Dissecting the discography of the Sheffield icons from worst to best as part of a brand new series on E/O.
Time for a brand new feature series on Either/Or now, as every month I'm going to be taking a look at an artist of your choosing and rating their albums from worst to best. I'll be giving you the power to suggest and vote on Instagram and Twitter for whatever bands and songwriters you want to see dissected and decimated (hopefully not) every month on E/O, so comment below or on social media with your suggestions for May!
I'm going to be working this alphabetically so the next letter (yep, you've cracked it) is B...
Billy Ray Cyrus?
The choices are endless and you've got the power so get in touch (but please don't make me choose between The Beatles).
First up however, I gave you the choice of two incredible bands in Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys. The boys from Sheffield won decisively, so I took a trip back through the discography of arguably the biggest rock band of the 21st century. So what is the ultimate Arctic Monkeys album? What's the weakest of the bunch? Find out the answers to those questions (and everything in between) below...
(Note: Do I have to say it...? Ultimately this is a subjective exercise so don't come at me if your favourite album is Humbug - that's cool. I guess.)
Now, without further ado...
6. Humbug (2009)
The Monkeys' third album marked a major shift in sound after a two year gap since Favourite Worst Nightmare, and as such it was greeted with a mixed reception upon arrival in 2009, somewhat unfairly so. With a markedly darker, more methodical sound in contrast to the furious pace of the band's early output, Humbug groovily explored a 70s inspired style of classic rock that showcased a newfound ambition and scope within the band's work, but ultimately resulted in an uneven tracklist thanks to duds such as 'Fire And The Thud' or 'Dance Little Liar'.
Credit is due to the band for a willingness to take risks (something that was honestly lacking in Favourite Worst Nightmare's safer approach - more on that next), and the change in approach made for an intriguing side step which paid off decisively on the barnstorming one-two punch of opener 'My Propeller' and lead single 'Crying Lightning', as well as potentially the greatest song Turner has ever penned in the majestic 'Cornerstone'. Yet with the exception of a fantastic set of singles and one or two outliers, Humbug is a fairly flat record for the most part as the band clunkily grappled with a drastic stylistic shift.
Though it may be their weakest record, Humbug is also perhaps the most significant in the band's discography. Signaling a key turning point in their direction as they incorporated a wider range of influences and began to hint at greater (and more successful) sonic leaps which they would take in due course, Humbug is a landmark moment that paved the way for the band we know today.
In 2013, I wasn't necessarily satisfied by Humbug, but its daring nature made me extremely curious to hear what Arctic Monkeys were going to do next.
Best Tracks: 'My Propeller'/'Crying Lightning'/'Cornerstone'
5. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
Released just 15 months after their heralded debut, Favourite Worst Nightmare quickly built upon Whatever People Say I Am... with a cleaner production aesthetic, noticeably tighter band performance and a cracking supply of radio ready guitar riffs. 'Brianstorm', 'Teddy Picker' and 'Fluorescent Adolescent' delivered a trio of electric hit singles and led this sophomore record to be acclaimed as a worthy follow up that answered the hype.
In hindsight, there is a suspect amount of anonymous landfill to be found here, with the likes of 'Balaclava' and 'If You Were There, Beware' not befitting the quartet's standard before or since. The filler material scattered throughout is drastically counteracted with some of the very best tracks the band have produced to date, as the romantic balladry of 'Only Ones Who Know' and '505' as well as heartbreak anthem 'Do Me A Favor' provided a glimpse of the emotional depths that were buried within Turner's songwriting even then. Ultimately Favourite Worst Nightmare had enough moments of brilliance to silence those who were predicting a one album wonder after 2006, and it deservedly justified the young band's already seismic reputation. On reflection though, this is the most frustrating and inconsistent record of the Monkeys' career.
Best Tracks: 'Only Ones Who Know'/'Do Me A Favour'/'505'
4. Suck It And See (2011)
A continuation of the band's sonic growth and widening range on Humbug, Suck It And See was a more consistent and accessible record than the former, cleverly amalgamating elements of all three of its predecessors to great success on a wickedly fun, easy listen. The band have described their fourth album as a highly collaborative process, written in studio and recorded with live takes that gave Suck It And See a casual air which comes through in the breezy jangle rock of 'She's Thunderstorms', 'Black Treacle' and 'The Hellcat Spangled Sha La La La'.
