In the past, the Arctic Monkeys have hurtled down an electrifying highway filled with psychedelic punk potholes and glam-rock speed bumps. Now, with their seventh album, The Car, the band is swiftly darting out of the fast lane and meandering onto a winding road of elegant experimentalism.
Over the course of nearly 20 years, the band has traversed the indie-rock landscape with both exaggerated swagger and well-articulated emotional depth. Yet the direct predecessor of The Car, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, is the only record from the Arctic Monkeys to detour into new territory dominated by suave, absurdist lounge music aesthetic. They continue to coast in this creative direction on their latest album, released Oct. 21 — though this time around the block, they’re filled with a little more mystery and a lot more yearning.
Much like its cover art, which features an aerial shot of a lone sedan parked in a rooftop lot, The Car captures the sensation of being left alone with unadulterated emotions, insecurities and desires. While the quartet’s previous works were intended for feverish nightclubs and alluring afterparties, much of this record encapsulates the intrusive thoughts that invade one’s mind at 3 a.m.
Sometimes, these ruminations bleed into waking hours and unravel during intimate exchanges with others. Such is the case with the album’s lead single and opening track “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball.” Reflecting on a relationship doomed to fail, frontman Alex Turner plaintively looks for the light at the end of the tunnel: “So can we please be absolutely sure/ That there’s a mirrorball for me?” Turner implores his partner over wistful strings that only embolden his desperation.
The second single of The Car, “Body Paint,” similarly excels in its ability to intertwine inner anxieties and regrets with evocative lyricism. “There’s still a trace of body paint/ On your legs and on your arms and on your face,” Turner sneers, addressing his partner’s unfaithfulness with gut-wrenching swagger. Though this infidelity is likened to vibrant pigments, the Arctic Monkeys are the ones left thriving in Technicolor.
Indeed, the record flourishes due to its sharp songwriting and experimentation. From the funk-inspired “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” to the darkly warped “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” the band navigates through various genres with ease, even confidence. Each track feels like a fleeting, yet deeply insightful pitstop into the cohesive minds of the quartet.
At other times, however, the album’s lyrical and exploratory strengths are muted by its disappointing production. Though “Big Ideas” sees Turner self-consciously reminisce about overflowing artistic aspirations, the track itself stagnates, as if weighed down by its overtly opulent orchestral background. Meanwhile, with an underwhelming, plodding string tune, the record’s closing song “Perfect Sense” fails to effectively captivate listeners.
Throughout The Car, Turner also transitions from his trademark smoky croon to soaring falsetto in nearly every track. This repetition forces the quartet to trek mindlessly through roads that it has traveled down one too many times before.
The album cruises most smoothly when cultivating a cinematic atmosphere. In the penultimate track, the band pulls listeners instantaneously into the world of the intriguing and enigmatic “Mr Schwartz.” “Wardrobe’s lint-rollin’ your velveteen suit/ And smudgin’ dubbin’ on your dancin’ shoes,” Turner describes in a deep warble over delicate fingerpicking and ominous, intermittent bass notes. The titular track of The Car is equally affecting in its haunting acoustic melody and intoxicating guitar solo, proving the band is often at its best when returning to its riveting instrumental roots.
The Car sees Arctic Monkeys occasionally stall due to underwhelming instrumentation and repetitious vocal decisions. Yet, these mistakes ultimately take a backseat to Alex Turner’s swaggering charisma and the band’s mesmeric musical sensibilities.