The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album 'Humbug' by Arctic Monkeys

Review Snapshot: The Monkeys have certainly taken a step forward with this album. Unfortunately, they seem to have stepped into a world of random and/or drug induced songwriting, where coherence is frowned upon, and nonsense is king. Musically, the record is quite interesting, and they've honed their sound significantly, avoiding obvious riffs and uniformly aggressive drumming. Overall, it's a solid album for the band, but I think critics exaggerate when they say that it's momentous; it's well produced, it's darker than anything they've done before, but it isn't quite seminal.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10

Full Review:
This album is certainly trying for a dark, grotesque, looming feel, but I don't think they quite achieve that. The first track, 'My Propeller', exhibits Alex Turner's new random/drug induced/'deep' lyrics, introducing the first of many excessively cryptic refrains: "Coax me out my low, and have a spin of my propeller..." Musically, it's quite interesting, as is 'Crying Lightning', which is more energetic, and slightly more coherent.

I start to lose patience with ‘Dangerous Animals’. This song takes the significant risk of spelling out its name in the lyrics. I think it’s more D-I-V-O-R-C-E than R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Musically, they can’t be faulted, and this song parcticularly showcases their command of mid-song rhythmic shifts, switching back and forth from the offbeat and subdued to Brianstorm-era aggression.

‘Secret Door’, much like ‘Only Ones Who Know’ on their previous album, is a nice break from the onslaught of the previous two tracks, and brings us back to the carnivalesque, uncomfortable atmosphere of the opening. Although I quite like this song, I feel they’re trying to be too mysterious, and the music has ended up as confusing. ‘Potion Approaching’ similarly, irritates me with its obscurity: “Yours is the only ocean” isn’t intriguing, it’s nonsense.

‘Fire and the Thud’ is my favourite song on this record, musically at least. I almost forgive the song for its lyrics, just because of its energy. Not quite, though. The last line of the song,

“I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,
with things they’d never see if it smacked them in their temples”,

is demonstrative of the dark and hopelessly contrived nature of the whole album. ‘Cornerstone’ is a nice break from all of that. This is light-hearted and down-to-earth, a gritty ballad about Sheffield romance, and a throwback to their earlier music. I think the record could do with a few more tracks along these lines; as it is, it takes itself too seriously, and it doesn’t have the lyrical substance to back itself up.

We dive right back into the dark and foreboding with ‘Dance Little Liar’. It’s absolutely unremarkable. Thankfully, the record picks up a bit toward the end. ‘Pretty Visitors’ is musically interesting, and also contains the best metaphor I’ve seen in a while:

“All the pretty visitors came and waved their arms
and cast the shadow of a snake pit on the wall.”

Unfortunately, the rest of the song is once again disappointingly nonsensical.  The final track, ‘The Jeweller’s Hands’, is an appropriate end, caricaturing the offbeat and gloomy tone of the rest of the album. The opening, “Fiendish wonder in the carnival’s wake”, really captures the sense of remission after the storm. It’s a good song, even though it’s guilty of the same irritating ambiguity as most of the record.

Overall, I’m not convinced by the album. It’s certainly something I’ll listen to in the background when I’m doing other things, but as a work of art, I think it’s disappointing, especially considering the amount of hype surrounding it. Their next album will be the test; I can’t help but feel that the arctic Monkeys are descending.

Philip McDonald

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