For a band that was so obviously aligned with a sound for the first two, ridiculously explosive, years of their mainstream career, Arctic Monkeys sure have done some changing. Playing down their chameleon abilities, declared loudly in 2006 debut title ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, the Monkeys stayed true to form on sophomore effort ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ which, while exploring some darker themes than its riotous precursor, still sounded essentially Arctic. As that album came to a close with the building, eventually shrieking ‘505’, the Arctic-adoring public understood what it was they’d signed up for. Tales of late night hooliganism and kids doing stupid/angry/romantic things were the forte of Alex Turner and the lads and they delivered, time after time. But then the times changed and the Monkeys with them and they turned out ‘Humbug’ which I was vaguely afraid of and recruited Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme on production duties and started themselves to sound like a band out of somewhere called ‘Palm Desert, California’ rather than ‘Sheffield, England’. No one likes stasis. But I didn’t really like ‘Humbug’.
Since, I approved of the Nick Caveian ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ with its driving, relentless bass line. It was the sort of stuff that I imagined a professional wrestler who dressed up as a cowboy (call him The Tumbleweed Kid) might have as a theme song but more importantly, moved the band on from the desert rock band that they never should have been. Forever, though, the curse of ‘maturity’ seemed to haunt the band. Critics and the public alike lauded their ‘mature approach’ and ‘developed sound’ but the descriptors always sounded like euphemisms for what seemed the real underlying sentiment; ‘the rip-roaring young lads we once loved have grown up and they’re a good band now but they’re just not as fun as they used to be’. The scruffiness and the British humour were lost and in their place we got a band of four wannabe Americans with profound influences and technical ability but a little less of that 2006-era zeal than we would have liked.
Telling the Arctic Monkeys story in a linear fashion, however, has lost its appeal. While I once imagined there was a logical progression in the narrative of what remains one of my favourite bands ever, with the release of ‘R U Mine?’ all bets are off. At some point I thought that the trajectory was terminal – that Helders, Turner, Cook and O’Malley had invested too much in their Americanisation to withdraw cleanly and that the upshot was more and more ludicrously un-Arctic material. ‘R U Mine?’ proves that not to be the case but doesn’t necessarily offer up any definitive answers itself. As if prodded along by some sort of pseudo-Darwinian imperative, the band have changed again with the release of this track on February 26, but the evolution is far from straightforward. ‘R U Mine?’ is not a return to the indie-pop sensibilities of old but neither is it navel-gazing like so much of ‘Humbug’ was. It’s like some of last year’s ‘Suck It And See’ but not of all of it, heavy on the drums but light on subject matter and chorus falsettos, dead serious on unrestrained guitars but frivolous in its awesome hand-held video and text-lingo title. Above all, it’s fantastic. I’ve given up trying to define the Arctic Monkeys. That might just be my best endorsement yet.
Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?