Where to begin with Arctic Monkeys? Their inimitable debut was an explosive slice of 00s youth culture: Mercury-winning and the sort of record many bands would struggle to follow up. In the sixteen years hence, Arctic Monkeys have made a habit of following each album with a twist. From the dark and broody Homme-influenced third LP, Humbug, through lovesick Suck it and See, leather-clad AM, to the most recent offering, a glorious space-hotel concept album.
From the outset, The Car is intriguing. A lonely-looking motor adorns the album cover, sat atop an LA parking lot. The album art gives away nothing about its contents, except for the continuous references to “the car” throughout. Lead single and album opener ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’ sets the tone from minute one: this cut begins with a short instrumental burst, deliciously reminiscent of Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, before The Car begins in earnest. The section of the track is only around thirty seconds long, but the overarching harpsichord is evocative – like a final drink in the hotel bar.
Mirrorball sees Monkeys set their stall out early: a gorgeous piece of easy listening, with Turner’s voice playing an ever more important part in the Arctic Monkeys setup. Turner’s vocal really shine throughout the album, and Mirrorball is a wonderful example. The arrangement of strings is a key piece of the puzzle throughout, growing and swelling over the record, and giving The Car an immensely cinematic feel. Arranged by Turner and film score co-ordinator, Bridget Samuels, the record benefits so greatly from the inclusion of strings – Turner is no stranger to orchestral elements, with Last Shadow Puppets albums including various arrangements, but the strings on The Car are gloriously expressive.
‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ is a funky cut and is the first of a few instances where the lead guitar is drenched in wah-pedal. Complex lyrics are another running theme on this record, with this track in specific apparently expressing Turner’s frustrations with explaining the plot of tv drama ‘Lost’ to a friend… “Wait, there’s the other island now”.
‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ is the outlier on this record, and a real highlight. Deep, dark synths take the lead here, again with Turner’s voice shining. The track wouldn’t sound out of key on Nick Cave’s Skeleton Key, and towards the end of Sculptures, as the synths swell with the strings Arctic Monkeys transition into prime, Low-era David Bowie. The wah returns in style on ‘Jet Skis On The Moat’, before we are treated to more of Turner’s sumptuous vocals on ‘Body Paint’. As the cut reaches its triumphant end, you can really see Monkeys in full flow; grooving with such accomplished style, incorporating the hip-shaking rhythm and vocal harmonies from AM with the more delicate aspects of Tranquillity.
The title track of the record is yet more liquid gold, once more with Turner’s vocals shining. Of course, it would be remiss to write The Car off as an Alex Turner solo record: the rest of the band plays fantastically throughout, allowing Turner the space to recite his prose. As with AM and TBHC the group know exactly when not to play – a skill just as vital as brash drums and guitar, and a particular faucet of Monkeys’ talent that is often written off by the bucket-hat brigade.
‘Big Ideas’ is a highpoint in an album of high points, with a particularly brilliant guitar solo that crashes in from nowhere, fuzzily echoing a piano part earlier in the song, fitting around the strings with absolute grace. Somebody for the love of god, give this band a Bond theme.
The Car closes in style, with the final stretch of the album made up of emotive ballads, swaddled in complementary strings. ‘Mr Schwartz’ is another highlight, and album bookend ‘Perfect Sense’ continues the tradition of Arctic Monkeys album closers acting as a gut punch of emotional heft.
The Car is truly Arctic Monkeys’ masterpiece – they incorporate so many musical themes from across their career with aplomb, culminating in a simply wonderful record. The strings on this album are utterly inspired, and make this record what it is. Combine this with the precise nature of the instrumentals on the record, and Turner’s voice sounding better than ever and AM are on to a winner.