It wouldn’t be too much of a superlative stretch to say that ‘AM’ has become the album of the decade so far. Since its release back in September of 2013, Arctic Monkeys’ fifth effort has propelled the band from British national treasures to a world-beating concern. After years of trying, it’s the album that finally broke them in America, while on these shores it’s racked them up NME and Brit awards, a Mercury Prize nomination, huge sales and steered them through the biggest headline gigs of their lives.
Tonight, bringing Leeds festival to a close (August 24) with a celebratory Yorkshire homecoming – and with the biggest crowd of the weekend with them – the Monkeys gave ‘AM’ its send off. There are still gigs scheduled overseas throughout the autumn, but as far as the UK goes, this is it for the foreseeable future. And, as far as goodbyes go, their headline overflowed with all the things a goodbye should have: celebration, nostalgia, emotion and, fundamentally, a joyous reminder of exactly why you’ll miss them when they’re away.
If Alex Turner and co have had criticisms levelled at them for being too polished over the last year, then tonight they seemed to be genuinely having fun. There’s the white roses emblazoned on Turner’s jacket (a nod to the War of the Roses) and quips about Sheffield, the singer’s jokey stage chat (“You can do louder than that, come on don’t be a dick,” he laughs, revving the crowd up before ‘When The Sun Goes Down’) and the finale, where the usual kick back in of ‘R U Mine?’ occurs twice, a clearly improvised move as Turner gives the amused look of a man who knows he’s being ridiculous but is having too much fun to care. Add that to a set that manages to pack in nearly all of ‘AM’ alongside one of the most solid greatest hits back catalogues of this century and you’ve got an inarguable triumph.
Of course, the closing of this chapter of the Sheffielders’ story poses the question of where they’ll go next and what they’ll do next. Over the last decade, the band have slowly evolved from spiky upstarts to sultry provocateurs via side projects, solo endeavours and the odd guiding hand from their musical mates.
If their recent work points to anything, it’s that the Monkeys will pick up the R’n’B baton they teased us with on ‘AM’ and run with it. But as the prowl of ‘Humbug’ lead us into the lovesick ‘Suck It And See’ and, in turn, its randy cousin in ‘AM’, there’s equally as much chance that the quartet will wrongfoot us all.
As far as other projects go, a recent reunion during the Arctics’ Finsbury Park shows has already teased the idea of another Last Shadow Puppets record (Turner and Miles Kane have spoken about wanting to make it happen), while drummer Matt Helders has been working on an as-yet-unreleased track with Toddla T. And, following the success of his ‘Submarine’ soundtrack EP, you wouldn’t want to rule out any solo output either.
If most artists have to negotiate their difficult second album (and lord knows, following the gargantuan success of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, Arctic Monkeys know a thing or two about that), then this must be one of the first cases of facing a difficult sixth. Five albums in and Arctic Monkeys have surpassed their own heights and created their own challenge with it. Tonight was a righteously brilliant send off for an album truly deserving off it. We may have seen the last of ‘AM’ in the UK now, but Arctic Monkeys have the look of a band just getting into their stride.