With their feverish desert sessions now behind them, Britain's sassiest guitar outfit—and arguably the century's most hotly plugged NME darlings—are tasked with matching the bravest move of their short yet enormously distinguished career. Their 2009 psychedelic tour de force, Humbug, simultaneously endeared the Arctic Monkeys to new followers while alienating old ones; such was the drastic shift in tone, tempo, and theme from their previous work. Their latest, Suck It and See, is a long way from Sheffield's kebab houses and seedy nightclubs, but it intimates that the group is, for all practical purposes, starting to come down from their kaleidoscopic peyote trip.
That isn't to say Alex Turner and company have abandoned all of the lessons learned while recording under Josh Homme on Humbug, as Suck It and See still stomps and squeals in places with as much rock-star pomp as its predecessor. Both lead single “Don't Sit Down Because I've Moved Your Chair” and the frenzied “Library Pictures” are swathed in Homme's throbbing desert-rock trappings, the former a particularly sensational exercise in monstrous stoner-rock guitar riffing. Moreover, Jamie Cook's most impassioned guitar solos sound as though they're being routed through a wailing distortion pedal circa Queens of the Stone Age's Rated R, while many of the song structures are prone to the same changes in pace and impromptu interludes that largely adorned Songs for the Deaf.
Still, despite Homme's influence having quite clearly rubbed off on the Arctic Monkeys' songwriter-in-chief and the band at large, Suck It and See uniformly feels like an Arctic Monkeys record. It's worth stressing that the cues taken from Queens of the Stone Age in the album's heavier moments only serve to augment and amplify the Arctic Monkeys' sound, which still flaunts a sprightly swagger as its main draw. In fact, this latest release panders more to the Arctic Monkeys' archetypal style than Humbug ever came close to doing: “She's Thunderstorms” is a deliriously infectious sing-along number and “Reckless Serenade” is a brilliantly modest pop ditty, while “Black Treacle” is a sublime compromise between punch and melody. Any of these tracks could slot in anywhere on the group's first two releases, which indicates a marked return from their madcap, psychedelic sojourn.
As Britain's unofficial poet laureate, the mouthpiece for a generation of twentysomethings working nine to five and getting caught in a bad romance, Turner is predisposed to coming under close scrutiny with regard to his lyrics. Here, the singer-songwriter drops the cryptic dimension he adopted while writing the last album, and returns to tackling more matter-of-fact musings: On “Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” he even says so himself, explaining “I took the batteries out my mysticism and put 'em in my thinking cap.” Like the most esteemed stand-up comedians, Turner has a knack for saying what we're all thinking, but he's more droll and articulate with his observations than we could ever dream of being. His phraseology is so deft and his references so pert that it would be easy to compare him to a rapper, such is the quality of each and every word he cherry-picks.
It's difficult to avoid clichés about the band coming “full circle” with this release, or to comment on Turner's songwriting maturity. Essentially, Suck It and See finds the Arctic Monkeys reverting toward the same stylistic outline that first won over their adoring fans, fine-tuned with a few tricks they picked up in Palm Desert. It's a shame that the group has completely ditched their indulgent psychedelic frills, but it's also wonderful to have Turner immersing himself in beguiling pop songwriting again. It's invariably what he does best, and Suck It and See contains truly superb pop moments in abundance.