Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

24 08 2009

Published in Totally Dublin, September 09

It seems that no matter how much the Arctic Monkeys have matured as a band (and they have, considerably) their song’s lyrics are still celebrated, condemned and misinterpreted in equal measures. Humbug, the third studio album from Sheffield’s favourite rascals, sees their songwriting skills evolving once again, and with this process comes a whole new set of have-a-go interpreters. Take, for example, the guy who posted a thread entitled ‘Humbug – The Sexual Voyage’ on the Arctic’s official forum, prompting a glut of horny teens to respond with their own ideas of how “this album is chock full of knob references” or, perhaps an even more insightful quote: “I can’t believe I just realised the term ‘crying lightning’ means Alex spunking on a girls face. Genius.” Not being a personal friend of Alex Turner’s, I’m not at liberty to decipher what ‘crying lightning’ actually means, but I’d be willing to bet it doesn’t mean spunking on a girls face. Considering that the lyrics adorning Humbug are probably the most ambitious that Turner has ever written, I’ve taken umbrage to them being reduced to mere metaphors for bodily functions. Sure, the album overall is the darkest, sluttiest and grimiest offering we’ve had from the band, both lyrically and musically, but let’s not go oversimplifying it.
The deliciously sinister nature of Humbug has been widely accredited to Josh Homme, who whisked the Arctic’s off to the Mojave Desert to work his production wizardry. What Homme has not done here, thankfully, is turn the band into a troop of QOTSA clones. His presence is definitely felt on tracks such as Dangerous Animals and Potion Approaching but it’s delicate enough not to trample on the band’s identity. The other aspect of the album focuses on 60s-inspired psychedelica. Perhaps this is why, at times, Humbug feels more like a follow up to The Last Shadow Puppets 2008 album The Age of the Understatement than anything the Arctic Monkeys have previously released. This is particularly apparent on the beautifully naive Cornerstone – a skilfully woven tale about the pains of a broken heart that is rich with lush orchestral sounds. Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford (who also produced The Age of the Understatement) can be thanked for this particular facet of Humbug.
Humbug is likely to be a divisive album amongst Arctic Monkeys fans, as it does see a metamorphosis of the quartet from too-clever-for-their-own-good youngfellas to a (slightly menacing) bunch of brooding blokes, but chances are it’ll win most of the on-the-fencers over in no time.

RIP Les Paul

13 08 2009

Folk’s Finest

8 08 2009

In a world where indie-folk is the closest that conventional media comes to grass roots music, it’s hopeful and humbling to see a beautiful collection of traditional folk songs survive. ‘Folk Songs’, the latest project for James Yorkston – who has put his usual backing band The Athletes on ice whilst he collaborates with The Big Eyes Family Players – is windswept and stripped back in the best possible sense of the words. Taking primary inspiration from folk heroine Annie Briggs and paying homage to songs that have been held close and past down through generations of Irish and British families and townspeople, Yorkston’s take on time-weathered classics such as Sovay (an intricate tale of a young woman who poses as a highway robber to test her lovers dedication) and the frantically sinister Mary Connaught and James O’Connell is a moment of sweet sparsity that somehow rises triumphantly over the cacophony of contemporary music.

Take a look at the clips below of James at work with the Big Eyes Family Players and of ‘Martinmas Time’ from ‘Folk Songs’.

The Dead Weather – Horehound

4 08 2009

As published in Totally Dublin, August 09 issue

An admission from the offset: I hate the term ‘side project’. I find it dismissive and think that it lends any musical undertaking a gimmicky air. With this cleared up, we are free to discuss The Dead Weather’s debut album with the objectivity that it deserves. Co-starring in this venture with Jack White is Alison Mosshart of The Kills, with Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age handling lead guitar duties and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs providing a hard, grimy bass. White takes his rightful place behind the drum kit (it was he, after all, who taught Meg how to wield those sticks with such ferocity) while Mosshart snarls and wails her way through the entirety of Horehound like PJ Harvey if she morphed into some sexy biker chick who devours men by the dozen in a Dusk ‘Til Dawn-style roadhouse. Mosshart and her band, The Kills, have oft been accused of favouring style over substance but, in my estimation, this is bandwagon-jumping judgement at its finest. Not only does Mosshart surpass competence, but the passion with which she attacks each song on this album proves that she has ‘substance’ coursing through every blue vein in her stylish body. If substance is embodied by current indie-press darlings like Glasvegas and other such wet blanket acts, give me superficiality any day.

In fact the whole album, which was cut in just three weeks, is fraught with creative urgency. But rather than giving the album a messy or unpolished finish, this raw hurriedness serves as a vector for the primal bloodlust for the music that first enticed the quartet to recording those first few songs in the analogue studio at Jack White’s Third Man complex in Nashville, Tennessee. Jack doesn’t do modern, and the deliciously seedy retro-blues/garage-rock timbre that he resonates is slathered all over this album. Influences are varied and lucid and with the delta blues style, Son House-inspired Will There Be Enough Water to the reggae-rock tendency of Cut Like a Buffalo and the Rage Against The Machine/Beastie Boys-like undertones of current single, Treat Me Like Your Mother, Horehound proves that The Dead Weather are far, far more than just another ‘side-project’ for the multi-talented Jack White.

Sheena Madden