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ARTICLE: Arctic Monkeys – The Road to ‘AM’

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INTRODUCTION

In 2005, when the Arctic Monkeys were first thrown into the arms of the indie music world, a video of the band performing “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor” depicted the young band  looking awkward and boyish, but brilliant. Before the performance began, Alex Turner cleared his throat and drawled, in a thick Northern accent, “Weahr the ahrctic moonkees… Don’ buhleeve the ‘ype.” That proved impossible. The hype was real, and eight years on, it’s time for the band to release their fifth studio album, ‘AM’. After eleven years since their formation in 2002, the infant apes are all grown up, and ready to take over the world, one drunk text at a time. Here Today takes a look at their career up to this point, and why ‘AM’ makes them the greatest rock band of our generation.

THE CHANGING STAGE

Earlier this summer, Arctic Monkeys played the biggest gig of their career when they headlined Glastonbury Festival in the UK for the second time. However, every band has to start somewhere, and they didn’t start on the Pyramid Stage. On Friday the 13th June 2003, the band played their first ever gig at The Grapes, a small pub in their home town of Sheffield. What I would give to have a time machine and a ticket to Sheffield. Their set included “Ravey Ravey Ravey Club”, an unreleased track. But of course, there’s a grainy recording on YouTube:

As teenagers, Alex and ex-bassist Andy Nicholson found employment pulling pints at famous local venue, The Boardwalk, that had played an important role in launching up and coming bands from the area. When they returned to play a homecoming gig at the small venue, ex-bassist Andy pulled on a staff t-shirt and served behind the bar again. Alas, The Boardwalk went into administration in 2010.

In 2005, the band blew up and embarked on its first world tour. By the time they reached the UK leg, every concert was fully sold out, and £7 tickets were being flogged for £100 for two on eBay. Talk about demand.

At The Grapes in 2003, The band made a total of £27 in ticket sales. Less than ten years later, Turner is number 11 on the Heat Under 30s Rich List, and worth an estimated £9.8 million.

THE MYSPACE GENERATION

Shortly after the Grapes gig, the band started producing demo CDs at 2fly studios, to distribute for free at their small concerts. So began the band’s rise to first internet, then global fame. Whilst the boys didn’t know how to put music on the internet, had never heard of Myspace and got a mate to set up the website, fans were sharing the demo tracks online. It was a fan who came up with the title ‘Beneath the Boardwalk’ for the 17 track demo CD, and yes, that is referring to the same Boardwalk where Alex and Andy used to work. Just a year or so later, the band beat the British record for fastest selling debut album with ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ selling 363,735 over-the-counter copies in the first week. There was a time when Myspace was relevant.

 

COOL COLLABORATIONS

You’ve probably heard of The Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner’s incredibly cool side project band, which consists of himself, Miles Kane and James Ford. They’ve released only one album, ‘The Age of the Understatement’, but both Turner and Kane say they’ll record new material “when the time is right.” The Last Shadow Puppets may be on extended break, but Turner and Kane have continued to work together, and prove that mods and rockers can be friends after all. The “Milex” relationship has also been the cause of some slightly creepy tumblr blogs celebrating the bromance.

If Miles Kane wasn’t cool enough, Alex Turner and the Monkeys just happen to be good friends with Queens of The Stone Age legend Josh Homme. As well as co-producing the Monkeys’ third album, ‘Humbug’, Homme features on ‘AM’. Talking to Zane Lowe, Turner described the appearance as “very much a case of one of us returning a back scratch to the other,” referring to his own contribution to the latest QOTSA album, ‘…Like Clockwork’. “Just fun, it’s friends, extended family now,” is how Turner descibed the collaboration. ‘AM’ also features guest appearances by The Coral’s ex-guitarist Bill Ryder Jones and drummer Pete Thomas.

But it’s not just guitar brandishing musicians that Arctic Monkeys have worked with. In 2007, the band joined forces with British rap artist Dizzee Rascal, to create “Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend” and “Temptation”. The former was the Arctic Monkeys track, featured on the ‘Brianstorm’ EP, where Rascal rapped over a verse. The latter was Rascal’s interpretation, a full rap song with Turner’s dulcet tones sampled underneath. The two acts came together again during the Monkeys’ headliner set at Glastonbury in 2007.

