Sound — 9
With plenty of debate to go around, the Arctic Monkeys have been critical darlings since delivering 2006's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. It seemed like the British indie rock group could do no wrong, particularly in the eyes and ears of the NME publication and a feast of award shows and many would say that attention is deserved. Through it all, there was always somewhat of a happy-go-lucky, garage rock vibe that popped up in the Arctic Monkeys' music. Things have changed and in a rather good way. With their latest release Humbug, the band has opted for a sleeker, mellower, and moodier album. The quartet might claim that producer Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) didn't have a massive influence on their sound, but Humbug indicates otherwise. And again, regardless of what the setup was in the studio or who pulled the strings, it still worked out beautifully. From the opening track My Propeller, the tone is a mellow, cool one. While the Arctic Monkeys' past two records had at least a handful of upbeat, danceable tracks, Humbug is all about creating an ambient mood. My Propeller is the perfect way to initiate that approach with its deep bass and guitar lines, not to mention the smooth vocal delivery of Alex Turner. Don't let the fact that everything is taken down a notch scare you. There is some gorgeous instrumentation, with quirky guitar lines added underneath vocal sections and interesting percussion timing included to the mix. Homme does offer his guitar/vocal skills to some of Humbug, with the tracks Dance Little Liar and Fire and the Thud sounding extremely like a product of Queens of the Stone Age. There's a slide/lap steel used on Fire and the Thud that is undeniably Homme, and even the vocals on Dance Little Liar feel influenced by the frontman. Those two songs are not necessarily carbon copies of QOTSA, however, and the addition of backing vocals from Dead Weather's Alison Mosshart certainly adds another texture to Fire and the Thud.
Lyrics — 10
When you combine the vocal phrasing style with the actual lyrical content on Humbug, you have a winner through and through. This is not a case of regurgitated lyrics, and you'll hear something novel in every track. Highlights on the record are My Propeller (It is a necessary, evil; No cause for emergency; Borrow the beak of a bald eagle; Oh, momentary synergy) and Crying Lightning (Said your mistaken if you're thinking that I haven't been caught cold before; As you bit into your strawberry lace; And then a flip in your attention in the form of a gobstopper).
Overall Impression — 9
The Arctic Monkeys can't be accused of following the same formula to stay in the graces of both critics and fans. Humbug is an album pretty much devoid of upbeat numbers (with the exception of a song like Pretty Visitors), but the band is still able to impress with creative minimalism. Whether guitarist Jamie Cook selects a dreamy effect to be placed only on certain lines underneath the verse or Alex Turner delivers a lyric in a completely unexpected manner, this is a forward-thinking offering. Yes, you can make several comparisons to Queens of the Stone Age throughout, but honestly it's unexpected for the Arctic Monkeys to even attempt that type of style. It's an effective direction for the band that continues to surprise.