Suck It And See felt like the product of a band who had shed the daunting hype of their early years, with the muted response to Humbug perhaps an unexpected blessing as the Monkeys sounded content to just make music for themselves and enjoy doing it. There was also an increased level of assurance and confidence in the songwriting of Turner, who at 25 years old was on the cusp of an evolution into superstar frontman. But that was still a couple of years down the road...
Best Tracks: 'She's Thunderstorms'/'Black Treacle'/'The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala'
3. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Noel Gallagher wanted to know where the choruses were, and fans were mystified as to why the guitars were missing. There was a general air of confusion that greeted Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino which led to it being cast in a cartoonishly villainous role for 00s indie nostalgia merchants, who decried this wild departure and admittedly bizarre successor to AM, the purest of rock'n'roll albums that had thrilled audiences and critics alike a full five years prior.
A Kubrickian space opera set in a luxury resort on the moon, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is many things - ambitious, absurd, frequently hilarious, misunderstood, criminally underrated. After locking himself away in an area of his LA home he fittingly christened the ''Lunar Surface'', Turner was inspired by writers block he had been suffering post AM to begin creating demos on a piano rather than a guitar, drawing on influences such as Federico Fellini, his own childhood memories and a vast array of science fiction works to craft a dystopian rock concept that shocked his bandmates upon hearing it as much as his audience upon release.
Turner and the band considered leaving it as a solo album before ultimately rejecting the idea and working a full band sound into the mix, but truly this is the closest thing in the Monkeys' catalogue that you will get to an Alex Turner record, and it's a gloriously unhinged trip into the mind of a creative genius with no shackles attached. Lyrically, TBH&C is on another level to previous work, with uproarious one liners delivered at light speed as Turner regularly jibes on the farcical, shamelessly pretentious persona he inhibits throughout these 40 minutes (from his shock horror delivery of ''What d'you mean, you've never seen Blade Runner?'' to the entirety of 'One Point Perspective').
The character work extends to an incredibly aspirational level of songwriting throughout too, as Alex channels a mix of David Bowie, Father John Misty and Jarvis Cocker while traversing the lavishly imagined lunar base resort that he brings to life so vividly on its outstanding titular track. The dazzling psychedelic frenzy of centerpiece 'Four Out of Five' concludes a masterful run of songs that the album's back half unfortunately can't quite live up to. If not for a couple of so-so moments in its latter stages (with the exception of marvelous, Elton John-esque closer 'The Ultracheese') which drag the overall cohesion and flow of the record down a peg, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino would be a candidate alongside the below two records for Arctic Monkeys best work.
As it stands, it is certainly the most exciting and intriguing record of the band's career to date, a work of fearless abandon from a furiously creative mind that assuredly has plenty more to offer, perhaps as soon as 2021 if rumors are to be believed. By totally immersing the band in a new direction with his typical panache and effortless cool, Alex Turner and Arctic Monkeys seem to be at the beginning of a new era in their story much like they were in 2009 with Humbug.
I'm more excited than ever before to hear what's next, but regardless of what follows, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino may very well stand as a creative zenith for Turner when the dust settles.
Best Tracks: 'Star Treatment'/'Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino'/'Four Out of Five'
2. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)
Long before his transformation into a modern day Ziggy Stardust, Alex Turner just wanted to be one of The Strokes. In many ways, Arctic Monkeys were a British answer to the American rock revival led by Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr. when they arrived in January 2006 to a rabid UK audience, who responded by making Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not the fastest selling debut album in British music history, a record it still holds today (and due to streaming services, will most likely hold for a long time to come).
It's easy to understand why it was such a phenomenon, then and now - a tornado of undeniable guitar riffs the like of which hadn't been heard in England since Definitely Maybe in 1994, the Arctic's debut still boasts some of the most quintessential guitar lines of the 21st century. We're talking about the kind of music so universal that it makes children pick up an electric guitar in order to one day master the sound of 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' or 'When The Sun Goes Down', both of which topped the UK charts back in 2006, a monumental feat for a debuting rock band that cannot be understated, especially post nineties.
