Baltimore Sun

On Arctic Monkeys, growing pains and lowered expectations

Here’s a confession: I’m a sucker for the next big thing. When I first heard the Strokes’ “New York City Cops,” I immediately hopped on board. I gave fair shakes to the Hives, Bloc Party and even the Vines. Basically, if NME put a band on its cover, I was going to see what the fuss was about.

This includes Arctic Monkeys, a personal favorite based on the strength of their filler-free debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Alex Turner, who dates my U.K. crush Alexa Chung, was an easily loveable frontman, all Sheffield swagger and boozed up adrenaline. Whatever People Say I Am is a classic debut full of tongue-in-cheek observations, drugs, humor, sad people, late nights, liars, lovelorn ballads and the genuine angst only teenagers can create. It was everything I hoped it’d be and more; a band finally living up to the sensational headlines.

And then came the growing pains. Subsequent records found the Monkeys diversifying their sound with diminishing results (at least in comparison to Whatever). Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) was well received but marked a shift toward heavier, more dizzying backdrops. Humbug (2009) found the group working with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. It was the Monkeys’ take on psychedelia, with nods to Black Sabbath, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Just like Favourite, there were no bad songs per se, but only one track — the lush, beautiful slow-burner “Cornerstone” — stands up to their strongest cuts. Early Monkeys songs had no trouble invigorating the listener. You wanted to pound a beer, smoke a cigarette and maybe hit on a girl or three with these guys. Now, with their droning songs of sludge and ponderous lyrics (“and how you like to aggravate the ice cream man on rainy afternoons” went the chorus to Humbug’s first single “Crying Lightning”), you’d expect to be passed a bong and call it a night.

Which brings us to today, and an official announcement of the band’s fourth album, Suck It and See. Yes, that’s the album title, and yes, that alone has me worried. The tracklisting includes the zooted titles “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” and “Love is a Laserquest.” Sounds trippy, and based on the first single, “Brick by Brick,” the album could be headed down a strange rabbit hole.

This is mostly speculation, and it's important to remember all four members of Arctic Monkeys are scarily talented, especially head-songwriter Turner. Yet here I am, approaching a release from one of the most promising bands from last decade with skepticism and a hint of trepidation. What happened to the sniping faux authenticity of "Fake Tales of San Francisco"? The hot-breath horniness of "Dancing Shoes"? The no-chaser-needed smoothness of "Riot Van"? Bands are free to "grow" and expand their palettes, but that doesn't mean everyone will enjoy the finished product. We won't know the damage or the excellence until June 7, but I'd be lying if I didn't call my expectations measured.

So tonight I'll hopefully raise my glass to overblown overreactions and to a simpler time of teenagers stumbling out of the pub on their way to next morning's hangover.