On July 30, I conducted a quantitative study to see if I should start a new thing for my newsletter. This new thing would involve comprehensive rankings of artists’ discographies, and I would conduct additional quantitative studies to discover what discography I will be ranking for the next edition. Turns out, 83.3% of participants believed this would be a worthy endeavor. However, that means 16.7% of participants found this idea uninteresting, so I apologize in advance to those 16.7% of you because I now must please the 83.3% of participants and provide my official, deadly serious rankings of artists’ discographies on an irregular basis.
So, I figured that there wouldn’t be a better way to start this series off than with Arctic Monkeys, a band whose discography I co-ranked for my first byline in Consequence of Sound, which is also the first time I ever ranked an artist’s catalogue for money. You can read the story here, but I’m not sure I agree with that ranking anymore. For starters, I placed Humbug in dead last, and people on Facebook threatened to beat me up if they ever met me. Well, joke’s on you, Todd; I’m amending my errors.
The Sheffield rockers’ fourth album, Suck It And See, is definitely their outlier. It’s not a bad album by any means. It’s a record I still thoroughly enjoy, but I scarcely find myself returning to it aside from a handful of songs. The highlight here is the four-song stretch that spans “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” to “All My Own Stunts,” which comprises my four favorite songs on Suck It And See. As a drummer, I’ve always adored Matt Helders, and his drumming, particularly on “Library Pictures,” is something I appreciate. But as a whole, Suck It And See doesn’t possess the compelling songwriting on AM, the drastic sonic shift of Humbug or Tranquility Base, or the brazen energy of their first two records, not giving it a distinct identity of its own to differentiate it among the rest of their catalogue.
Yeah, I know. Humbug is in the no. 5 spot, and to many die-hard Arctic Monkeys fans, that’s an unforgivable crime. To be completely honest, though, I’ve always liked Humbug, but it’s never been one of my favorite albums of theirs. I love Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme’s production, and he definitely left his musical imprint on this LP. I love how dramatically they altered their sound here. I love how Alex Turner adopted a new vocal style better suited for more mature songwriting. I love tracks such as “Pretty Visitors,” “Cornerstone,” and “Secret Door,” but, holistically, Humbug never resonated with me the way it did with myriad others. There are a few skippable moments (not that I would ever skip a song on any album), but it doesn’t carry itself from start to finish, for me at least. Please don’t beat me up, Todd.
The indie rockers’ most recent effort is undoubtedly their most unusual. Prior to the album’s release, the band disclosed that there would be no advance singles. Alex Turner also wrote nearly every song for Tranquility Base on the piano, which he learned to play shortly before the songwriting for this record started. The result is jazz-esque lounge-rock. This LP is more akin to a sound collage or mood board than it is a collection of songs with catchy choruses, but that’s not a detriment whatsoever. This is among their best work, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t slightly polarizing. Rolling Stone and Stereogum published negative reviews, the latter of which likens it to Arcade Fire’s 2017 album Everything Now, which is, in my opinion, an astronomically worse record. Alex Turner and Co. tread new ground on Tranquility Base, a daring choice for the follow-up to arguably their most successful album, and the result is an escapade through a cocktail lounge, a taqueria, and a casino in outer space.
Side note: As much as I enjoy this album, this YouTube video about it is laughably accurate.
Arctic Monkeys' sophomore album still contains a decent chunk of their best songs. “Brianstorm” is an instant live favorite with Matt Helders’ relentless drums, “Do Me a Favour” remains hushed in its first half, gradually building to a cathartic climax, and “505” foreshadows the musical shift that was to come, and it’s become a true fan favorite since its release. On Favourite Worst Nightmare, the British indie rockers tightened everything they had become known for on their debut, but instead, these songs sound so tautly coiled that they could burst at any given moment. That’s not always a fault, though. The quartet certainly honed their musical craft here and further developed the ideas initially laid out on Whatever People Say I Am.
AM came out of nowhere. After Suck It And See, it felt like Arctic Monkeys were past their prime. Similar to other mid-aughts indie-rock acts, it felt like they had reached their fullest potential with their first two records and that they were slowly fading into obscurity. But then they released “Do I Wanna Know,” the second single, and its simple drum intro and irresistible guitar hook destined them for comeback success. On AM, it’s as if the band knew that this would catapult them to unprecedented heights. The title alone, partly eponymous, insinuates a grand return. This is a new Arctic Monkeys, and they established a concrete identity here that would land them headlining slots at festivals around the globe.
There’s something special about their debut that feels unmatched with the rest of their records. They were only teenagers when they made this album, and that youthful vivacity is palpably felt throughout its 41-minute runtime. The drum fill that kicks off “The View from the Afternoon” sets the tone of the entire record, and its closer, “A Certain Romance,” is still one of the best Arctic Monkeys songs. Similar to AM, Whatever People Say I Am encapsulates who the band was at the time of its release, and the result is a perfect snapshot of where the band was headed, as well. It demonstrated their promise as one of the leading artists of the indie-rock vanguard, and almost 15 years later, it still exhibits that same ethos.