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Humbug
Arctic Monkeys Humbug
Released August 2009
Producer Josh Homme, James Ford
Label Domino
Length 39:20
Genre Rock, indie
Website www.arcticmonkeys.com
60

A lot has been made of the Arctic Monkeys' sojourn to the Mojave desert to be produced by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and their subsequent change of musical direction, but to this writer, the more striking departure on Humbug, the Arctic Monkeys third album, is that of Alex Turner’s lyrics. The romantic, kitchen sink dramas of the first album and to a lesser extent the second, have been replaced on the current  text by more guarded, cryptic fare. A more fitting title for this album would have been ‘Ode to a mysterious other’ as much of the lyrics contain oblique references to a relationship. Take ‘Fire and the Thud’ for example; “And you're hiding in my soup/ And the book reveals your face/ And there's a splashing in my eyelids/ The concentration continually breaks.” Has Turner just stumbled upon one of the most brilliant and original hide-and-seek players in the history of the game or is this soup based drama some kind of metaphor?

Facetiousness aside, the Arctic Monkey’s music has inevitably lost some of its appeal due in no small part to Alex’s failure to try and connect with his audience. While, no one would expect him to continue writing about under-age drinking and getting in scrapes with the police, one would expect his show business lifestyle to be ripe for exploring one of his favourite themes of poseurs and scenes, a theme he has all but abandoned on Humbug. Turner’s new writing style has its moments though, like in the brilliant ‘Cornerstone’ where he gets the mysteriousness just right but overall it is hard to escape the feeling that he has lost his lyrical identity to a certain extent.

On Favourite Worst Nightmare’s key track ‘Old Yellow Bricks’, Turner concludes that there is no where like home, although it seems that was a temporary conclusion as the Monkeys’ rush to move forward at breakneck speed has led them to the Mojave desert to work with Josh Homme, whose influence can be detected, most notably on ‘Pretty Visitors’ but it is not a drastic change. One of the most interesting songs on Humbug is ‘Potion Approaching’ where towards the end of the track the Arctic Monkeys get into an Iggy Pop/Doors stride which suits them and could be a signpost of their future direction.

Overall, Humbug lacks identity due to the sometimes impenetrable lyrics. Probably more worryingly, it also lacks memorable tunes. It is accomplished but no more than what you would expect from such a talented band. However, alarm bells need not go off just yet. They are a band with a good sound, a great attitude and a very talented wordsmith who just needs to reconnect with his muse. Humbug has the feel of a transitional album and hopefully we will all look back on it in years to come and see it as the bridge to the next great phase in their career.

- Eoin Murphy