It’s been 17 years since Alex Turner told the world “don’t believe the hype” on his band’s breakout single. Cocky as it was, dismissing the traps of the indie rock boom of the early 2000s, it’s actually harder to heed his warning now. Arctic Monkeys have become one of the most acclaimed acts in rock simply for letting hype build on itself. They do minimal press and understated album rollouts, as if they’ve waited for the rest of the world to catch up with whatever vibe they’re on at the time.
Now on their seventh album, the Monkeys sound like they’re waiting for the next phase of their career to start. They’re getting there in a softer, more grand way with The Car, the band’s most luscious collection of music to date. “Luscious” isn’t a word you’d normally associate with the Monkeys, but it’s another clever progression by the band after the woozy lounge trip of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. But while their last record had a rougher, trippier edge to it, producer James Ford (Gorillaz, Florence + The Machine) backs all 10 tracks here with gorgeous string sections that mix with more of Turner’s recent love for piano playing and the tight rhythm of bassist Nick O’Malley and drummer Matt Helders. Ford was behind the boards for AM, the 2013 genre overhaul that gave the band a second creative wind, but The Car continues the band’s sonic merging with Ford and Turner’s smoother side project The Last Shadow Puppets.
The album cruises in with “There’d Better Be A Mirror Ball,” propelled by a carousel-esque organ line and punctuates the end of each measure with a guitar and piano chord mixed together flawlessly. You’ll hear similar musical symmetry all throughout the record, especially on “Big Ideas,” “Hello You” and the title track where the band sounds more cohesive than ever before. Guitar geeks will note the weirder riffs that pop in-and-out of the record, like the creepy funk of “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” and “Jet Skis On The Moat” where Turner’s guitar is inhabited by the ghost of Jerry Garcia circa “Shakedown Street.” But again, it’s the sweeping orchestral addition to the band that really makes tracks like “The Car,” “Hello You” and “Perfect Sense” truly soar. And it’s not just extra window dressing for the band: the aura of late night lust the band displayed on AM returns on tracks like “There’d Better Be A Mirror Ball” and “Body Paint.” Almost every new sonic idea Ford has for The Car fits the band like a glove.
When we last left Turner at the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, he was wallowing away in an empty lounge bar wondering how he didn’t live up to his own hype. With “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball” at the start, someone is finally dragging Turner out of the club with whatever mistakes he made the night before “still leaking from the roof” and him ready to “throw the rose tint back” on his eyes if things get too real from the start. Throughout The Car, Turner’s crooning skills have never sounded as soulful and sincere singing lyrics about trying to shake off whatever’s been dragging him down. That voice also makes the detail of his words truly stick, from the unnecessarily complex (“Formation displays of affection fly over [eyes roll back]” on “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am”) to the pinkies-up witty (“For a master of deception and subterfuge/You’ve made yourself quite the bed to lie in” on “Body Paint”). Much like Tranquility Base, Turner reaches a sobering conclusion by the album’s end on “Perfect Sense.” Stylish and mysterious a rock star he is, Turner relies on the simple pleasures to keep him grounded whether it be “Having some fun with the opening act,” “A four-figure sum on a hotel notepad” or just speeding through life to get to “the final straight.”
The Car is not only a perfect sequel to Tranquility Base, but the most refined Arctic Monkeys album ever released. After their last three records saw them step farther and farther away from their raucous energy, Turner and co. have found a near-perfect blend of their indie rock roots and their artsier ambitions. The band sounds classic and forward-thinking at the same time. And as much as Turner doesn’t want any outrageous expectations, it’s hard to not get excited for whatever road he and his band travel on.