Sound — 8
Make no mistake, this is a band that is not afraid to change things round. In any case they've certainly come a long way from the phronetic, power-chord driven debut "Whatever People Say I Am", and even the haunting tones of their last (Josh Homme influenced) effort "Humbug" are done away with. To fans of the Arctic Monkeys early work this latest album should be a step in the right direction; the fairground horror keyboards have disappeared in favour of a more measured, guitar dominated approach. Elements also remain that have been constant throughout all four albums; schreechy guitar breaks are still a favourite Monkeys trick, as is impressive interaction between lead and rythm parts of a song. Critics might point to a lack of overall direction album-to-album, but this one definitely works musically and, to my mind, is a vast improvement on "Humbug".
Lyrics — 7
What can you say about Alex Turner's songwriting? For many people, the lyrics were what elevated the Arctic Monkeys to their "best band in the country" billing in the first place; tracks like "Mardy Bum" and "Fluorescent Adolescent" were brilliant, not only for the lyrical invention, but because they were easy to follow and relate to. That, I suppose, was bound to change once they got famous, and so it has come to pass. The invention is still there, Turner isn't a man to be stuck for words, but most if not all of the "four normal lads from Sheffield" appeal has, sadly and inevitably, been lost. As has that same phronetic energy from the "Sound" section. No more are songs as quick-fire as "Fluorescent Adolescent" or even "Pretty Visitors" from "Humbug". That isn't necessarily detrimental as the vocal delivery, as with the music, has taken a smoother, more measured route, what bothers me is that some of the songs are so cloaked in metaphor that it's difficult to know what they're supposed to be about. That would be fine if there wasn't also the feeling that Turner wouldn't put pen to paper without a damn good reason for doing so. Indeed, "Reckless Serenade" strikes me as an admission that he just doesn't know what he's meant to be writing songs about anymore, but the beauty of that, ironically enough, is I could be entirely wrong. Still, even through the nagging doubts comes the undeniable truth that the lyrics, though ambiguous, are brilliant. It's just a shame that they're so difficult to follow.
Overall Impression — 8
All in all, the album is yet another stage in the Arctic Monkeys development. What will be interesting is if they now settle down into a groove or if they keep fans guessing indefinitely, which to some is now their main appeal. At the very least they sound as if they're having more fun than they did on "Humbug", and in it's best parts this album can either grab and hold your attention or make you smile. Closing track "That's Where You're Wrong" is the highlight for me, probably because it's one of the few I feel I understand, and because there's slightly more energy about it than most of the others. "Library Pictures" is particularly good lyrically as well, as is "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair". The album is well worth buying and will grow on you after a few listens, but I fear the band is probably doomed, through no real fault of their own, never to hit the heights of their debut again in terms of smash hits. Better than "Humbug", as good as "Favourite Worst Nightmare", short of "Whatever People Say That I Am, That's What I'm Not".