The critical restraint of the American press put towards the Arctic Monkeys has faded, now that the formerly breathless hype has become more the stuff of historical background than a paramount bullet point. It’s fair to say that the assaultive propulsion behind Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not fostered immediate, somewhat nationalist backlash; critics unwilling to be swept up in the tidal wave splashed by the British press. In retrospect it all looks a little silly – the Arctic Monkeys are as they were, a handsome group of Sheffielders with the talent, timing, and hooks to spur up a flashbang, file-sharing frenzy. They’ve hardly matured– Alex Turner is a mere 25– but they’ve taken their appointed place as a seminal rock band in the best way possible; by being consistently good. Suck it and See does add a few wrinkles to the band’s distinctive jaunt, but, as always, the focus is on the ear-candy guitar jams and Turner’s irreplaceable wit.
For the hoard of imitators, the Arctic Monkeys have kept an impressively idiosyncratic grasp on their identity. They’re filling their respective notches; Turner returns to the mahogany croon which defined some of Humbug’s best songs with “She’s Thunderstorms,” “Piledriver Waltz” and “Suck it and See,” they blaze through their defining bile-spewed angularity on “Library Pictures,” and they also contribute some of their biggest rawks-off choruses of their career in songs like “Brick by Brick,” and the single, “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.” These don’t sound like a nuance impossible to imitate, but the alchemy behind the Monkeys remains strangely ajar from the norm – people might sound like them, but they sound like nobody else. A tad denser, certainly rawer, and vaguely deceptive; the band stays keen by keeping themselves guessing, never retreating too far into their roots. There’s a dash of country twang, and plenty of cruise ship material, probably not what critics originally envisioned as the obvious path for the band that begat “Still Take You Home” – of course having someone who can write a line like “I poured my aching heart into a pop song /I couldn’t get the hang of poetry /that’s not a skirt girl that’s a sawed-off shotgun /and I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me” behind the microphone always helps.
For all of its familiarity, Suck it and See is probably the hardest Monkeys record to easily pin down. Their grimy and conceptual debut has faded to history, and the direct, polarizing focus of Favourite Worst Nightmare and Humbug are hardly present – so instead See sprawls out in a wide sampling of a strong palate. It isn’t always successful, but the Arctic Monkeys are progressively innovating on a specific style as well as any rock band out there. It’s hard to remember how young these guys are, all born in either 1985 or 1986, they’ll be a band we talk about in periods, or phases. Since their inception they’ve dotted through three distinctive, interesting, but not quite priceless outings, but they continue to prove they deserve their attention. The band is working towards something, more fragments of which are presented here; and watching them piece together their destiny is fascinating. If that score at the top of this review seems unfriendly, it’s not because they’ve grown boring or predictable; it’s just another step in an ongoing process.