The early morning of Oct. 21 was electric with tension. Taylor Swift fans everywhere were blowing up Twitter servers and shutting down streaming services; the monumental release of their reigning queen’s 10th studio album “Midnights” was seemingly the center of the media’s focus. Little did they know that another diamond in the rough was also coming to fruition: Alex Turner and co.’s follow-up release to 2018’s “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino” — pulling up in “The Car.”
Arctic Monkeys’ iconic “AM” (2013), a deviation from the trashy, garage-rock sound they set for themselves previously, was the long-awaited tap into the mainstream for the band. Enticed by frontman Turner’s greaser persona, sleazy cigarette smoke haze and echoey reverbed basslines, Tumblr culture ate the album up and spit it out again and again as they awaited something else. Audiences discovering them from those songs expected more “Do I Wanna Knows?” and “R U Mines” coming forward. When the polished, sophisticated “Tranquility Base” called towards matured late-90s Britpop acts such as Pulp, and saw Turner vacuuming sprawling lounge carpets instead of snogging a girl with a one-of-a-kind name in a back alley next to a pub, new-age fans reacted as you would expect.
Even though I am more than intimately familiar with the Monkeys’ entire discography, and how they love to subtly switch things up every album, I was also shocked by this sudden skydive onto a whole new planet of sound; it took me a bit to get on board. I feared that things would be the same way with their new album if it was another major breach of the new “typical” they defined for themselves. “The Car” evades their previous speed bumps, and drives smoothly into this new era.
The 10-song effort opens up with “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball,” a refined slow burn that sets the tone. It’s deeper than the previous album’s “Star Treatment,” although the elongated buildup doesn’t allow for as much of an iconic opening line like “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes.” It does pack a strong, emotional punch, and Turner hits some hushed high notes that show his maturity; he is moving past the party days and is coming down to Earth again. He doesn’t want his darling to accompany him on the dance floor anymore; he just wants a walk back to his car.
The album picks up with the bossa nova tinged second track “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am,” an upbeat callback to the echoey melodies of “AM”-era tracks like “Fireside” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High.” It slows down again, like a hot-cold front, for “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” an ethereal, cinematic plunge that, through its reverbed depth, showcases the vibe that the band wishes to curate. It was that track that made me look up where this album was recorded: a monastery in Suffolk, England. Fitting.
Unfortunately, not every track reached that high; the middle grounds of the album hold well-made songs, but the question of if they stand out or not remains in the air. Songs like “Jet Skis on the Moat” and title track “The Car” seemed glazed over with no special toppings in particular, but “Body Paint” is the center peak that casts a second gust of wind as the album starts its descent. The latter half ping-pongs between classically-inspired orchestra sessions and, again, more recollections to “AM” through the defined electric guitar strums and flat drum hits in “Hello You.”
One of the album’s fatal fall-downs is the seemingly long-winded instrumental sessions that are scattered throughout the final songs. An album I find myself comparing “The Car” to is “This is Hardcore” by Pulp, because of its refined aesthetic and symphonic inspirations. Pulp is able to balance their long, dramatic tracks with powerful energetic breakdowns. Even though the Monkeys have plenty of upbeatness in the album, it fails to conclude in a way that signifies its ending and makes it jump out.
Despite this, the album remains insanely well-produced and deviates from the reckless teenagers we were introduced to the Monkeys as. Although they’ve been curating this new look for two albums now, “The Car” ties up any loose ends and identity crises that they struggled with throughout “Tranquility Base.” As the band drives along, embarking on their worldwide tour next spring, they will once again prove that their timeless, ever-shifting approach to rock music will always come out on top.