Album Of The Week: Arctic Monkeys – The Car

Our pick of the week's new album releases is the Sheffield band's elegant and daydreaming seventh LP

Rock’s inclination towards bigger and louder means it can often be the bolder decision to move in the other direction. For some it has been their downfall, for others it has added depth and character. Perhaps, after having created a record the towering pinnacle of their careers with 2013’s AM, it was the only way Arctic Monkeys could turn.

The result, half a decade later, was Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino — a twinkling and gently psychedelic lounge pop album that centred conceptually on a luxury lunar resort; futuristic, but as seen through the warm and dusty lens of 1960s European cinema. It was a move few saw coming and as divisive as one of the moon’s gaping craters. But Alex Turner’s self-aware (though increasingly surrealist) lyrics and producer James Ford’s gentle punch were enough to quickly pull many fans back to earth, while its smoky, drifting flow won over others more gradually.

Arctic Monkeys - Body Paint (Official Video)

On their seventh album, The Car, the shift is less significant. The sci-fi semantics are less pronounced, but the mid-century aesthetics remain. The drums are still as dry and crisp, but the orchestral additions feel more of a fifth member than a late flourish.

If some hadn’t guessed the music direction this time around from singles ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ and ‘Body Paint’, then a discovered Spotify playlist called Del Schwartz – which fans believe to be Turner’s – filled to the brim with late 60s/70s French chamber pop and psych rock, was on the money enough. In a recent interview with a Belgian radio station, Turner seemed to feign knowledge of its existence, but his face says it all.

The elegant lead singles do well to capture the drifting, daydreaming pace of The Car. Some have suggested this may be the beginning of a “post-song” era, with mainstream pop shedding its structural constraints. Maybe. Or it could be they’re just growers. ‘Body Paint’ was released a month ago and yet its comforting, childlike motif only seems to have stuck in the ear recently.

For all the swirls of strings that add to the record’s feeling of fluidity, the wah-wah, caramel funk of ‘Jet Skis On The Moat’ and ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ add a bit of sweet, contrasting grit for traction underfoot.

Arctic Monkeys - I Ain't Quite Where I Think I Am (Official Video)

But daydreaming is an apt feeling for The Car, given how specific yet esoteric Turner’s imagery appears. “Lego Napoleon movie written in noble gas-filled glass tubes underlined in sparks,” he opens on ‘Hello You’, a track that sounds pulled from AM through the cosmic vortex of Tranquility Base. “I’ll admit it’s elaborate for a waking thought.”

In another moment of self-awareness, he’s faced with every musician’s anxiety dream: “I had big ideas, the band were so excited, the kind you’d rather not share over the phone. But now the orchestra’s got us all surrounded and I cannot for the life of me remember how they go.”

Like its predecessor, The Car demands a little time to sit, a little air to breathe. These are certainly not songs raw or familiar enough to share easily over the phone, but they are worth the wait.

The Car is out to buy and stream from 21 October. Get tickets for Arctic Monkeys’ summer 2023 UK tour here.