AM by Arctic Monkeys // 10 Year Anniversary Album Review

With the release of AM a decade ago, Arctic Monkeys reinvented themselves as a band and showcased what the defining sound of modern rock music would be. It's sound and aesthetics have shaped so much of the genre in the past ten years. This is the album that first introduced me to the band, as well as my personal favorite. The guitar-driven melodies, vocals, and lyrics are all just so effortlessly cool and made this album an instant classic.

After dominating the British rock scene for much of the 2000's, Arctic Monkeys does take a bit of a different approach to their music in what felt like a natural evolution for the band at the time. It is a bit more mature with a very timeless sound, mixing a cosmic blend of classic and alternative rock, with elements of R&B, blues, indie rock, and psychedelic rock. It incorporates so many of the band's influences through rock history and makes it all their own. The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, and The Velvet Underground, to name a few, are referenced sonically and lyrically throughout the album. When talking to Interview Magazine about some of the inspirations behind the album title, the band's frontman, Alex Turner, said, "I would have called it Arctic Monkeys if 'Arctic Monkeys' wasn't such a silly name. We were into the radio wave idea, and that really seemed to fit perfectly. It's in this style of underground records, with a picture of a VU meter, and that’s where the idea sort of originated. I really like the look of the letters, as well; the peaks and drops." He has also talked about how the title and album art took inspiration from The Velvet Underground's 1985 album, VU, as well. 

In contrast to their previous release in 2011, Suck It And See, the band set out to create a traditional studio album with AM. "Our plan for this record was to make it not sound like just four guys playing in a room, which is a limitation that we placed on ourselves in past studios. This one was a sort of anything goes, really, experimentation with vocals," Alex told Interview Magazine. "Some of the vocal effects that you might hear in pop music and R&B, for instance. You’ll find that there are lots of elements of those corners of the music universe. It’s total chemical reaction time. You take too much from one world, and you don’t get the right color smoke."

AM starts with a sequence of some of their best songs they have ever recorded. "Do I Wanna Know?" opens the album with a hypnotic electric guitar riff that I will never get tired of hearing. The psychedelic production and instrumental layering is incredible, along with the high falsetto backing vocals in the chorus and the latter half of the song. Lyrically it is one of the strongest from the album too. Some of my favorite lines include "There's this tune I found, that makes me think of you somehow and I play it on repeat" and "Been wondering if your heart's still open and if so, I wanna know what time it shuts". The song is about an ambivalent relationship that that evokes so many different feelings simultaneously. These conflicted emotions are a common theme for much of this album. 

"Do I Wanna Know?" is like a lower tempo version of the second track, "R U Mine?", which makes the transition so seamless in the track list. It's such a great song and really keeps the high momentum going. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Alex talked about the inspiration behind both tracks and the way they shaped the rest of the AM sound, "The record sort of started with 'R U Mine?' really. We discovered something through the recording of that tune that we thought was worth exploring. 'Do I Wanna Know' was the first thing we found along that road." They debuted it live in 2012 and released it as a stand-alone single over a year before the rest of AM was released. I'm glad it was included on AM because it is one of the best on the record and one of my favorite songs ever.

"'R U Mine?' was a ray of light moment," Alex said in an interview with Mojo. "What I was most excited about is the vocal production, it was something we hadn't explored to that extent before. I wanted to do these meandering melodies that don't repeat, like contemporary R&B."  The vivid lyricism adds so much color to this song. The opening lines, "I'm a puppet on a string, Tracy Island, time-traveling, diamond cutter-shaped heartaches, that come to find you four in some velvet morning, years too late" is so electric and the entire song is such a highlight of their discography. 

"One For The Road", the third track, is another favorite that has such an infectious melody and memorable chorus. I have always loved the line, "There's no need to show me around, baby, I feel like I've been here before". If you listen to it with headphones the layered instrumentals sound insane and so full of depth. I recommend always listening to this album like that to be fully immersed into the musical world they create with each song. I have heard these songs countless times and I am still finding new elements that I love. With "One For The Road", I still get chills when I hear the guitar solo at the end! 

