The changing sound of Arctic Monkeys

Our handy album guide charts the evolution of these national treasures

Author: Julian MarszalekPublished 20th Apr 2020
Last updated 28th Oct 2020

Since their incendiary and seismic appearance in the mid-noughties, Arctic Monkeys have worked their way up from playing pubs in Sheffield to become a truly world-beating band. Moreover, they’re one of the few groups actually prepared to take chances, move forward and explore all the possibilities that music has to offer.

They're even humble enough to help out their local club The Leadmill in Sheffield, donating prizes to a raffle to help the venue stay open.

To celebrate the 13 years since 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' was released on 23rd April 2007, spawning Monkeys favourites 'Brianstorm', 'Flourescent Adolescent' and 'Teddy Picker', we've taken a look back at the evolution of Arctic Monkeys and how they’ve managed to stay one step ahead of the pack...

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)

An instant classic upon its release in the opening overs of 2006, Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ was already familiar to the hundreds of thousands of fans who not only propelled it to the top of the UK album charts, but also made it the fasting-selling debut album in UK chart history.

The Sheffield quartet – singer/guitarist Alex Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook, drummer Matt Helders and bassist Andy Nicholson (later replaced by Nick O’Malley) – had already amassed a legion of fans before any official recordings were released thanks to their canny harnessing of the possibilities and opportunities afforded by the next generation of internet and digital platforms. So it was that their demos were distributed via free CDS at gigs, with fans then sharing the tracks.

Musically, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ takes The Strokes’ debut album ‘Is This Is It?’ as its template while delivering on the broken promises of The Libertines and making a few nods in the direction of Franz Ferdinand’s angular grooves.

Crucially, the landscape painted by Alex Turner’s sharp observations isn’t some mythical romanticising of a national ideal, but a witty and incisive portrait of the nightlife of the towns and cities up and down the country – and, more specifically, Sheffield.

Consider the evidence: Number 1 single, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, ‘You Probably Couldn't See for the Lights But You Were Staring Straight At Me’ and ‘Dancing Shoes’ examine the politics and navigation of clubbing. ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ is seen from the bouncer’s point of view as elsewhere ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ – their second single and chart topper - takes its inspiration from the after-hours workings of a red light area.

Fourteen years down the line and ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ still holds up. A snapshot of a particular time and place, it reveals how much and how just how little has changed in the intervening years.

Other album tracks include: 'The View from the Afternoon', 'Fake Tales of San Francisco', 'Still Take You Home', 'Riot Van, 'Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured', 'Mardy Bum', 'Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But...' and 'A Certain Romance'.

Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)

Given the Hosannas showered upon Arctic Monkeys by the press in the wake of their debut album, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, and a sideboard groaning under the weight of awards – Q’s Best Album and Album Of The Year from Time and Ireland’s Hot Press among many others, as well as that prize-winning cheque from the Barclaycard Mercury Prize – it would’ve been perhaps forgivable if Arctic Monkeys had buckled under the pressure.

Released just over year after its predecessor, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ is the sound of band truly developing its own sound and identity. This isn’t an album that’s been agonised over or thought about too deeply; as evidenced by the singles ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Flourescent Adolescent’ and ‘Teddy Picker’, a year of solid gigging and youthful energy sharpened the band’s reserve, playing and, in the case of Alex Turner’s songwriting, widen the lyrical concerns that come with seeing a world beyond their hometown.

Arctic Monkeys could have succumbed to hubris, complacency or the burden of success. Instead, album tracks such as ‘Do Me A Favour’ and closer ‘505’ reveal a depth in maturity and emotional resonance that proved that the quartet were here for the long run.

Other album tracks include: 'D Is for Dangerous', 'Balaclava', 'Only Ones Who Know', 'This House Is a Circus', 'If You Were There, Beware', 'The Bad Thing' and 'Old Yellow Bricks'.

Humbug (2007)

The news that Arctic Monkeys, a band that at this point was still very much defined by its Sheffield roots, would be working with Queens Of The Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme was met with more than just a few raised eyebrows. Surely this combination of angular, indie rock and one of the key architects of stoner rock was to clash too harshly?

Whatever fears were aired, they were soon allayed with the evidence presented within the grooves of ‘Humbug’. Less an encounter in one party trying to dominate the other, this was a meeting of minds, talents and ideas that took Arctic Monkeys out of their domestic comfort zone and into New York, Los Angeles at the Mojave Desert.

For his part, Homme didn’t impose himself on Arctic Monkeys. Instead, the two parties found common ground as they brought out the best in each other. ‘Humbug’ is recognisably Arctic Monkeys, but the sound here is more muscular thanks to sympathetic production that enhances rather than overwhelms with addition of extra instrumentation.

The bass that ushers in lead single ‘Crying Lightning’ is a statement of intent that heralds Arctic Monkeys’ new found strength, while ‘My Propeller’ smooths down the rough edges while widening the panorama. It may not have received the plaudits of its predecessors, but hindsight reveals ‘Humbug’ to be a vital stepping-stone in the recorded trajectory of Arctic Monkeys.

Other album tracks include: 'Dangerous Animals', 'Secret Door', 'Potion Approaching', 'Fire and the Thud', 'Cornerstone', 'Dance Little Liar', 'Pretty Visitors' and 'The Jeweller's Hands'.

