Retro-style Arctics roll back to the future

Arctic Monkeys
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SOME pretty bold statements have been made about the four young men who have taken a slice of Sheffield around the world these past few years.

Everything from “changing the face of music” to Alex Turner being hailed a spokesman for his generation.

CHART-TOPPERS ... Arctic Monkeys have announced an arena tour.

CHART-TOPPERS ... Arctic Monkeys have announced an arena tour.

In some ways it’s a miracle they’ve emerged from their adventures unscathed but, as of day one, they maintain they’re pretty much a bunch of mates making music.

So it was perhaps not surprising Alex returned to the album that changed his life – Whatever People Say, That’s What I’m Not – in the early stages of constructing their fourth, Suck It And See.

It was mostly penned while living in Brooklyn, very different circumstances to the genesis of Mardy Bum.

“In a way they were worlds apart,” Alex concurs on the phone from Salt Lake City. “I wrote them first lot of tunes in me bedroom in me mother’s house.

“But no-one spends too much time reflecting on that. You can’t really, it’s more about looking forward.

“One thing I did do, though, was go back and listen to that first album again – the first time I’ve done that in five years or something, probably since I got it back from the mastering. I never played it in its entirety again.”

It happened when guitarist Jamie Cook flew in for a visit to New York.

“I had written a couple of tunes, then he came over and we started working out what some of the lead guitar parts might be. As a little exercise, I suppose, we went to the Domino office in Brooklyn and got a copy of the LP, took it home and played it through, had a beer.

“It’s funny listening back – you forget about it. You hear lyrics or little bits. We had a good afternoon and I got a lot out of that and while you’re never going to try to replicate that – it would be impossible to make that album again – it got me thinking... the sense of humour that record’s got is something I wanted to get across in this new album.

“They’ve all had humour in one way or another but none quite as direct as that first and that was something I thought we could get more of in this new one.

“It was good we went back and kind of retraced our steps a little. It’s all right to do every now and again.”

The humour is most evident on lead single Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair, with its references to picking fights with hard men and fireside shellsuits, while the bluntness of Brick By Brick smacks of the tougher sound they sought from QOTSA leader Josh Homme, co-producer of previous platter Humbug.

To an extent that 2009 record polarised opinion. Yet, on reflection, it was merely confirmation that Alex and band are very much a work in progress. Suck It And See contains hints of previous albums as well as the singer’s Last Shadow Puppets venture and his soundtrack for hit flick Submarine, of which Piledriver Waltz is a re-worked take.

“There are elements of all three other albums in this and whereas Humbug was more considered, a bit more of a departure from the first two, I don’t feel that with this one. Something about it feels like a milestone for us. We’ve put a flag in the ground.

“I don’t know why but it feels like we’ve got to a point where we’re really satisfied with the results. Not that we weren’t before, really. There’s something about it – it feels like a good representation of us right now.”

While Humbug didn’t sit well with everybody, it filtered those who really ‘got’ Turner’s troupe from the fad chasers, setting up the next phase nicely.

“That’s fair to say, I reckon. Humbug and that whole experience of it being very different from the way we did the two records before, the fact it still came back and had our identity on it, showed us it doesn’t matter where you go, who you work with or where you record; whatever it is that gives us our characteristics or our sound is built into us four making music together.

“It gave us this new confidence, even though, like you say, it weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. For us as a band it really spurred us on. It opened the door, in a way, to anything being possible.”

Initially reconvening in London, drummer Matt Helders having recovered from a career-threatening boxing-acquired broken arm, the band went to Los Angeles and the studio where Nirvana made Nevermind – one tabloid suggesting Alex, Matt, Jamie and Nick O’Malley rented a £3million Hollywood Hills mansion.

Key to SIAS was a return to working with producer James Ford. “He’s a good mate now. I like spending time in studios with him. He’s got a good pair of ears, you know what I mean. He was really on board with this one, as soon as we decided to make it.

“Although songs were pretty much written, he came in the practice room with us and was very much involved in their development and what everyone was playing.

“He was with us for four or five months and then we went and recorded and mixed. We’ve known him for a while and if you’re going to spend that much time with someone it’s good they’re a mate. It’s like this unspoken thing where – like within the band – we read each other; James is very much in that loop. You know when to stop.”

Although to look at Alex’s work rate, he doesn’t. He remains prolific and things come together swiftly when the band gets together.

“A few people have said that. I’ve no basis for comparison, really. All we’ve ever done is get on with it. But we didn’t play hardly at all last year; we stopped touring in April and didn’t get into the room until September. I was writing through the summer, but it felt like we had a break.

“We were planning on getting straight back in the studio after we toured but I sort of forgot to write any songs so I had to take a few months to do that.”

In spite of locations, SIAS doesn’t see the lads go all US, however, even if some California sunshine does come through.

“The four of us grew up on the same street, pretty much. It’s never gonna disappear that thing, no matter how far you travel. We’re all from there, we’re always gonna have them roots.”

And that goes for the English appetite for weather references, as exhibited in Thunderstorm and Black Treacle. You can take the boys out of Yorkshire...

“That’s it. That’s the not being able to take the Yorkshire out of the lads. That’s where the rain comes from.”

All in all, SIAS is the sound of a writer increasingly appreciating life’s subtleties and twists, and a band better embracing pace, texture and their undoubted talents.

It’s possibly even the sound of a certain young singer finding maturity.

“Ah god,” quips Alex, preparing to run the gauntlet of the Salt Lake Mormons, “I hope not.”