THE HAIRVOLUTION OF ARCTIC MONKEYS

It’s safe to say that with each new Arctic Monkeys album, comes a new style, especially for Alex Turner. As a teenager in Sheffield, he sported a polo T-shirt and Jeremy Clarkson jean combo, with some pretty flat snips on his head. Fast forward to 2009, and he’s sporting a rather different look. Luscious locks of shiny brown hair hang around his face like a mop, and a gorgeous Alexa Chung is tucked under his arm. Then 2012 saw the introduction of greaser Turner. This slick LA Alex wears Saint Laurent, a leather jacket to promo shoots, has Topman style guides in dedication to his Teddy boy look, and rolls his hair into a slick quiff. Talking to GQ, Turner said he adopted the look because “All the boys got shorter hair and I thought, ‘What can I do to one-up them?’ I am the singer after all, and you’ve gotta be a dick sometimes.”

Turner is a style chameleon, musically as well as in fashion. ‘Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not’ was a perfect, grubby, indie rock storybook of suburban teenage life, and with tracks like “Fluorescent Adolescent” on ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, their follow up followed on a similar thread. However, as the title suggests, something about their second album already showed signs of a new musical style. ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ was loud, fast, austere and dangerous. The violent opening riff of “Brianstorm” sets the tone for the record: the really great, really well received record.

The view from Alex Turner’s 2009 ‘Humbug’ era eye covering mop of hair must have been pretty dark and confusing to have produced tracks like “Pretty Visitors”. Arctic Monkeys fans obviously think that none of the albums are bad, but this is often the one they don’t like as much. Personally, Humbug is one of my favourites because it’s confidently experimental, never a bad idea for a band that’s been around a while.

Whilst the first three albums got darker with each release, ‘Suck it and See’, also a reaction record, changed the other way. It was more accessible, “vintage”, but not addictive like the previous three. However, it was released just a few months before Turner announced to The Sun that he had “fucking forgotten how do that,” in reference to writing a smash hit. So you never know, maybe we’re in agreement about ‘Suck it…’

Now, in 2013, Turner is churning out different quotes about his song writing and recording process, albeit bizarre ones. To GQ: “The whole thing for me is like a chemical reaction. It’s like you put your different elements into all the test tubes, and you try and mix them together and get the right-colour smoke.”

Or there’s this one to NME: “Writing songs for me is like waiting for deliveries,” he explains. “You get a window: the washing machine’s got to be there between 11 and 5. You’ve got to wait for it. It [the song] is the washing machine, the idea! You’re like, ‘Right, we’re gonna do this record between now and then, and in the middle something is gonna arrive. A loosely metaphorical washing machine.” Turner’s dark patch where he forgot how to write a mammoth single is over. Finito. Gone. Need proof? Just sit back and listen to “Do I Wanna Know?”

AM

Ever since I find out that the name of this album would be ‘AM’, I’ve been totally stumped as to what it could stand for. Then Turner cleared it all up in an interview with Zane Lowe, where he admitted he’d stolen the idea from The Velvet Underground’s ‘VU’ record. Suddenly it all made sense. Here are nine more facts about ‘AM’:

Alex Turner describing ‘AM’: “It sounds like a Dr Dre beat, but we’ve given it an Ike Turner bowl cut and then we’ve sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster.” (Rolling Stone)

On what happened in that LA studio: Matt Helders broke his hand because it “came into contact with something that was stronger than me.” (NME)

On ‘AM’, Arctic Monkeys make their drum machine debut with “I Wanna Be Yours”.

“Mad Sounds”, the seventh track on the album, was debuted at Hultsfred Festival in Sweden.

Josh Homme on the new record: “It’s a really cool, sexy after-midnight record… and it’s really good.” (NME)

Haim turned down the opportunity to be on “Do I Wanna Know?”, as they couldn’t fit it into their schedules. Bass player Este Haim said it was “maybe the worst day of my life,” to call and say no. (NME)

The record was finished in the nick of time. “We were on the phone, getting things finished like adding a tambourine to a chorus, when it should have been mastered. It was right down to the last minute.” Those dastardly tambourines. (XFM)

“Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” debuted at number 8 in the UK charts, making it the band’s first top 10 single since 2007, when they released “Fluorescent Adolescent”.

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