Gone are the reckless dance-punk youth from the eras of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare. Arctic Monkeys have grown up, and on their third disc, they have plenty of angst to share. Singer Alex Turner’s once-boisterous vocals are deeper and more glowering. In addition, the British quartet tapped Josh Homme to produce Humbug, and the Queens of the Stone Age frontman leaves a dark fingerprint on the record.
The album kicks off with the sinister ballads “My Propeller” and “Crying Lightning.” Instead of asking girls to join them on the dance floor, the Monkeys bemoan the “twisted and deranged” mind games they play in the latter track. “Secret Door” is a brief respite from Humbug‘s thick gloom, and the four-piece evokes the sound of vintage David Bowie in the tune’s soaring chorus. Clever lines are peppered throughout the rest of the disc: “What came first/ The chicken or the dickheads?” Turner ponders in “Pretty Visitors.”
If earlier outings found the Sheffield collective channeling Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes and the Libertines, then Humbug owes its debt to earlier rock influences, like Black Sabbath, Morrissey and Nick Cave. The sped-up tempo from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare has given way to a more deliberate beat and the new effort shows the band is ready to leave the raucous, lager-filled pubs and slow down. However, Humbug is still blessed with taut rhythms and guitar lines (“Potion Approaching”), as well as engaging story-telling (“Cornerstone”). Whether you call the Arctic Monkeys’ evolving sound Britpop or Britprog, it’s clear the album shows remarkable progress for the band.