More than the whirlwind of guitars that tracks like 'The View from the Afternoon' and 'Fake Tales of San Francisco' blasted listeners with, Whatever People Say I Am... is a snapshot of working class Britain post millenium, a vividly depicted weekend in the life of spotty teenager Alex Turner and his mates as they revel in the exhilaration of a Saturday night out before reflecting on their lives and their city with hungover wisdom in the inevitable light of Sunday morning. It's all breathlessly narrated by a 20 year old Turner, who even then carried the subtle poetic soul he would demonstrate in years to come, with quiet moments of maturity on 'Riot Van' and 'A Certain Romance' depicting the sweet and sour of teenage existence with piercing honesty and an endearing, contradictory mix of naivety and dry Northern wit.
Arctic Monkeys were an overnight sensation, catapulted into the spotlight as saviors of British rock, and whether it was a label they were willing to embrace or not, it was a well earned reputation. Fifteen years removed, Whatever People Say I Am... continues to age gracefully, its tender spirit and raw aesthetic only serving to highlight the fleeting beauty and power of perhaps the definitive rock album of the noughties outside the USA.
The band memorably bemoaned the lack of romance in music during the closing stages of the album, with Turner now famously quipping that were was ''only music so that there's new ringtones'', but already Arctic Monkeys had made an instant classic and introduced a new generation of fans to music that mattered on a debut for the ages.
Best Tracks: 'The View from the Afternoon'/'I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor'/'Riot Van'/'When The Sun Goes Down'/'A Certain Romance'
1. AM (2013)
From the opening seconds of that guitar line, AM sounded iconic.
A culmination of the band's entire trajectory to that point in 2013, AM stands as the peak of Arctic Monkeys' powers to date, with a level of songcraft and musical nous throughout that undoubtedly marked the pinnacle of their ascension to the top of modern rock music.
AM packs all of the hooks and riffs that long term fans could hope for with 'Do I Wanna Know' and 'R U Mine?' acting as the natural 10s successors to 00s bangers 'Dancefloor' and 'Sun Goes Down', while Turner hits a level of emotional profundity on 'No 1 Party Anthem' and 'I Wanna Be Yours' that he has yet to surpass since.
With a heavy, bluesy instrumental performance to match the band's adopted greaser personas, there was a swagger to the Monkeys' that had never been present before, making AM not only an album but an identifiable era that has come to define their entire existence. At the center of it all was Alex Turner's evolution into verifiable rockstar, as the typically reserved singer developed not only his lyrical and songwriting game but his stage presence too, totally accepting his status as leader of the biggest rock band in the UK (if not the world) and owning a larger than life persona that untapped a wild flair and creativity which would eventually unearth itself totally on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino in 2018.
As successful as it was at the time, AMs achievement and enduring acclaim is even more significant in hindsight with the advent of pop and hip-hop dominance in mainstream music making the Monkeys fifth record an anomaly from a commercial perspective (topping four separate Billboard charts and becoming one of the best selling CD and vinyl albums of the decade while remarkably completing a near five year run in the Top 100 UK Albums Chart in June 2019). It was the briefest of moments in which Arctic Monkeys embraced their status as leaders of modern rock, creating a bombastic and extravagant work that befitted platinum records, sold out stadiums and a never ending world tour. AM was the revival of pure rock'n'roll, the kind that Arctic Monkeys were created from and the like of which isn't heard in mainstream music today.
It's all probably best explained by Alex Turner's infamous acceptance speech at the BRIT Awards back in 2013 after AM picked up the gong for Album of the Year:
"That rock 'n'roll, eh? That rock'n'roll, it just won't go away. It might hibernate from time to time, and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.
But it's always waiting there, just around the corner. Ready to make its way back through the sludge and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever. Yeah, that rock'n'roll, it seems like it's faded away sometimes, but it will never die. And there's nothing you can do about it."
At the time it was dismissed by many as a drunken rant, but there's a truth and poetry to those words that was lost at the time and is easier to recognize in 2021.
Rock was dead, but for just for a moment in the fall of 2013, Arctic Monkeys had resurrected it.
Best Tracks: 'Do I Wanna Know'/'R U Mine?'/'Arabella'/'No 1 Party Anthem'/'Knee Socks'/'I Wanna Be Yours'
All the best tracks from the six albums above in one handy playlist.
Well, that's it for your first edition of album rankings.
But I want to hear from you! Get in touch by commenting below - let me know if you agree with these picks or I'm a blabbering idiot who wouldn't know a good tune if it hit me in the face, or perhaps you're on the fence somewhere in between. Either way I would love to know your favourite albums by Arctic Monkeys and why.
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As always, thanks for reading!