In the music video for Arctic Monkey’s “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” the band’s lead singer, Alex Turner, gets shit-faced in a bar. He stumbles home, sending and receiving texts with an off-screen love interest. He interacts with angry strangers, sees mirages of people wildly sexing and fellating and, finally, shows up at the front door of the person he’s been texting — except he’s at the wrong apartment. And the girl he’s been texting never texted him in the first place.
The drunken, lovelorn swagger that Turner exhibits in this video is all over the place on Arctic Monkey’s fifth studio album, AM. The album is concerned primarily with two things: getting with girls — be it a lover or a hook-up — and drinking after dark. On the opening track, “Do I Wanna Know?” a sinister, slow-paced guitar riff mixes with hiccupping drumbeats. It’s the sound of cars driving past the window of a dark apartment at night as Turner sits on his couch and sings, “Cause there’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow / And I play it on repeat / Until I fall asleep / Spilling drinks on my settee.” He wishes his love would call, but only “when you’ve had a few.” He’s sly, horny and drunk. And this never changes, not for 12 songs.
On “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” slow-paced, staccato guitars and drumbeats creep slyly as Turner sings from the perspective of his love interest, “Now it’s three in the morning and I’m trying to change your mind / Left you multiple missed calls and to my message, you reply / Why’d you only call me when you’re high, high?” The entirety of AM sports a blasé, drunken cool that, after a while, becomes more uninteresting than cool. Any drunk person at a party can sport a relaxed, uninhibited swagger, but with more and more alcohol and nonchalance, this person can quickly become the most boring person in the room. The mystery woman Turner has been calling understands this when she says, “And you’re starting to bore me, baby, why’d you only call me when you’re high?”
Turner’s loneliness is so deeply entrenched in horniness it’s almost sickening. The central conceit of “Snap Out of It” involves finding out an ex-girlfriend has fallen in love and thinking the only way to get her back is to “grab both your shoulders and shake baby / Snap out of it.” You’re a clingy man, Turner. “No. 1 Party Anthem” — a mind-numbingly boring ballad — is the sound of a drunk man trying to confess his love for a woman, except his idea of love includes having sex with her and passing out in her bed: “Drunken monologues, confused because / It’s not like I’m falling in love / I just want you to do me no good / And you look like you could.” Robin Thicke would be proud.
With this album, Turner has proven himself to be the male version of Best Coast, except he’s more violent and probably an alcoholic. The problem with Turner’s lyrics is that they all sport a considerable amount of swagger without any sense of self- awareness. He takes himself too seriously to be suave. His lyrics are occasionally rich, like on “Arabella,” when he sings, “Asking if I can have one of those / Organic cigarettes that she smokes / Rubs her lips ’round a Mexican Coke / Makes you wish that you were the bottle / Takes a sip of your soul.” Still, the man’s proven himself to be a pompous dick, so it’s hard to crack smiles at lighthearted lines like these.
The instrumentation on the album is similarly mundane. Guitars strut along more slowly than they have on previous Arctic Monkeys records (perhaps because of the album’s alleged hip-hop influence). Drumbeats are sparse and punchy. These choices occasionally complement Turner’s sultry voice quite well, but on the whole, they pussyfoot around the raw sounds that classified early Monkeys releases. “I Want It All” sounds like The Black Keys at their most uninspired. The instrumentation on “Mad Sounds” could easily fit in on a John Mayer album, as could the song’s lame lyrics about “those mad sounds in your ears / To make you get up and dance.” “Arabella” rocks the hardest of any song on the album — it’s just sad that it’s a blatant rip-off of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” If you’re gonna steal, I suppose, steal from the best.
Arctic Monkeys could learn a little something from Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” In four minutes, that song better captured the emotionally crippling sensation of a drunken romantic encounter that starts out promising and fades away as the narrator spins into a haze of alcohol-fueled mania. In 12 songs, Turner and his cronies couldn’t piece together a narrative as captivating as Thom Yorke could in one. Go home, Arctic Monkeys, you’re drunk. And you’re pretty boring.
2.5 out of 5 stars