Another shining moment from this album is the fourth track, "Arabella". The title blends the character Barbarella with the name of Alex Tuner's girlfriend at the time. I love the way he captures her allure and essence in this song, with a lyric like "the horizon tries but it's just not as kind on the eyes". She sounds like the ultimate cool girl with a description of wearing "interstellar-gator skin boots", "Barbarella silver swimsuit", and a "cheetah-print coat". The same type of "space age-country girl" is depicted on the next track "I Want It All", too. He describes her as being "made of outer space", which is a stunning example of the surrealist imagery that makes up so much of this record. 

By the mid-point of the album, the energy slows down a bit on songs like "No. 1 Party Anthem", "Mad Sounds" and "Fireside". They are much more laidback in comparison to the start of the record. In hindsight, these songs gave a bit of glimpse into the direction they would soon go in with the majority of their next two albums, Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino and The Car. Their music overall in the years after the release of AM have been getting significantly slower and slower and just doesn't captivate me like their earlier work does. However, I can appreciate that they went in a different direction and didn't just try to replicate AM, because to make an album like this again is like capturing lightning in a bottle. The magic of this album could never be replicated.

By the latter half of the album, it starts to pick up again with one of my favorite songs ever, "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" It is such an electrifying and experimental track for them, I can never get enough of it. "...I just wanted to do one of them songs where, if you’re the listener, you’re right on my shoulder. Of the tunes that we've had over the years, we've got two categories: ones where that is the case and ones where it isn't. That’s definitely one where it’s pretty clear what it’s about. I just thought, 'Why not just have a tune that’s pretty straightforwardly about that?' Just make it obvious for once," Alex told Under The Radar. "Now, it's three in the mornin' and I'm tryna' change your mind, left you multiple missed calls and to my message, you reply, 'Why'd you only call me when you're high?'" he sings in the chorus. It's inspired by a real voicemail he once received "along those lines", as he told Q Magazine

AM feels like it is shaped around the trinity of questions throughout the album - "Do I Wanna Know?", "R U Mine?" and "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?". Those three tracks in particular are my top favorites from the album and truly are modern classics. 

The vividly specific imagery in the lyricism that makes up "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" also reminds me of the eleventh track, "Knee Socks". It describes a moment in time with such detail, from having a "cough drop colored tongue" and wearing a sky-blue Lacoste shirt with knee socks. I love the dreary depiction of the cold winter months and the metaphor that holds for the relationship represented on the song. "When the winter's in full swing and your dreams just aren't comin' true, ain't it funny what you'll do?" he sings. The bass and drumbeats are so amazing on that song and in a way reminds me of the previous track, "Snap Out Of It", too. This song depicts the narrator trying to get his love interest out of the trance she's in over a past relationship. "I wanna grab both your shoulders and shake, baby, snap out of it...If that watch don't continue to swing, or the fat lady fancies havin' a sing, I'll be here, waitin' ever so patiently for you to snap out of it," he sings. 

The album ends with "I Wanna Be Yours", an adaptation of John Cooper Clarke's 1982 poem set to music. The poem also depicts surrealist imagery, as does much of the lyricism throughout AM, associating inanimate objects like coffee pots, electric meters and vacuum cleaners with love and devotion. "I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust", are the opening lines. "I was your typical teenager, trying to be cool and not interested and the teacher proceeded to read 'I Wanna Be Yours,' doing an impression of Johnny," Alex recalled in an interview with NME. "It made my ears prick up in the classroom because it was nothing like anything I'd heard, especially on this syllabus. Had I not seen him do his thing, I wouldn't have started writing like that." There were some added and modified lines to the original poem for the band's rendition like, "Secrets I have held in my heart are harder to hide than I thought." The line "I wanna be yours" being repeated in the final lines is so beautiful and almost hypnotic in its delivery. It is such an emotionally charged ending to this record.

AM is a modern masterpiece; its influence has shaped and redefined modern rock music for the past decade. It paved the way for a new generation of rock musicians and fans in every regard. The band's confidence in their sound and fearlessness to experiment is evident in how masterful this record is.  

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 

-Melissa ♡

Photo Credit: Arctic Monkeys, Domino Recording Company and Universal Music Group


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