Sheffield stars Arctic Monkeys have returned with their 7th studio album The Car. Released on Domino Records and produced by regular collaborator James Ford, the album takes a sizeable yet logical step forward from their previous effort, 2018’s Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino. Originally expected to be a return to the stadium rock of AM, the band instead basks in a sea of luscious strings to deliver another dosage of relaxed balladry.
The use of an orchestra is one that feels long overdue on an Arctic Monkeys record, with Alex Turner usually preferring to scratch that itch alongside Miles Kane as The Last Shadow Puppets. The influence of two of Turner’s long-cited idols, Scott Walker and Ennio Morricone, are more prevalent on this album than ever before, as is his current preference to craft songs with the piano rather than the guitar. The result is the band’s most sonically diverse project since 2009’s Humbug, with a marriage of sweeping strings and piercing electric guitar befitting of a Bond soundtrack.
The titular car is mentioned fleetingly several times throughout the record. It seems as if the car itself is not important, but instead what it represents; a symbol of the mundane nature of everyday life, but also something that can be used to escape it. It can be assumed that the band have opted for the latter, as the imagery of Mediterranean coastlines conjured by the lyrics and compositions contrast entirely with the album cover, which depicts a white Toyota Corolla sat faithfully atop a high-rise car park.
The band once again display their preference for keeping LPs short but sweet, with the album clocking in at around 37 minutes, eerily similar to most of their other projects. However, it does feel as if this album could have afforded to buck this trend. There is no doubt that the instrumentation is the main strength of The Car, and some more extended, self-indulgent instrumental passages would have been welcome. The songs that are afforded this luxury, such as the beautiful lead single Body Paint, and dreamy opener There’d Better Be A Mirrorball emerge as the standout tracks. In contrast cuts such as Mr Schwartz and Perfect Sense end far too swiftly to make the impact they could have, especially considering that they appear right at the end of the album. These songs fail to match the gravity of previous Artic Monkeys closers.
The Car is yet another example of the UK’s biggest band offering us another evolution coupled with a healthy dose of nostalgia, and although not fully realised on this project, it is a sound that could well bear riper fruit on the next.