Arctic Monkeys have established themselves by owning their own specific vibes: mystery, a night-time drive, cold air—cigarette smoke. I’m familiar with the Sheffield band, of course—I think everyone is familiar in a way (you know “Fluorescent Adolescent”), but I’ve only ever really familiarized myself with their releases Whatever People Say I am That’s What I’m Not, Favourite Worst Nightmare, and AM. Humbug just slipped through my fingers until now, when I was randomly assigned to review this album in a Secret Santa grab-bag type manner. Oh, we have fun, here at Garage Music News.
Humbug starts with a confidence, immediately demanding attention. “My Propeller” initially reminds me of, what, Blue Oyster Cult? I mean that in the least condescending way possible, though. The song is blues-y and ominous, making me wish I was doing something substantially cooler than sitting in a brightly-lit high school library while writing this. Maybe dancing at a speakeasy, or solving a gritty crime, or overtaking the world, or attending an Arctic Monkeys show.
Humbug is an album born of specific influences. Arctic Monkeys jammed Hendrix and Cream in the studio, and they wrote half the songs with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. This fact is super apparent as you listen through the ten tracks.
“Crying Lightning” starts with an Arctic Monkeys bass line. Not a bass line, an Arctic Monkeys bass line. This is, arguably, the most popular song off this album. It even has a music video, which shows a coy Alex Turner brooding at the front of a stray boat, floating through foggy waters, with a sunset in the background. Because, you know, of course it does. Then it starts to storm—the other Arctic Monkeys mood. Again, I mean that in the least condescending way possible. I live for it all. Moving on from the video, I’ll leave the track with this: “Crying Lightning” has one of the best bridges ever.
Bass lines and clever lyrics are staples of the Arctic Monkeys catalog. “Dangerous Animals” captures this motif perfectly, like, in one of those steel bear traps with the jaws.
- You should have racing stripes—the way you keep me in pursuit.
- …Then to my knees you do promote me
- About as bashful as a tribal dance
Those lyrics are all in one song, eloquently reaching genius-level lyricism.
Humbug rolls like a movie soundtrack, and “Secret door” is what plays after the protagonist, who is probably a detective, falls in love with the beautiful, innocent-looking mysterious girl who’s probably no good for the detective. I have a lot of love for this song, not just for the clever lyrics, but for the beautiful instrumentals that stand out amongst the rest of the album.
“Potion Approaching” draws us back into the grit of Humbug. The line I was biting the time zone is fantastic and Turner pronounces vitamins like “vitt-uh-mins” so that’s cool. Next is “Fire and the Thud”, a ghostly track that sings of love—or, love at the surface with something darker below. “Cornerstone” has the most beautiful horribly relatable chorus, and is like a field of sunflowers—a drastically different vibe from the majority of Arctic Monkeys’ discography, which is something I admire.
The intro of “Dance Little Liar” has a magic quality that forces you to pay attention. Now, the noble detective has realized his mistake in falling for the mystery girl. Is he bitter? Yes, but it’s not a violent kind. It’s more of a “I pity you, mystery girl” bitterness. The clean coming will hurt, and you can never get it spotless, when there’s dirt in between the dirt.
“Pretty Visitors” is a fight scene in this movie. The chorus is dazzlingly threatening, and I know I would love to see it live. It even has eerie organ-eque notes in an attention-grabbing bridge, leading you to an explosion of heavy guitar. It’s not Arctic Monkeys, it’s Arctic Monkeys if they were leaders of some rebellious army, screaming their agenda.
The harshness of “Pretty Visitors” causes the beautiful contrasting transition to “Jeweller’s Hands” that serves a twinkling atmosphere. It’s lighter, but Turner’s voice still has the darkness of the prior tracks in Humbug. “Jeweller’s Hands” is expert in keeping up with the clever, wordy lyrics of a typical A.M. song while preserving cohesiveness. This wraps up the album, leaving you like you’ve just finished a long journey—but you’ve been left with more questions than you started with.