The end of summer is nigh, meaning there have been nearly four months to devour, regurgitate, and fully digest Arctic Monkeys’ most recent album, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. Released early May of this year, it can now be inserted into a definitive ranking of the band’s six studio albums.
Arctic Monkeys, from Sheffield, England, have actually been kicking it since 2002, with their first album released in 2006. Since then, they’ve constantly shape shifted, worked their way into headliner spots at every worthy music festival across the globe, and have cemented themselves as champion indie rock purveyors. They are basically gods, in my eyes. It’s expected that with every album there will be witty lyricism and interesting musicality. Though it may take multiple listens and a particular ambiance, every record Arctic Monkeys puts out is exceptional, with its own special attributes.
When weighing in on an album, especially when it means making comparisons to other works by the same artist, it’s important to have some basic guidelines in mind: initial sound, lyrics, complexity, melody, instrumentals, inventiveness, etc. The following isn’t a ranking of which albums this writer has listened to the most, or even my typically preferred records. Rather, it’s a ranking of which Arctic Monkeys albums are plausibly the cream of the crop – as a whole, the damn best.
Stream this song to “Snap Out Of It” before reading on.
06. Humbug (2009, Domino)
– It pains me that Humbug is universally known as Arctic Monkeys’ least favoured record, because it’s certainly not unworthy of its brethren – it’s a fucking good album. But that is just how skilled this band is; their worst is better than most’s best. If you, like myself, were around 18 when Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not came out in 2006, by the time Humbug was released three years later, it felt like a sad realization from the Arctic Monkeys lads who were seemingly speaking directly to us and saying, “it’s time to grow up”.
Arctic Monkeys’ third album, possesses less of a Brit punk sound and moves into an indie pop/rock feel. It’s slowed down, with their beloved controlled chaos of past records having almost entirely disintegrated. The record, produced by Josh Homme – giving you an an ah-ha! moment when you recognize his desert-rock brand of vigour – feels messy at times, and Humbug works better as a stand alone piece without any singles.
05. Suck It and See (2011, Domino)
– How Arctic Monkeys got their groove back, Suck It and See is calmer than its predecessor, remaining undeniably Monkeys. Lyrically pensive, amongst a hell of a lot of mixed influences, this record is definitely a mature effort amassed with a nostalgic mood. As seen most prevalently on “Black Treacle”, there is a distinct early-aughts Green Day feel. The record as a whole is poppier, using great surf rock guitar right from the get-go. With other genres, such as psych-rock and desert-rock, making an appearance, this record somehow avoids the Monkeys’ trademarked anarchy altogether.
04. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018, Domino)
– Following the recent release of Arctic Monkeys’ highly anticipated album, my cell was on fire. I was regularly being bombarded by friends asking what I thought of the album and where I would rank it amongst the band’s other big hitters. I can honestly say that in those few weeks, I do not think that I replied to any two people the same way. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino isn’t a love at first listen album, but there is so much to unfold. Which, quite often, is the mark of a truly adept record.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is very different from Arctic Monkeys’ previous records (um, where’s the guitar?!). Initially, you might wonder why Alex Turner didn’t just release this as another solo effort. However, after multiple listens, TBH&C morphs into something more filmic – almost cinematic. Turner’s vocals, matched with the lyricism, are eerie in their staunch perfection. That said, this alone could not carry this record. It’s the musicality, the arrangements and overarching sound, that truly take this album to the next level. TBH&Coffers a glimpse into the futuristic, leaning into sci-fi territory, rife with present day commentary; an episode of Black Mirror, in music form.
Did Arctic Monkeys lose fans after the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino? No doubt. Did they gain a fair-weather following? Probably. But, does this album solidify Arctic Monkeys as one of the most creative bands making music today? Undoubtedly!
03. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007, Domino)
– This album will go down in rock history as being one of the most overlooked, in my opinion. Sequels and follow-ups alike are hard, and Favourite Worst Nightmare had so much to live up to after the release of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not just one year prior. It’s unique in that it’s irrefutably Arctic Monkeys’ crux, while somehow feeling new and exploring other avenues.
It’s worth noting that the levels on each track of this album are stunning. A beautiful example is the complexity of “Fluorescent Adolescent”; a perfect tune that undertakes various genre melding, avoiding sloppiness while maintaining both smart and playful lyrics. Favourite Worst Nightmare appears to be the last time we experience that Arctic Monkeys marquee of garage punk/rock sound in their discography. It’s lyrically mischievous and genuinely fun to listen to; the kind of album you repeatedly consume that’s impossible to sit still to.
02. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006, Domino)
– Good gravy, what a breakout record! I remember when I first heard “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor”; it played on MTV, which I immediately shut off the second the song ended to run to my family’s dial-up computer to obsessively scour MySpace for anything else by this band called Arctic Monkeys. What a goddamn game changer.
In 2006, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not brought with it a fresh, welcome genre of music. It combined the perfect amount of punk, hardcore, indie and funk. A lot of bands at the time were honing their existing sound, reinforcing themselves as champions in their niche, then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes this group from Sheffield who obliterates them all. Keep in mind that in ’06 we had only just begun our early aughts emo hangover, and these angsty Brit punks were a cure.
Whatever People Say I Am… is sharp, hard, loud and snarky. I wasn’t alive in 1972, but can only assume that hearing this debut record for the first time is akin to when the vast subcultures of punks first experienced The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. There is not a song to sleep on throughout Whatever People Say I Am…’s docket. This timeless record is an almost unbelievable first album.
01. AM (2013, Domino)
– If Whatever People Say I Am… was the record that grabbed the world by the nuts, AM is the album that kept their hearts captivated. This is the album that put Arctic Monkeys in stadiums and on hit radio stations, making them a household name. They were able to hang on to their die-hard fans with nods to the extensive array of sounds they’d been stashing in their arsenal for seven years.
AM is the first album released in the 2010’s that I couldn’t help but listen to non-stop for months after its release. Each song’s sound is so well rounded, I could cry. There are stark guitar hooks to offset lovelorn lyrics, a steadier drum beat that works as a prelude to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, more wailing on the guitar, more reverb, harder stomps, deeper bass and even indie punk rock and R&B existing in the same universe – it has it all!
AM reveals a maturation, not just musically, but of the band members themselves. There isn’t a weak track throughout this album and, even after countless listens, “R U Mine?” still gives me butterflies, wholly encircling the meaning behind the song. At times sounding like a mix of T.Rex and The Velvet Underground (“Mad Sounds”), this is an indie punk record dripping in sex and making heartache cool.
AM ends with the smooth “I Wanna Be Yours”, which seems to work as a foreshadowing of sounds to expect years later. This record gave Arctic Monkeys the power to do whatever they want, like create the interesting and off-kilter Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. AM is the quintessential Arctic Monkeys album that encompasses their sound. Weaving through exhilaration yet remaining controlled; it’s absolutely brilliant.
There’s our ranking of the six entries from Alex Turner and co., which helps to celebrate the close of another great summer of music from these Sheffield rockers. Agree, disagree, or even think we need to re-enroll in Music 101, you have to admit there’s a lot to appreciate from these four indie-rock gods who came rollicking onto the scene over a decade ago.
In closing, we leave you with the one that started it all: “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”.