A few weeks ago we published a blog titled, ‘Guys, Alex Turner is a method actor’. Here’s the gist: on every album, Alex Turner is playing a different character. Arctic Monkeys‘ latest, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, finds the frontman as a sleazy, washed up fiend sat at the back of the bar by the piano. ‘AM’ saw him embrace his leather-clad rock-god persona. Before that was ‘Suck It And See’, which was born out of his relocation to New York to portray his latest role as, to quote the piece, a “Lou Reed-esque singer-songwriter, writing lovelorn guitar ballads”. This might sound like an act, but really, it’s almost certainly the most transparent Turner and the band have, and might ever be. And it resulted in their most enjoyable album.
Let’s go back a bit and peek into where the band’s head was at post-’Humbug’. Speaking to NME in 2011, they admitted it was a risky and often difficult album, none more evident in Turner’s pensive and not-at-all-playful words. “There were times in the lyrics on ‘Humbug’ where, yeah, I went into some corners that I didn’t need to,” he told us. And he’s right. By no stretch of the imagination is ‘Humbug’ fun. It stirs in it’s own swamp of sticky riffs and vivid wordplay, but outside of ‘Cornerstone’, leaves you feeling colder than a night under the desert’s starry night sky.
So it’s not say that the band had something to prove on ‘Suck It And See’, but it found them in a place where they were comfortable with who they were. They’d gone to the desert and made their ‘big boy’ record, and began to distance themselves from the cheeky personas of the first two albums. ‘Suck It And See’, then, showcased the band corralling their career’s next phase and led it into bold new territory.
Mainly because it’s a bloody laugh – and even Turner admitted that. “I think there’s some humour on that album [Humbug] but it’s definitely more prominent in this one”, he told us in 2011. “There’s a few more gags. Not just in the words but in some of the guitar solos and that as well.” One only has to look as far as the album’s first single ‘Brick By Brick’, a gloriously basic in-joke that went too far, which acted that as a giant middle-finger to those who were doubting their credentials before they released the first single proper, ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I Moved Your Chair’. ‘Brick By Brick’ is Helders’ first (and only) proper go on lead vocals, and though is basically made up of four repetitive lines and has become a meme in the AM fanbase, the song’s hard-rock DNA can be found on the riff-tastic gems like ‘R U Mine?’ and ‘Do I Wanna Know?’.
There are funny quips throughout, too. Like Turner’s “I’m in a vest” on ‘Library Pictures’, and the gags about being from “High Green” at the end of ‘All My Own Stunts’. For the first time, the band had nothing to prove – so they might as well have a laugh with it. Hell, they called it ‘Suck It and See’ and made the artwork a plain white background. They gave zero actual fucks about what you thought about them at this point.
Not only is it wickedly funny and the band at their most transparent, it features some of their best ever songs too. ‘Piledriver Waltz’ harbours a staggeringly charming opening line (“I etched the face of a stopwatch, on the back of a raindrop”), and the album’s title song is so damn romantic they’ll be hard-pressed to ever top it. There are some seriously under-appreciated songs on here, too. ‘All My Own Stunts’ proved to be one of the band’s most electrifying moments on their ensuing tour, and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ was born to be a live classic, though they never quite were able to work it into their setlist with consistency. A bloody crime, to be honest.
Anyone who is disappointed with ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ ought to trace backwards and dive back into ‘Suck It and See’. The songwriting playbook is basically the same, but with a whole lot less piano and tonnes of silliness. Whereas ‘TBH+C’ was influenced by niche arthouse flick 8½, ‘Suck It and See’s origins are far more down to earth. “We had Transformers on telly on mute and started playing all this, like, chimey guitar,” Turner said to NME of the recording process in 2011. “I’d love to tell you we were watching some French new wave cinema,” says Alex. “But no, we were watching Transformers.” If you thought Arctic Monkeys lost all their boyish charm when they decamped to the desert for ‘Humbug’, you’re oh-so-mistaken.
‘Suck It and See’, then, is the band’s ‘Rubber Soul’. Much like how The Beatles spent the early part of their career penned in by commercial expectations, they broke out and proved they were much more than novelty love songs on their experimental, but concise sixth album. The same must be said about ‘Suck It and See’ – they’d done the hard bit, now they wanted to have some fun.
When we put it to them in 2011 about their chaotic rise to the top, and how they could be revisiting it on their fourth album, Turner replied, “We’ll never get that initial naivety back. You can’t fake a thing like that.” Honestly, ‘Suck It and See’ is as real as it gets.