Photo Credit: Zackery Michael
On their seventh studio album The Car, the Arctic Monkeys continue the musical road trip that they set out on with their previous release, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018). The Sheffield, England quartet which became known (and renowned) for their brand of fast, kinetic, mile-a-minute Britpop delivered with a punk attitude here once again takes the slow lane with another collection of mature tunes inspired by some of the more thought-out work of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, ELO, and Blur.
The Car leaves the musical garage indeed quite slowly (and checking the rearview) with the opening cut “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball.” The track is more of a grandiose, almost overture-like album intro once common for artists like the Alan Parson Project. The spherical, reflective object described in the title is most closely identified with disco, which is perhaps ironic since that’s one of the dominant musical genres of the 1970s whose influence cannot be found on this album. Otherwise, the Me Decade is very much present on The Car, with the Arctic Monkeys touching upon several other musical styles from that period. The title track, for example, is presented with an ominous intensity that smacks Wall-era Pink Floyd. A similar approach can be felt on the organ-heavy “Sculptures of Anything Goes.”
The influence of ’70s funk can be heard on “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” (which nonetheless retains the vocal and lyrical style of the Arctic Monkeys’ early work) as well as “Hello You.” “Big Ideas” would definitely be big on ’70s AM radio but also tunes into both the beauty and lyrical cynicism of John Lennon’s early solo work. At the same time, Lennon’s previous band – and that earlier era – aren’t overlooked either, and they sometimes even collide: “Jet Skis on the Moat” combines the ’70s feel with a Beatles hook, while “Body Paint” is probably the most ’60s-sounding track on the album, which features a very George Harrison-esque guitar solo as well as a quoting “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” Gerry & the Pacemakers’ 1964 hit.
Several of the tracks here also include some Beatles-esque use of string sections and other orchestral sounds, particularly album closer “Perfect Sense,” which could be perceived as the Arctic Monkeys’ attempt at their own – dare we say it – “Eleanor Rigby.” But The Car is no empty nostalgia trip: like Oasis and others before them, the Arctic Monkeys successfully forge their influence into something that’s distinctly their own.
One might think that the Arctic Monkeys would want to throw in one token track that pays tribute to the original fast and quirky sound that made them rock superstars. But seemingly they’ll have no part of that: they’ve moved on and are clearly quite comfortable with where they’ve parked musically with The Car. Then again, let’s remember that we’re talking about a band whose debut album was titled Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Well, we say the Arctic Monkeys are a band bold enough to take chances with their sound, and fortunately enough those chances appear to be paying off based on both this album and the last one. Listeners won’t want to miss this ride.