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‘The Car’ Review: Arctic Monkeys’ Hypnotic Testament to Forward Movement

4 stars

Cover art for Arctic Monkeys' album, "The Car."
Cover art for Arctic Monkeys' album, "The Car." By Courtesy of Arctic Monkeys / Domino Recording Company
By Xander D. Patton, Contributing Writer

Constantly veering left and right, Arctic Monkeys’ “The Car,” released on Oct. 21, masterfully personifies its title but also aimlessly drives for the fun of the ride, and lead singer and lyricist Alex Turner is more than content with that.

Arctic Monkeys is a band that has never been afraid to change it sound completely, venturing into a new style once every few years. Exemplified by the transitions in their earlier days from an almost punk era seen in “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” to the lovesick longing of “Suck it and See,” to practically redefining alternative rock 'n' roll with “AM,” this band is clearly fond of experimentation. Their seventh studio album, “The Car,” falls right into this trend, proving to once again set itself apart from their prior albums in a way that feels more mature than the rest — drawing inspiration from the craft that they have been perfecting over the last fifteen years. Instead of forcing a new sound, this album feels like Arctic Monkeys, as a band, are deciding to purely have fun and explore more of the music-making world that they love.

“The Car” begins with the track “There'd Better be a Mirrorball,” a song that sets the stage for Turner's signature melodic but complex lyricism that fans are accustomed to. “There'd Better be a Mirrorball” is hard to describe as anything but orchestral, even down to its meaning. This song details the relationship that Turner finds himself in with a potential love interest, finding himself struggling to navigate the line between common sense and feelings of romantic love that he is trying to stave off. Turner knows this is a line that he should cross, as his love interest is skeptical of any positive outcome of their romance. Thus we see Turner in a state of hopeful defeat, knowing that his love interest will likely “walk [him] to the car” but still hoping for one last dance under the figurative “Mirrorball.” The first track introduces a cliffhanger for the album, leaving listeners unsure if it will be dominated by themes of heartbreak and longing instead of pleasure and satisfaction.

Another song from the album that truly stands out is “Sculptures of Anything Goes.” With a hard guitar riff, this song emanates Alex Turner’s anger about the fans’ reception of his more recent work. He emphasizes that he is becoming cynical to the world of music-making because he has been put in a box confining him to the persona and type of music associated with his most popular album, “AM.” This is most clearly visible with lines that he includes from the perspective of his listeners, mentioning the “horrible new sound” that the band has adopted and stating that they “ain’t what they used to be.” Clearly, Turner is aware that there will always be backlash to his band’s evolution, but he persists, stating that he will merely continue to “sing a tune.” making himself and his band happy.

“Big Ideas” falls into this same box, with Turner reminiscing about the success that he has had with his earlier albums as compared to the reception that he received for his most recent album “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino," as well as foreshadowing the reception that he expects to receive on this one. He recalls the “nationwide festivities” and “hysterical scenes” that fans would make in reaction to their prior, more rock-adjacent releases. However, Turner is still brashly unaffected and accepting of the fact that their sound has changed to cater towards a different audience. The rock and roll lifestyle of their youth being traded for the stun of an orchestra is not only tolerated, but welcomed.

The rest of the songs from this album; “I Ain't Quite Where I Think I Am,” “Jet Skis On The Moat,” “Body Paint,” title track “The Car,” “Hello You,” “Mr Schwartz,” and “Perfect Sense,” taken individually, tell stories of scandalous relationships, building attraction, and growing up. Collectively, they show that although this is the same Arctic Monkeys, the band has entered a new chapter that we as audiences must respect.

Ultimately from this album, listeners will hear a lot of the thematic material that they are used to: Intimate stories about dysfunctional relationships, new romantic endeavors that Turner is embarking on, and even some of that British-punk style Arctic Monkeys charm that fans have come to love. However, audiences will also find something new in Alex Turner’s vocals: defeat and humility. The poor fanbase reception that releases since “AM” have endured has made him much more self-conscious to what the band creates. However, this does not mean that Turner’s confidence in his art has shrunk in the context of this album. Rather he embraces that he continues to grow and evolve as an artist and will continue to. "The Car" sees the band letting go of the sound of their past in a way that is void of regret and instead driving forward.

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