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21st October 2022

Album review: Arctic Monkeys – The Car

There’s a lot to unpack from The Car – Arctic Monkeys’ seventh LP
Album review: Arctic Monkeys – The Car
Photo: Arctic Monkeys – The Car Official Album Artwork

Arctic Monkeys have finally unleashed The Car and there’s a lot to unpack! On 2018’s polarizing and ambitious sixth LP Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, they traded rock ‘n’ roll for piano balladry and a lounge lizard aesthetic. They threw their listeners in at the deep end, with no promotional singles, inviting listeners to immerse themselves in their world of lunar luxury. The band have, however, taken a different approach with The Car, debuting new material during their European festival performances over the summer, and treating us to a trio of tone-setting tracks in the form of ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’, ‘Body Paint’, and ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’.

The first of these singles is also the album’s opening track, giving a sense of familiarity whilst also being indicative of what is to come. ‘…Mirrorball’ feels like a cinematic overture in its opening notes, before flourishing into a gorgeous lovelorn ballad as Alex Turner returns as the romantic fool, lamenting a love lost. In its main section, ‘…Mirrorball’ feels musically minimal, allowing Turner’s voice to shine as his voice reaches new heights, before luscious strings fall into place.

The Car is a multi-faceted record, crammed with lyrical clues to decipher. On the first few listens, it seems to lack cohesion and a clear message, lyrically, and its hard to say what direction The Car is heading in. But digging a little deeper, it seems its complexity is intentional, with themes of suspicion, cynicism, and things not being quite how they appear on the surface cropping up in almost every song before they seemingly make ‘Perfect Sense’ at the album’s conclusion.

This sense of aimlessness is prevalent on ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’, a track that takes its passengers on a left turn, musically. It’s infused equally with funk-inspired guitar lines, and the urgency of 2013 hits ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ and ‘Knee Socks’, whilst strings are still plentiful in its bridge. ‘Hello You’ plays out in a similar vein, full of big riffs and steady drums driving it forward.

‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ is dark and atmospheric – perhaps the album’s biggest surprise. The song’s muted percussion feels claustrophobic, as if its closing in on the listener. But the fuzzy bassline across it echoes the undercurrents of Humbug and its criminally underrated B-sides. Lyrically, the song seems to be situated in a museum of some sort, all marble staircases and classical artwork. Turner presents us with continental contradictions (“Performing in Spanish on Italian TV”) and blurs the line between illusion and reality (“Puncturing your bubble of relatability”) as the song progresses.

‘Jet Skis on the Moat’ is another downtempo track, with hints of Pink Floyd in its pacing and psychedelic slide guitars, but the song seems to capture a sort of spontaneity and joie de vivre, questioning why someone would be “happy to sit there and watch as the paint job dries?”

Shimmering second single ‘Body Paint’ is next up. It certainly has one of the album’s more notable hooks – one that is impossible to get out your head after a few listens (“There’s still a trace of body paint / On your legs and on your arms / And on your face”). Its bridge feels akin to The Beatles circa 1966, with jolting violins gathering momentum.

Title track ‘The Car’ is particularly striking with its simmering Spanish guitar melody plucked straight from an old western movie. It may not come as a surprise, then, that this tune is the one that feels the most Last Shadow Puppets-esque.

‘Big Ideas’ seemingly reflects on the band’s evolving artistry; “I had big ideas the band were so excited / The kind you’d rather not share over the phone”, Turner croons over sensual string arrangements. Again, its one of the catchier tracks and will satisfy those who complained that Tranquility Base… was lacking big choruses.

‘Mr Schwartz’ is one the record’s softer cuts, a tender acoustically driven number that harks back to the French pop of Serge Gainsbourg or Jacques Dutronc, both of whom have been major influences on Turner’s musicianship in recent years. The mention of “dancing shoes” a favourite motif for the band (see 2006’s ‘Dancing Shoes’ and 2011’s ‘All My Own Stunts’) will surely delight fans.

‘Perfect Sense’ is a closing track of epic proportions, providing listeners with a rolling-credits sense of resolve. It’s self-indulgent and instrumentally extravagant, but you can’t help but be caught up in its emotional resonance.

With The Car, Arctic Monkeys have engineered quite the complex machine, and though it lacks the velocity of their early albums and doesn’t quite run as smoothly as 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, it marks an important shift in gears for Britain’s most enduring band.

8/10.

You can buy The Car from Arctic Monkeys’ official website here.

You can stream Arctic Monkeys – The Car below:

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Head Music Editor @ The Mancunion. Freelance Music and Culture Writer @ DIY, The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, etc. Avid gig-goer and alt-rock enthusiast! Twitter: @tayl0rsarah LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-taylor-48a562211/

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