If Favourite Worst Nightmare was a sketchbook of Arctic Monkeys' responses to their vertiginous success then Humbug seems to represent the more considered comedown after a few years pursuing alternative diversions.
So while there are still a few circling vampires following in the footsteps of the repellent entrepreneur of "Brianstorm" and the "ambitiously vicious" witches of "If You Were There, Beware", Alex Turner's responses are less arch and acid, more those of a man in control, rather than racing to keep up with the pace of success.
Turner's Last Shadow Puppets side-project revealed his rapidly growing musical ambitions, but even so, the choice of Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme as producer of this Monkeys follow-up, along with hints that their new sound might be flavoured by the influences of Black Sabbath and Nick Cave, suggested they might be moving in a moodier direction altogether. And certainly, with its slow tempos and dark shadings, there's an oddly brooding, dissatisfied tone about Humbug that transfers all too easily to the listener.
It wouldn't be so discomfiting if the songs were distinctive enough to become quickly memorable; but with Turner garbling his lines over all-too-similar combinations of rumbling drum patterns and lumpy guitar riffs further stodged up with unremarkable organ parts, and notably lacking the melodic clarity of previous efforts, this is a difficult third album indeed, and one for which it is hard to develop a ready affection.
Rather than Nick Cave, Turner seems to have adopted the mantle of Jim Morrison, albeit with less fancifully mythopoeic lyrics – is that actually an improvement? His invitation to "have a spin on my propeller", combined with a reference to "momentary synergy", projects a more declassé version of Morrison's pompous pussy-hound poet persona – as too does his come-on over the brusque riff of "Dangerous Animals", "It's been long enough now, so let's make a mess, lioness". Less happily, on "Cornerstone" Turner sounds like he's doing a Morrissey spoof, the band developing an equivalent pallor to the drabber corners of his solo catalogue.
"Dance Little Liar" is more satisfying, with the bass looming over sparse, juddering vibrato guitar slashes and fussy drum rolls. "Pretty Visitors" sounds how you'd expect a Monkeys/ Homme hook-up to sound, ie like an earlier, uptempo Monkeys track wearing a girdle of heavy rock guitars, bisected by a slow, ponderous middle eight in which satanic monks chant the chorus over Gothic horror organ. Like the whole album, it's different from anything they've done before, but is it any better? I'm not convinced.
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