- 18 Oct 22
On His Majesty’s Secret Service
Following a clipped proem – it’s a word, check it out! – The Car proper opens with a Mission Impossible-reminiscent klaxon drumbeat, and we are exquisitely slipped into a marvellous world of subterfuge and espionage by Arctic Monkeys Mark III.
Thus, a musical evolution that spun wonderfully into focus on the retro-futurist lunar colony of 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, is extended here in impressive style. But the action is framed against a much-changed environment.
The writing here is as evocative as the pen(s) of Le Carré, Fleming or Greene, complete with spooks, dusty apartments, retina scans, time-travelling tanning booths, boat kiosk ladies, simulation cartridges, double agent mothers-in-law, bound and gagged betrayals and saw-toothed signature marks.
Turner demonstrates his sublime antenna for detail as he sketches “Formation displays of affection… blank canvasses leant against gallery walls… Subbuteo cloaks… village coffee mornings with not long retired spies.”
The evocation of a mysterious ecosystem is as telling as it is clever. Turner’s master of deception is a mole hiding in the open, in a Rick Dalton-style, Rat Pack covers band. The kind of band, “you’d rather not share over the phone,” they appear on Spanish and Italian small screens, while the lead singer battles Cold War-style super villains: the comparisons with Turner’s own otiose search for anonymity are inescapable. Unforgivably, he smudges his dancing shoes on ‘Mr Schwartz’. Meanwhile, on lead single ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ he complains of “Yesterday, still leaking through the roof.” But what exactly is ‘yesterday’? The writing is beautifully impressionistic, as he advises the world to “throw the rose tint back on the exploded view.”
It is, of course, not all about Alex Turner. Arctic Monkeys is – or are? – a group and Messrs. Cook, Helders & O’Malley do their jobs masterfully, painting an array of beguiling landscapes, and driving their musical vehicle through funk on ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’, metal riffs on ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’, yacht rock on ‘Jet Skis on the Moat’, and spaghetti western on ‘The Car’. There are flecks of jazz splashed throughout, adding colour and tantalising detail, but also making it clear: the Monkeys know their chops.
Hit single ‘Body Paint’ – with a video that references Magritte, North by Northwest and Bowie – is boldly original, sounding akin to The Beatles, only taken on to a new level. Turner’s knockout vocal – “if you’re thinking of me, I’m probably thinking of you,” he ruminates – is majestic.
It’s too early to say ‘It’s a classic’. But in 10 years time, that’s probably what we’ll be saying...
Out October 21 on Domino