Monkeys raise art punk to new level

Arctic Monkeys’ third album is an amazing, surreal punk rock collection that’s out of this world.

Although British disco punk bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party have faltered on its third record, Arctic Monkeys from Sheffield, England, have only grown more engaging with its third album, “Humbug.” Rather than dwell on the high-pitched yelling and the speedy drum rolls, the band switched to playing dark, minor key tunes in this album.

It’s a risky move, considering that most of its biggest hits rely on blazing fast tempos and high-pitched singing. Arctic Monkeys defy all expectations thanks to Nick O’Malley’s fantastic bass picking.

The new sound is so unique that the band turns into a paranormal punk version of The Bird and The Bee. Now the group sounds like a collision between a psychedelic Marvin Gaye and a bass-busting Kasabian punk band.

Listeners can hear the artistic change in dreamy songs such as “Secret Door.” In this beautiful rock ballad, Alex Turner and Jamie Cook linger on gorgeous reverberating guitar chords. Turner sings incredibly atmospheric “aahs,” with a saucy echo effect to make it sound like it could have come from an epic Beach Boys song.

Although “Humbug” doesn’t sound as exciting as its usual smashfest albums, its performances have matured in an extraordinary way. In songs such as the single, “Crying Lightning,” Cook and Turner’s guitars resound with a beautiful echo. Turner also sounds sexier with his low-key vocals.

Even subdued songs, such as “Fire and the Thud,” include engaging subtle touches that raise the emotional intensity to a whole new level. The ballad features an awesome-sounding bass riff by O’Malley.

Cook and Turner could have blasted the song by chopping out loud, distorted guitar chords. Instead, they resort to an unusual, ‘50s-style, clean guitar riff making it sound surprisingly charming.

This is not to say the third album is devoid of loud, speedy punk songs. In the song “Pretty Visitors,” Matt Helders kick-starts a killer drum roll after Turner’s simplistic organ solo. Turner and Cook also crank out some snarling guitar chords.

This song is all about Turner’s poetic talent in writing lyrics. Turner has a witty way of turning the slums into a bizarre world as he meanders through charming, lyrical passages such as, “Canopy 19 is perfectly placed for the reasonably frightening fall from the aftertaste/You’ll have to slip away I am unhappy to say, behold is the crook in the hammock plays.”

Critics have lashed out at Arctic Monkeys harshly for changing its sound. For example, the Metacritic rating for the new album is 74 out of 100, which is pretty low compared to the 90 and 88 ratings of its previous albums.

I can safely say this album is a tour de force. I would even go so far to say that “Humbug” is the best album of 2009, hands down. O’Malley’s dirty bass riffs in the new album have transformed the band into a stylish, grungy punk band. The instrumentation and lyrical vocals of the band has transformed it into a magnificent art rock band, willing to do whatever it takes to make its music a masterpiece.


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