As their first UK tour since 2018 quickly approaches, now is as good a time as ever to reflect on the profound success and fascinating evolution of one of the country’s most popular bands of all time: Arctic Monkeys.
As one of the most well-loved and critically acclaimed rock bands ever, Arctic Monkeys’ impact upon the UK’s music scene - and, indeed, far beyond - is undeniable. With 5 number one albums, international success, and nearly 30 awards ranging from the Mercury Prize to the, the indie rock band hailing from Sheffield have reached something of a legendary status within the UK and further afield.
So, from the diverse evolution of their discography to the many charming stage personas of the band’s frontman, Alex Turner, what are the multitude of reasons that make Arctic Monkeys so distinct?
Revisiting their debut album, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, is a vivid reminder of what catapulted the Monkeys to such rapid initial success. Cheekiness and charm pervade a young Turner’s lyricism, delivered in a thick Sheffield accent that makes it all the more authentic. The album’s sound is consistent: raw, guitar-heavy, and a quintessential embodiment of the indie rock genre - and it charmed listeners enough to make it the fastest selling debut album in UK history and an instant classic.
Their newest album The Car, released last October, is thus an embodiment of the way the band has profoundly matured in the 16 years since their debut. It is both a wildly different yet logical progression from their initial sound: a finely crafted album filled with powerful and poetic lyricism and a profoundly cinematic, dreamy sound and atmosphere, tied together with nostalgic 60s and 70s influences and the novel use of string sections. All in all, the album was well received by critics but faced mixed opinions from casual fans, as some longed for the band’s old, familiar sound.
Indeed, The Car followed on from 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, the band’s first major departure from their rock-based sound. The piano-orientated album was a total pivot away from what fans were acquainted to, as Turner’s crooning vocals and absurdist lyricism took centre stage on this lounge-pop masterpiece. Its lyrics, conceptualising a hotel based on the moon, were indeed a far cry from the commentary on nights out in Sheffield that Turner sang about in 2006 - but they represented a fresh creativity, and fundamentally highlighted the band’s willingness to take a risk in order to create something totally new.
But the Monkeys’ evolution did not begin with Tranquility Base. Their sophomore record, Favourite Worst Nightmare, sharpened the band’s familiar guitar-heavy sound and brought a new level of maturity to Turner’s lyricism. Similarly, their third album, Humbug, built upon their existing indie rock sound to incorporate elements of psychedelic and desert rock.
Indeed, their subsequent releases, 2011’s Suck It and See and 2013’s AM, brought similar evolution: the Monkeys developed into a refined sound which embodied elements of their indie roots, classic rock-and-roll, and even R’n’B and hip hop. It was indeed the fantastic AM that catapulted the band to mainstream international success, as the late-night hedonism of its lyricism and its smooth, swaggering sound charmed listeners across the globe.
When examined in line with the band’s entire discography, The Car and Tranquility Base were not as well received in the mainstream as their predecessors. But this in no way taints the Monkeys’ record, because these albums were in no way a deviation in quality. Instead, they were different: the product of artists who rejected the temptation offered by the prospects of re-producing an old, reliable formula to appease the masses. Indeed, the reception of these two albums raises a fundamental question about music: does popularity equate to quality? The answer seems obvious.
Beyond their exceptional discography, Arctic Monkeys also boast a track record of exceptional live performances - with their 2007 and 2013 Glastonbury headline slots being particular standouts - and members which are consistently popular and likable as individuals. Turner particularly stands out: not just because he is the band’s frontman and one of the greatest lyricists arguably ever, but also because of his ever-changing stage personas and styles. One of the most notable was his AM era, in which he adopted the swagger and style of a classic star of rock-and-roll, sporting a quiff, leather jacket, and sunglasses to match.
Indeed, three things remain consistent in the discography and style of Arctic Monkeys: the highest quality of musicianship, exceptional lyricism, and a fundamental eagerness to evolve. It is these three things that make them so unique and deserving of their unimaginable success.
There are many, many brilliantly talented artists who can create cohesive bodies of work filled with beautiful, creative, or just downright catchy tracks. But few are able to evolve so significantly - and retain a body of work with such consistent quality - as Arctic Monkeys. It is this that allows them to be at least looked at alongside the all-time greats - Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and so forth - especially as they only continue to develop, diversify, and innovate further.