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Arctic Monkeys ‘The Car’ review: some of the best songs of their career

Seven albums in, Arctic Monkeys are still proving to be the band of a generation

4.5 rating

By Nick Reilly

Before news of The Car fully emerged earlier this year, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders teased that the record “picks up where the other one [2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino] left off musically.”

“I mean, it’s never gonna be like [2012 AM single] ‘R U Mine?’ and all that stuff again, you know, the heavy riffs and stuff,” he said.

True to his word, The Car is yet again a world away from the Arctic Monkeys of old. Fans longing for a return to stadium-tailored choruses and catchy riffs after the cosmic lounge rock of TBHC need look away now. We’re even deeper down that rabbit hole and a million miles away from greaser-era Alex Turner, when his leather jacket and slicked back quiff allowed the band to truly catch transatlantic attention for the first time.

For the rest of us though, it’s a record that builds on the sonic palette of their last album, while making things more grander, colourful and cinematic. The result is some of the greatest songs of their career. Recent single ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’ is a gorgeous heartbreak tale, with Turner’s croon telling of a “heavy heart” while gorgeous strings amplify the tune.

Elsewhere, ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ sees the band experimenting with drum machines and Moog synthesisers to conjure an imposing beat that isn’t entirely dissimilar to that which memorably ran through ‘Do I Wanna Know’. It’s nearly proof that the DNA of the band remains the same, no matter what the naysayers might think.

In fact, The Car actually allows TBHC to make more sense some four years after its release. Turner addresses the divisive reaction to that record as he talks of a “horrible new sound” on ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’, but their determination to plough on with lounge-pop led sounds for a second album makes you think that this is the place where they always needed to be. TBHC, an undeniable curveball, was clearly no flash in the plan.

One resounding criticism of TBHC, however, was that it risked neglecting the musicianship of Turner’s bandmates, Nick O’Malley, Jamie Cook and drummer Matt Helders. The Car goes far in correcting that. Tracks such as ‘Big Ideas’ boast a full-bodied orchestral sound that will leave you wondering why they haven’t received the Bond call just yet, while ‘Body Paint’ is the most cohesive and united that the group have sounded in years.

All this, and the unrivalled ability of Turner’s songwriting to acutely fit a song’s mood. He speaks of how his “teeth are beating and my knees are weak” on the epic romanticism of ‘Body Paint’, while a reference to “the Business they call Show” on ‘Hello You’ seems to be Turner cynically turning the camera on his own life. There is also a late Beatles-esque journey into the surreal on stunning strings-led closer ‘Perfect Sense’ (“Richard of York: The Executive Branch Having some fun with the warm-up act...).

It all makes for one of their most accomplished and impressive records so far. They may no longer be the same wiry teenage upstarts who emerged from High Green, Sheffield, but why would they be? Seven albums into their career, here is a band comfortable enough to speed off in that titular car, leaving old sounds in the dust as they pursue something new. When the results are as good as this, who can blame them?