What happens when you take the Arctic Monkeys and plop them down in the middle of the bleedin’ desert with the one and only fucking Josh Homme? Glorious results in the form of their third studio record, that’s what.
The Monkeys are the perfect fit for the Homme’s scorched earth vibe and everything about Humbug is sandy and surly just how it should be. There’s something deeply sinister about the record, too, which drives it further into the consciousness like a rattler slithering into a hole for prey.
The Arctic Monkeys have been criticized for being darlings of the British music press and have had their egos stroked since releasing the first pieces of delicate, busted-up pub rock that filled Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not with such merry enthusiasm and pissed-off cool.
Whether or not the Monkeys deserve all the BJs in Britain is for someone else to decide; Humbug is still one hell of a rock record.
Singer Alex Turner is one cheeky bastard, opening things up on the record with a track called “My Propeller” that turns out to be all about his…”propeller.” The track is packed like sardines with silly aviation metaphors and driven by sun-baked guitar. “My propeller won’t spin and I can’t get it started on my own,” Turner offers. “When are you arriving?”
The pace of the record is much slower and more grounded than some AM fans might be used to. Guitarist Jamie Cook, drummer Matt Helders and bassist Nick O’Malley do more than fill spaces behind their frontman. Their textures are broad and expansive, tingling with spaghetti western guitar and pulsating rhythm to bond gracefully with Turner’s self-loathing.
“Crying Lightning” is a true gem of a track. Cook climbs the stairs with a nice opening riff while Turner matches the rhythm with a slightly smug tone. Humbug’s first single, it cruises like a Corvette with the top down approaching the professional sin of Vegas.
The seared twang of “Dance Little Liar” and the punk bang of “Pretty Visitors” engage well, showing that these Arctic Monkeys can still slither from barstool to barstool without missing a beat.
Humbug effectively and efficiently advances the Arctic Monkeys beyond the teenaged bits and pieces of previous recordings and mines the depths to discover that, even in adulthood, Turner is and probably always will be one miserable bastard. His desolation is, appreciatively enough, our gain. Anything else would be fucking dull anyway.