The Car by Arctic Monkeys | Album Review
A lush, cinematic experience quite like nothing the band has put out before
Just over 4 years ago, the Arctic Monkeys ushered in a new era in 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Substituting their trademark style of indie rock in favour of a more lounge-pop-inspired project. While the genre change made sense for the album’s retro sci-fi concept, and initial reactions were quite mixed, it showcased the band’s efforts in taking liberties to expand stylistically. With that being said, The Car picks up where TBH+C left off and sees Alex Turner and Co push themselves even further away from their rock roots.
Whereas TBH+C reveled in its weird, Phillip K. Dick-influenced tones and personas, The Car brings the band back down to earth while still keeping a handful of the nuances and richness from their 2018 space escapade. Topped with Alex’s cryptic, tongue-in-cheek lyricism, and an emphasis on more string-laden tunes, The Car solidifies the band’s commitment to going against the grain. Making for one of the Arctic Monkeys’ grandest pieces of work to date.
There’s something quite nostalgic to the sound of the whole album. The Car evokes memories of Hollywood’s Golden Age with its 60s/70s-inspired production. Things are much slower this time around, providing The Car with ample room to engulf listeners into its dreamy world. Opener “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball” sets the stage with its wistful strings that build up to the song’s emotional, grand finale. The slightly funkier “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” adds a little more colour with its wah-wah guitars, the closest thing to rock The Car offers.
This grandiose, cinematic quality carries on throughout the album. I couldn’t help but envision Ennio Morricone on the album’s title track and on “Mr. Schwartz”, both of which feature these plucking acoustic guitars and rolling drums that could soundtrack a Spaghetti Western. The lush balladry of “Jet Skis On The Moat” or the dramatic “Big Ideas” feel like full-blown musicals more than anything else.
Vocally Alex Turner continues to embody this lounge singer persona he introduced us to on TBH+C. His falsetto carries the entire album and quite honestly, adds another layer of beauty to each song. The way he swoons and harmonizes on the outro of songs like “Body Paint” is a far cry away from his earlier indie rock days but shows his evolution to take himself one step further.
Lyrically, The Car is fixated on a myriad of things ranging from fame, romance, and the idea of longing. As songwriters, the Arctic Monkeys are famous for their cryptic poeticism but here it’s become more refined and self-aware than ever. Such is the case for “Jet Skis On The Moat” and the eerie “Sculptures Of Anything Goes”. Over the latter’s pulsing synth Alex alludes to the reception of their current music (“Puncturing your bubble of relatability with your horrible new sound.”), breaking the 4th wall between the band and listeners.
This self-awareness permeates songs like “Big Idea”, where Turner sings on the chorus (“I had big ideas, the band were so excited. The kind you’d rather not share over the phone.”). Perhaps referencing this sudden shift musically. Turner becomes somewhat auto-biographical on “Mr. Schwartz”, discussing the insecurity he faces as the leading man of the band.
There are cues of a failed romance, nowhere near the paranoia-fuelled bouts on 2013’s AM, but more the acceptance of the outcome. “Body Paint” acts as the initial reaction to a form of infidelity, whereas “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball” is that final goodbye (“So do you wanna walk me to the car? You’d oughta know I’ll have a heavy heart.”). Nostalgia, while being a driving factor for The Car’s sound, also plays heavily on the album’s title track. Reminiscing about days past and holidays in a dusty apartment. Album closer “Perfect Sense” is a fitting goodbye for The Car. Summing up everything he’s sung about on the album with the song’s final line (“ If that’s what it takes to say goodnight, then that’s what it takes.”).
The Car is certainly a big leap forward for the Arctic Monkeys, stylistically matching Alex’s lyricism perfectly with the album’s operatic sound. This slowed-down approach provides the band with just the right amount of time to create a grand sense of feeling with each song. If anything, this new album is a stark reminder that the boys from Sheffield have matured and grown. Much like the literal car on the album cover, the band is constantly moving forward toward its destination. Where it ends up nobody knows, but the journey getting there, as well as the stylistic journey the Arctic Monkeys take on The Car, is all worthwhile.
Final Rating: 8/10
Favourite Tracks: There’d Better Be A Mirrorball, I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am, Jet Skis On The Moat, Sculptures Of Anything Goes, Body Paint, Big Ideas, Hello You.
Stream The Car by Arctic Monkeys: Apple Music | Spotify