It started for NME (and me) at Glastonbury a few weeks ago, where I spent a day shadowing and interviewing Arctic Monkeys as they prepared to headline Worthy Farm.
What I think is particularly brilliant about this band – from a journo’s point of view, you understand – is the level of access they allow people like me. As a group they seem keen to tell their story in the best possible way, which they know isn’t by ramming it down people’s throats and doing hundreds of soundbite interviews over a few days in some faceless hotel. This is undeniably great and undoubtedly rare in 2013. Long gone are the days where a journo gets to spend weeks on end on the road with a huge band, sadly.
But crucially, what Arctic Monkeys and the team of people around them seem to really understand, is that in order to get the best from these kind of situations it really is worthwhile letting people into their inner circle. Which is, I think I’m right in saying, exactly what they’ve done with NME this time around.
From sitting in Domino Records’ HQ with label head Laurence Bell playing me the album just before Glastonbury (the excitement on his face was infectious), to speaking to the band mere seconds before and after that great Worthy Farm set (nerves? They were palpable beforehand to the point where I even started to feel my stomach churn for them), they really have tried to take us – and hopefully you, readers – every step of the way.
So, the new album then. We chatted for a good couple of hours about it on the day of Glasto. By this point I’d only heard it once – with Laurence – where I’d frantically written loads of notes down on the back of an envelope. At one point in our Glasto chats Alex whipped his phone out as he’d written his own notes on that, which was quite funny. I’m always sceptical about judging albums after one listen, but it’s often the name of the game in this business, and in any case I must have heard ‘AM’ about 50 times since then. And I really, really do think it’s something very special indeed.
It bugs me that fans still have to wait so long to hear it though – senseless bragging about being first on something is never nice – so I thought it might be cool to do a blog listing all the influences I can hear on the album, in order to give you an idea of what to expect from it. It’s compiled from stuff the band told me in the interviews, to lyrics (loads of Alex’s lines namecheck other songs), to songs I reckon they were listening to a lot when making it in sunny Los Angeles; a place that looms very, very large over the record indeed…
Some notes about those songs:
Amazing riffs are all over AM, with the electric-shock bit (52 seconds in) of Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ nabbed wholesale on ‘Arabella’, which is my favourite song on the record. Funnily enough, Captain Beyond also used the same riff on ‘Raging River Of Fear’ too. Wonder if the Monkeys were listening? That band were kind of like a 70s version of Monkeys, in a way – a Brit band who ensconced themselves in LA for a few years and totally absorbed the culture there.
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‘2000 Light Years From Home’ makes the cut not because of the sound of any AM tracks, but a lyric on the album. “Ain’t it just like you to kiss me and then hit the road / leave me listening to the Stones / 2000 Light Years From Home” sings Alex on the brilliant, T-Rex infused ‘I Want It All’. It’s a proper moment.
Babe Ruth are probably the most unfashionable band I could possibly reference here – proper prog dinosaurs – but the bass in ‘The Mexican’ sounds uncannily like Nick’s work on ‘Fireside’.
The two Lou Reed tracks are included because of ‘Mad Sounds’. It’s one of the best things Arctic Monkeys have ever done, in my opinion, and perfectly encapsulates the woozy, fucked up atmosphere of ‘…Wild Side’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. Side note: Alex told me he wanted the record to have a dirty feeling overall, like Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’.
As for the rap stuff – it’s more about the rhythms than anything. The new album isn’t G-funk. Or full of keyboards Or rapping. But the drums and bass are massively, massively influenced from the stuff Dre, Outkast et al were doing at the turn of the century.
Ditto Aaliyah, but for the backing vocals rather than rhythms. You could add Destiny’s Child, En Vogue and, fuck, maybe even Haim to that list too (co-producer James Ford was working on their record at the same time as he was AM). The vocal influence of tracks like ‘Try Again’ is all over the place. “Ex-girlfriend music,” is how the band describe it.
And there’s John Cooper Clarke, of course (pictured below). Alex cribs his poem for album closer ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, but it sounds nothing like the JCC’s track in the playlist. Instead it’s a sad, yearning lament that’s stuffed full of lust. Bit of a tearjerker, all things told. It’s the first time the band have ever used a drum machine too.
Some other tracks that could have made the playlist but either weren’t on Spotify or made the whole thing sound a bit disjointed:
Ike Turner and The Family Vibes – Jumpin’. Alex was keen to talk about Ike during our chat, saying that brilliant quote about how the album sounds like a Dre beat, with an Ike haircut, galloping across the desert on a Strat guitar. I can’t hear a huge amount of obvious Ike/Tina influences in the album, personally, but it’s there in spirit for sure. I guess there are elements that sound like it too – like this track from Ike’s much-ignored early 70s side project The Family Vibes. It’s funk-rock-blues, which kind of sums ‘AM’ up too.
John Lennon – ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)’. This just must have been an inspiration for ‘No.1 Party Anthem’. Both tracks share than James Bond style cabaret mentality – piano-led, glitzy but with totally cool, sharp lyrics. I think this one is about a strip bar in LA all the Brit bands go to while they’re there. But what do I know?
Dusty Springfield – ‘The Look Of Love’. Mentioned by Alex in the lyrics to ‘No.1 Party Anthem’, alongside…
…Madness – ‘House Of Fun’. And “A Rush Of Blood” (by Coldplay) too.
Marvin Gaye – ‘Sexual Healing’. The backing vocals on ‘I Want It All’ echo the “get up, get up” bits from ‘Sexual Healing’. Surely a knowing nod to the soul king.
Bob Crewe and Charles Fox – ‘Smoke (Viper Vapor)’. This tune is from the Barbarella soundtrack, a film that’s referenced outright in ‘Arabella’, right down to the central character’s “silver swimsuit”.
Speaking of films, here’s some other stuff you might wanna watch to get in the mood: Mean Streets (mentioned in the lyrics to ‘Knee Socks’), Louis CK’s ‘Hilarious’ (the band are well into their comedy) and, well, anything directed by Fellini. Asked where the album would be set if it was a film, Alex said he’d want it to “seem like a Fellini dream sequence”. Sounds alright to me.