The Car: The Vehicle for the Arctic Monkeys’ Redemption?

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Photo by Vicente Villasenor

Kate Fernandez

Staff Writer

In 2018, Arctic Monkeys fans began to preemptively rejoice at the return of their favorite English rock band after a torturous wait that lasted five long years. The band’s 2013 album AM became a classic soon after it was released, and set the precedent for albums to come. And yet, with the arrival of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino in 2018, many fans were left hopelessly defeated and utterly disappointed.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was a far cry from the electric, energetic, and oh-so-catchy vibes the band’s previous albums presented. Rather, it was somber, slow, whiny, and above all, droopy — completely lacking the characteristic spirit of previous Arctic Monkeys albums. 

With the arrival of their new album The Car on Oct. 21 came the overwhelming pressure to produce a compilation of music that would revive fans’ interest all around the world.

Admittedly, this album did fall a bit short of my expectations. I was anticipating a departure from the morose style developed in their last album, and while about half of the songs on the album did achieve this, the other half of the album presented itself as the worst possible thing music can be: despairingly boring.

The first two songs in particular were monotonous and breathy, which is especially disappointing seeing as how talented the lead singer Alex Turner has proved to be on previous tracks. The lyricism in the opening track, “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball,” perfectly sums up the personality of the song, using phrases such as, “old romantic fool,” and “heavy heart.” The lyrics chide someone for being cynical, which is laughably hypocritical given the song’s own cynicism. 

The next track isn’t much better. “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” wastes its instrumental potential through the breathy shaking vocals that are almost annoying to listen to. The funky guitar played throughout the song almost saves it, but the droning moan of the lead singer drives me crazy. 

While these two previous songs made it easier for any good song that followed to shine, the third song on the album, “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” would impress even on its own. The song opens with heavy thumping beats reminiscent of their smash-hit, “Do I Wanna Know.” The reverberating guitar strums are accompanied by a smooth vocalization of edgy lyrics, each word dripping with Turner’s characteristic dramatic inflections. This song is by far the best on the album, perhaps even their best since the 2013 release of AM.

“Jet Skis on the Moat” succeeds in keeping the ball rolling. It’s melancholic, but not excessively so. Vague, artistic lyrics like, “Jet skis on the moat / They shot it all in CinemaScope” create a sense of nostalgia.

The following song “Body Paint” had serious lyrical and instrumental potential. The lyrics depict a story of two lovers sharing a mutual understanding of their flaws, and the repeated use of the title suggests a lover’s lack of transparency. Nonetheless, it results in another letdown when these masterful lyrics are sung in a tone equivalent to a tired sigh.

Next is the title track, “The Car.” The recurring sweet acoustic guitar melody reminds me of a classic ‘70s rock song. The accompanying piano and drums build up the song, giving it an old western vibe. This song takes you on a journey, peaking at 2:26 with the introduction of a killer guitar solo that makes your heart swell. If every song on this album had a guitar solo like this, I firmly believe it would have made a much better impression and would complement the artful lyrics.

All of my complaints became validated in the seventh song, “Big Ideas.” This song seems to reflect the band’s wasted potential. Considering the frenzied praise they used to receive, the song itself is best described by the verse, “The ballad of what could’ve been.” 

Here, Turner seemingly offers a goodbye to the prospective future that once seemed imminent, expressing in the lyrics how he “had big ideas, the band [was] so excited,” but unfortunately now, he “cannot for the life of me remember how they go.” The song reflects upon the band’s prior successes, when “we had ‘em out of their seats,” but now it’s “over and out / Really, it’s been a thrill.”

This song is a beautiful tribute to the band’s perceived fall from glory and would pluck at the heartstrings of any true Arctic Monkeys fan.

Following up this somber tune is “Hello You,” perhaps the most upbeat song in the album. The dynamic use of instruments in this song is thrilling. The emotional sway of the string instruments is countered by the funky twang of the electric guitar that caught my ear throughout this album. The descending melody that precedes the chorus is unique and catchy, and frankly, this song is probably the only one that I would play around others, as it has the widest appeal of any song on this album. 

Finishing out the album in a similar fashion to how it started, the final two songs from The Car titled “Mr Schwartz” and “Perfect Sense” are wretchedly low-energy. Instrumentals and lyrics can only take a song so far, and unfortunately for the Arctic Monkeys, the dreary vocals ruin the possibility of the listener’s enjoyment. 

As a self-declared Arctic Monkeys fan, I had high hopes for this album. I was desperately hoping for an album that would forcibly grab my interest, and while some songs were certainly well-crafted, the overall impression left by The Car was disappointing. While the band still possesses some of that invigorating spirit characterized in their early albums, they have largely shifted towards slow, moody ballads that I have a hard time enjoying. I can only hope as a former die-hard Arctic Monkeys fan that the band will one day return to their intoxicating energetic state that I came to love nine years ago. 

Rating: 5/10