Suck It And See (2011)

The title of Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album is something of a misnomer. Perhaps stung by a reception for ‘Humbug’ that didn’t quite match the enthusiasm that greeted their first two albums, ‘Suck It And See’ found Arctic Monkeys adopting the back-to-basics approach of their debut, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’.

With the material written in rehearsed well in advance of their return to the studio, many of the album’s 12 songs were recorded live in the studio with the minimum of overdubs. And while it’s evident that the band has matured, ‘Suck It And See’ is possessed of that nervous energy that characterised their earlier material. It’s there on the title track and the single ‘Black Treacle’.

But there are also lessons learned from their time with Josh Homme. Lead single ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I've Moved Your Chair’ is a gloriously swaggering beast with a lip curl that’s part confidence, part insouciance, while ‘Brick By Brick’ shows just how far they’d travelled since their classic debut.

Other album tracks include: 'She's Thunderstorms', 'The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala', 'Library Pictures', 'All My Own Stunts', 'Reckless Serenade', 'Piledriver Waltz', 'Love Is a Laserquest' and 'That's Where You're Wrong'.

AM (2013)

AM

If ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ was the sound of teenagers observing tentative nights out in the city, then ‘AM’ is made up of the nocturnal adventures of men in their late 20s. And they sound utterly brilliant for it.

Indeed, ‘AM’ is a consolidation of all that has gone before it and delivered with all the confidence of a band hitting its stride at the point when most groups flounder, wither and die. Blending the razor-sharp indie smarts of their youth with the heady and heavy rock that had been introduced under Josh Homme’s tutorage, Arctic Monkeys also introduce the hitherto untapped influences of hip-hop and R’n’B.

There’s a salacious grind at the heart of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and that naughtiness works its way into ‘Arabella’. Elsewhere, those late nights are evoked on ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’.

Josh Homme, no slouch himself when it comes to hedonistic pursuits, said of ‘AM’: “It's a really cool, sexy after-midnight record.” He’s not wrong, but he might also have added that Arctic Monkeys had also just delivered another classic to their cannon.

Other album tracks include: 'R U Mine?', 'One for the Road', 'I Want It All', 'No.1 Party Anthem', 'Mad Sounds', 'Fireside', 'Snap Out of It', 'Knee Socks' and 'I Wanna Be Yours'.

Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino (2018)

The five-year gap between the release of albums may have suggested a band resting on its laurels or simply running out of ideas, but the reality was far different.

‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ finds Arctic Monkeys doing what so many bands refuse to countenance – taking a chance. Indeed, the band’s sixth studio album is such a radical departure from the hook-laden rock music that made their name that fans are still divided over the record’s merits.

Yet for all that, it still became their sixth consecutive No. 1 album in the UK whilst becoming the country’s fastest-selling album in a quarter of a century, in part thanks to the legions of fans who pre-ordered the record. And then there were the nominations for the 2018 Mercury Prize and the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.

And with good reason. The album may lack the immediacy of its predecessors, but the charms of the title track and ‘Four Out Of Five’ reveal the songs to be sophisticated pop pearls that continue to sparkle and beguile. Indeed, repeat listens peel away layer after layer until you’re left with a gem that’ll last a lifetime.

Other album tracks include: 'Star Treatment', 'One Point Perspective', 'American Sports', 'Golden Trunks', 'The World's First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip', 'Science Fiction', 'She Looks Like Fun', 'Batphone' and 'The Ultracheese'.

How many Arctic Monkeys albums are there?

Arctic Monkeys have released six studio albums: ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ (2006), ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ (2007), ‘Humbug’ (2007), ‘Suck It And See’ (2011), ‘AM’ (2013) and ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ (2018).

Who produced Arctic Monkeys’ albums?

With the exception of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, which saw Jim Abiss at the controls and ‘Humbug’, which was produced by Queens Of The Stone Age’s big cheese, Josh Homme, the rest of Arctic Monkeys' album have been produced by James Ford.

Arctic Monkeys in action

Who designed Arctic Monkeys’ album covers?

The cover art for ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ was designed by Juno Liverpool and features a worse for where photo of Chris McClure — frontman of The Violet May and brother of Jon McClure of Reverend And The Makers. Similarly, Juno also designed the artwork for ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’.

Guy Aroch was responsible for ‘Humbug’’s cover shot, while the minimalist approach of ‘Suck And See’ saw art direction and design by Matthew Cooper and Jason Evans.

‘AM’s distinctive look was designed by Alex Turner and Matthew Cooper, who also out together ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’.

When is the next Arctic Monkeys album coming out?

The next Arctic's album will be a live recording: ‘Arctic Monkeys Live At The Royal Albert Hall.’ Released on Friday 4th December 2020, the album features 20 tracks recorded at the world-famous London venue on 7th June 2018, and all proceeds will go towards the charity War Child.

The 2018 War Child charity concert was Arctic Monkeys’ first UK show in almost four years and took place a month after the release of their sixth studio album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.’

No new studio album has been revealed, although drummer Matt Helders has said not to expect another five-year wait for their next one.

WATCH: Arctic Monkeys interview with Absolute Radio at the Mojo Awards 2011

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