When they released Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in early 2006, the Arctic Monkeys experienced a rush of fame that few bands who first blew up on the internet have experienced before or since; not only were they all over music publications and music blogs, they were also immediate commercial kings, selling tons of copies of their debut. Alex Turner’s songwriting—concerned on Whatever People Say with the comings and goings of being a 18-year-old getting fucked up and fucked over—immediately started addressing the pressures and trappings of fame, starting with Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys, the band’s 2006 follow up EP that in its title track pokes a hole into the inflated perception the music press and the world was starting to have around the band. “Bring on the backlash,” Turner sneers, over a churling, powderkeg riff. The centerpiece of the EP, though, is a live recording of “Despair In The Departure Lounge,” a song about missing your girlfriend back home, and about what was happening to Turner himself as he chased his rock star dreams. At the time, this was considered as an appetite whetter EP as the band went back into the studio to record another LP, but this is packed with jams that need to be appreciated.
The Arctics’ second LP opens with “Brianstorm,” their most biting critique of the kind of hanger-on that comes with being the hottest British band since the Beatles, striking out against a possibly apocryphal guy that they met in Japan on the tour behind Whatever People Say I Am. The massive single would sonically point the way towards third LP Humbug—the guitars sound like they’re raining down from a hurricane and the drums from secret Arctic Monkeys MVP, drummer Matt Helders, could crack foundations—but the rest of the album would play like the comedown of getting everything you wanted, and realizing you’re older now, and maybe you were happier when things were wilder and less ordained. The centerpiece of the album is “Fluorescent Adolescent,” a song about the slow creep of adulthood, and the sad reality of regrets. Alex Turner had already established himself as one of the best lyricists in indie rock on their debut, and on this one he proves he had a lot more to do and say.
Their third LP found the Arctic Monkeys heading out the to Mojave Desert to work with Josh Homme, who co-produced the album with longtime producer James Ford. It might have been Homme, and it might have been just a generally chilling out, but the songs here have much more room to breathe than the past Arctic Monkeys releases; the riffs here are more Led Zeppelin than they are post-punk. Lead single “Crying Lightning” is one of the most massive sounding songs in the band’s entire catalog, and “My Propeller” is one of the most crawling and spacious. Humbug is the sound of the band stretching themselves out in new directions that wouldn’t be paid off fully till later albums.
Suck It And See is the most freewheeling Arctic Monkeys album, drawing inspiration, Turner said, from country songwriters, and the band sounding like a weird mixture of the Stooges, ZZ Top and Deep Purple. “Don’t Sit Down ’Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” is the centerpiece here, distilling all the influences the band namechecked in interviews into one song. The ballads are where Suck It is its most consistently amazing, though: “Love Is a Laserquest” remains one of the best ballads the band has ever recorded.
AM, both a play on a self-titled album, and for the fact that the stories here generally take place in the wee hours of the morning, was a record that exploded the Arctic Monkeys into another level of fame in America; in some ways, they’re the most famous guitar band for people under 30 in America right now. This album turned them into Lollapalooza headliners, and is one of the best selling vinyl LPs of the 2010s. It opens with the seductive black silk of “Do I Wanna Know?” and continues with the towering “R U Mine?” before spiralling off into the most sultry, funky music in the Arctic Monkeys’ songbook.
The gap between AM and whenever the new Arctic Monkeys album comes out—rumors point to later this year—is the longest gap between albums in the band’s career. The only thing you can guarantee is that the riffs will be heavy, and the sound will be unpredictable.
We made an Arctic Monkey playlist for your enjoyment. Listen here: