The Arctic Monkeys new release has proved controversial among fansDaniel Hilton with permission for Varsity

Following the release of the much anticipated album 'The Car', fans of the Arctic Monkeys have been left split into two camps - those who accept the band's evolution to a different sound, and those who grieve the four lads from Sheffield and their high energy rock anthems. Varsity's Michael Hennessey and Georgie Atkinson go head-to-head on this and argue whether this is a metamorphosis or a change too far.

'The greatest band of their generation are built around transformation' - Michael Hennessey

‘Guess I’m talking to you now / Puncturing your bubble of relatability / With your horrible new sound’ croons Alex Turner on the third track of the new Arctic Monkeys album ‘The Car’. Turner echoes recent criticism of the band’s ‘horrible new sound’ in his own songwriting. But the critics of the Arctic Monkeys’ new direction miss the point - the greatest band of their generation are built around transformation.

Turner’s band has been in the midst of transformation across all seven of their studio albums, but never more so than on ‘The Car’ and their previous album, the controversial ‘Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino’. Five years after releasing their most popular album ‘AM’, the band dropped 2018’s ‘Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino’, where guitars and drums were largely ditched for a piano and tales of a luxury resort on the moon. 

The change was not welcomed by many, and the unexpectedly sedate album prompted much criticism. Fear circulated in the summer of 2018 that those iconic stalwarts of twenty-first century British culture had changed and would never be the same again. 

That same fear is present in the reception that the band’s new album ‘The Car’ has received. The rock of ‘AM’ has not returned, as Turner leans into strings and an 80s David Bowie styling.

The lyrics themselves foreground a theme of surveillance throughout the album, perhaps a commentary on how a group of Sheffield teenagers feel growing up in the public eye. The album cover itself, a photo taken by drummer Matt Helder’s of a car on a rooftop taken from a distance, contribute to the espionage feel of the album, as do Turner’s lyrics. On the dark, foreboding ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’, he sings of ‘Village coffee mornings with not long since retired spies / Now that’s my idea of a good time’ before referring to ‘sweeping for bugs in some dusty apartment’ on the album’s titular track. 

That is not the only continuity with older albums. Despite claims from many that the band only produces slow, lounge music, some songs on ‘The Car’ would not be out of place on ‘AM’. ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ and single ‘Body Paint’ utilise the talents of the whole band to create classic rock tunes that will not be out of place on setlists next summer alongside ‘R U Mine?’ and ‘Brianstorm’.

Despite the negative reception from some quarters, many of the problems that fans of older Arctic Monkeys albums had with their changing style are resolved here on ‘The Car’. The ten songs on the album cannot be described as slow or one note, a criticism consistently levelled at their 2018 album. Although overly confusing and lengthy lyrics remain in some cases, especially when Turner sings on ‘Hello You’ of a ‘Lego Napoleon movie / Written in noble gas-filled glass tubes / Underlined in sparks’, the effect that this has on the album is far more limited than on ‘Tranquillity Base’.

By now, many critics and fans are dividing the Arctic Monkeys into two bands. The moshpit-friendly indie rockers of ‘AM’ fame, finding new fans through a recent explosion on Tiktok, and the experimental lounge music of later years. But the differences between these two, diverging bands are not as significant as many would argue. Anthemic rock anthems remain, but are supplemented by strings and drawn out metaphors. Besides, the whole point of the Arctic Monkeys is to keep changing. After all, their 2006 debut album put it best: ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’.

'As impactful as a wet paper bag' - Georgie Atkinson

‘I elongated my way home; I took the long way round.’ A lyric taken from the Arctic Monkeys’ experimental album from 2009, Humbug, and a lyric that could be attributed to the painful experience of listening to the Arctic Monkeys’ newest release, The Car. Humbug was an album that demonstrated (as aptly noted by my colleague), that the Arctic Monkeys are built around transformation. However, their newest release is perhaps the last evolution and transformation that the lads from High Green, Sheffield will make.  

Georgie cowers behind the Arctic Monkey's latest releaseDaniel Hilton with permission for Varsity

If you have been following the Arctic Monkeys’ lyricism with a fine-tooth comb like I perhaps rather sadly have, it will not come as a surprise that this album appears to be a eulogy to their career. We have been teased that this might be the case with lyrics such as, ‘bear with me lads, I’ve lost my train of thought,’ taken from their last album Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino. This confused rhetoric is once again reiterated throughout, The Car. Alex Turner succinctly notes, ‘And I cannot for the life of me remember how they go’, in reference to song lyrics, whilst serenading his audience on the track Big Ideas. Ironically it could also be noted that being forgettable is characteristic of the album itself. 

As a body of work, The Car rather than being a bastion of an evolution of sound, is just a muddle of memory, nostalgia, and lament, which does not resonate on any level. There is a certain sense of apathy aimed towards the music industry imbued throughout the album. This apathy appears to have seeped out into the music itself, as the album lacks the characteristic wit that their work usually contains. Whilst I will happily accept that there was a success with the more melodic lounge album Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino, it is notable that the rock elements of the album were the glue that held the album together. On The Car, the limited use of rock combined with watery eyed nostalgia, makes the album about as impactful as a wet paper bag. 

There has been a fascination with nostalgia that has haunted the six previous studio albums from the Arctic Monkeys. Perhaps this album was foreshadowed when Turner shrieked, ‘who wants to wake up in a city that never wakes up? Blinded by nostalgia,’ on the band’s second album. It appears that the band have ironically become their own, ‘favourite worst nightmare’. The once youthful rawness and wit of the band’s music seems to have been transformed into apathy disguised as nostalgia.  


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I will boldly state that this album sounds more like a contractual obligation rather than a genesis of a new sound. It does appear that Alex Turner is throwing in the proverbial towel with the euphemistic lyric, ‘when it’s over you’re supposed to know,’ on the track Jet Skis on the Moat. Whilst I accept that this album is disappointing for those who found the Arctic Monkeys through a 15 second clip of 505 on TikTok, it is also a painful listen to those who have stayed resolute to the band throughout all of their iterations. 

Whilst my colleague fears that their fan base are lamenting the new release, perhaps the true question to ask is whether the Arctic Monkeys are lamenting their own career with  The Car? It has all but been confirmed that the Arctic Monkeys are headlining Glastonbury next year, and it is fair to say that this is a perfect farewell album to accompany them on what will potentially be a farewell tour.