The Sheffield band’s latest exists in some kind of kitsch pocket universe where people sit around in vintage Gucci watching Roger Moore James Bond movies for days on end, subsisting purely on irony There’s a term used frequently in American sports journalism and commentary that refers to a particular player who is so successful that they come to define the era in which they played. That term is ‘generational talent’, and if we were to take that and apply it to British music, you’d have to say that Arctic Monkeys‘ Alex Turner is a ‘generational talent’ too. Come to think of it, there’s an argument to be made that Turner ranks amongst the very best songwriters of all time, isn’t there? His commitment to a heightened post-John Cooper Clarke psychedelic realism has led to some of the most potent storytelling, and most hilarious non sequiturs, of the past 20 years.
For anyone yearning for an Arctic Monkeys record that revisits the "505" or fake tales of San Francisco, you'd probably best look away now. While the era that first put them on the map will always hold a special place in people's hearts, one thing Arctic Monkeys can never be accused of is living in the past. Every subsequent release since the band's debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, came out back in 2006 has strived to open doors into pastures new.
I'm behind my movie camera, I've got my megaphone
A word thrown around a lot in the run-up to the release of The Car was 'grounded'. It's an easy word to grasp, I suppose, especially in relation to the spacey sci-fi wanderings of Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, The Car ostensibly being its down-to-earth, even-keeled counterpart. Even the austere, desolate album cover of The Car - shot by drummer Matt Helders on a film camera in Los Angeles, in stark contrast to Tranquility Base's handmade design - screams that this album is a serious anchoring of its predecessor's wilder impulses.
And yet: The Car makes Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino sound like an easy ride.
Among many lyrics tempting dissection on Arctic Monkeys' seventh album, various entries from Body Paint leap out. "For a master of deception and subterfuge," goes one, "you've made yourself quite the bed to lie in."
Whether Alex Turner is in character, confessing or observing, the lyric strikes a chord with the tensions of The Car, an album that plays around with ideas of performance and evasion to sometimes teasing, sometimes frustrating ends. Turner's talk of an earthier follow-up to the moon-age daydreams of 2018's Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino holds firm in spots, but The Car can seem remote, hard to get a steer on, like it's keeping an eye on the getaway vehicle.
"Are you just happy to sit there and watch / While the paint job dries?" That's Alex Turner, friends. The greatest songwriter of his generation, apologising for becoming a fucking bore. Crooning through the fourth wall, on a track named (if you please) 'Jet Skis On The Moat'. As if this were some manner of experimental cinema project and not a rock record.