A question, mere mortals: what have you done in the last six years? Because even the hardest-working amongst you would probably be shamed by Alex Turner’s prolificness. Since 2006, he’s released four albums with the Arctic Monkeys – and that’s not to mention those stand-alone EPs, singles and whatnot in the interim, too – while also finding time to record his own soundtrack and release an album with his best friend. And, what’s more, he rarely dips below being top-notch, either – there’s no half-arsed rush-releases or phoned-in performances, but just a litany of great records. Join NME, now, as we count down the best of his half-dozen releases – and let us know how you’d rank his canon by leaving us a comment below.
In which the boy Turner proffered a slick, stripped-down soundtrack for his old mucker Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut of the same name. A charmingly subtle and romanticism-soaked collection of ditties, its only its relative brevity that hinders ‘Submarine’ from ranking higher: ‘Piledriver Waltz’, in particular, is one of his finest composition with its swooning score and knack for punctuating grandiosity with everyday ennui (“You look like you’ve been for breakfast at the Heartbreak Hotel… Your waitress was miserable and so was your food”). It makes us hanker for a proper full-length solo outing, that’s for sure…
“It sorted the men from the boys,” quipped Helders, recently, when asked about the Monkeys’ most polarizing work: a hot’n’heavy oppressive beast forged in the desert with QOTSA’s Josh Homme on production duties. And while I’m extremely dubious that an injection of testosterone and odd sprouting of facial hair is more like to make one fall for its charms, there’s no doubt that ‘Humbug’ divides opinion into two camps: the naysayers who bemoan its scant reliance on the none-more-catchy choruses and provincial pop of yore, and those who worship at the psychedelic rock alter of ‘My Propeller’, ‘Potion Approaching’ et al. Vintage Arctics? Perhaps not, but it’s churlish to gripe about an LP that, in spots, is so primordial and primeval.
4‘The Age Of The Understatement’
What, one wonders, would young Master Kane be doing nowadays, if it weren’t for the patronage of his pal Alex? Would Miles’ solo career be in the same state of rude health? Would The Rascals still be knocking around? We know not, but it’s worth noting, too, that The Last Shadow Puppets’ debut LP also gave us a glimpse of another side of the Monkeys’ man: a figure less concerned with shady city centers and dens of inequity, and instead rummaging around in a faded velvety music-box littered with old Scott Walker records. Now, if they’d just hurry up and bloody make another one…
3‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’
It often seems as if the Monkeys’ second LP is the most cruelly overlooked in their canon: the debut’s deemed the bona-fide classic (more on that later); ‘Humbug’ is the tricky experimental one; ‘Suck It And See’ the swaggering game-changer; and so forth. But even if ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ doesn’t easily fit a reductive label, it’s got some absolute corkers on it. ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ is one of their finest sing-along triumphs, period; ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Teddy Picker’ are brilliantly nasty, built on spit’n’sawdust riffs and Alex’s acerbic lyrics; and the likes of ‘505’, ‘Old Yellow Bricks’ and ‘Only Ones Who Know’ showed just how far they’d kicked on since ‘Whatever…’. The cliché about ‘difficult second albums’ was already pretty tired; this follow-up effort made it look as old-hat as they come.
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2’Suck It And See’
If some folks – wrongly – believed that Alex and co were under pressure to deliver the goods after ‘Humbug’, then boy, what a stinging riposte ‘Suck It And See’ was. And, just like its predecessor, it was all about ripping up what people thought they knew, wanted and expected from them: it’s no coincidence, you imagine, that the playful, garage-sludge meatiness of ‘Brick By Brick’ was the album’s first taster. It’s as stylish, slick and varied as the Monkeys have arguably ever been: from the jangle-pop perfection of ‘She’s Thunderstorms’ or sparkle-spotted ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalala’, to the riff-heavy ‘Don’t Sit Down Cuse I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and sprawling closer ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’. If you were looking for something tasty to much on last year, there weren’t many finer treats that you could pop in your gob.
1’Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
“Essentially this is a stripped-down, punk rock record with every touchstone of Great British Music covered: The Britishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of The Stone Roses, the anthems of Oasis, the clatter of The Libertines…”
So said NME back in our wide-eyed, white-knuckled, blood-racing-downing-to-our-privates 10/10 review back in 2006. And, frankly, what’s left to be said? Like all the greats before them, what made the Monkeys’ first full-length such a corker – and worthy of a spot amongst the best British full-lengths of all time – was how it cherry-picked from the past but was stamped with their own inimitable mark. The DNA of the Smiths, Kinks et al was present in their blueprint, but it’s still undeniably Turner’s album, chocked with his clever-clever wordplay and dry wit whether he’s eviscerating scenesters (‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’), sympathizing with hookers (‘When The Sun Goes Down’), failing miserably on the pull (‘Still Take You Home’) or rolling his eyes at his dim-witted mates (‘A Certain Romance’). Six years on, it still feels like a classic – and the first coming of a star frontman and songwriter to boot…