Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Album: Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See

Suck It and See (Arctic Monkeys)
Album: Suck It and See
Release date: 6/7/11
Rating: ***** (5/10)

The Arctic Monkeys are one of the better semi-indie bands to make it big lately, but after a couple of good albums, they've really dropped the ball with their latest release, Suck It and See. It's not bad in any particular way, it's just so fucking boring. So far, the record has garnered a lot of really positive reviews but I can't figure out why.

The album was meant to be "more vintage" than the last couple releases and it seems to have accomplished, with earthy production and mellow songwriting that recalls Lou Reed. The songs are almost all the same tempo (130 BPM give or take 10). They almost all start with guitar, then add vocals, then add the rhythm section. They're mostly in the same couple key signatures. There's little distortion, mostly just a slight amp-generated crunch. Nearly every track features tambourine and although the drum beats vary, they are so produced and unspectacular that they end up sounding the same. The vocals never stray from their most comfortable range. There is reverb on the vocals, guitars and drums and it never varies noticeably anywhere on the album.

Taken individually, most of the songs are above average in terms of both writing and execution. The melodies are poppy but pleasantly languid and certainly tasteful. The simple arrangements are well thought out and the guitar sound is beautifully controlled. The topics of the lyrics are generic but more clever than most.

The record does have its moments. "Library Pictures," the album's heaviest track, is propelled by frantic bass and drumming - but even this song drops down to half tempo for half the song and returns to the jangly crunchy guitar of every other track. "All My Own Stunts" is satisfyingly dark and the vocal melody is the only one on the album that breaks the mold. Meanwhile, "Brick by Brick" rocks hard and recalls the minimal blues-punk of the White Stripes and the gritty psychedelia of bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Brian Jonestown Massacre. The album's lead single, "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" - though similar in mood - takes its time in the introduction and with the slow tempo and highly repetitive, generic melody on the verse, it doesn't really accomplish what it sets out to do.

As for the songs that match the album's signature formula, of course, some are better than others. The title track is warm and gently enticing. And the closer, "That's Where You're Wrong," is a subtle, exquisitely written song, all jangling guitars and finespun hooks. In contrast, the first two songs are painfully boring and entirely lacking in melodic interest in the vocals (although there are a couple of good guitar riffs thrown in).

Arctic Monkeys may be good songwriters and they may have perfected their sound, but there is a vacuum in Suck It, a void where energy and inspiration should be. I'd rather hear a sloppy, mistaken-ridden record than one that's polished and lifeless. Skip it.

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