On checking out of the Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, where else can you go but back down to earth? The reverberations of that jaw-dropping album are still felt today, with countless fans still clutching singalongs of chip shops, bigger boys and stolen sweethearts to their chests, hoping for those days to return. The thing about bands that wander, like love and astronauts, is that they return, but they’re never the same.
Such is the case with The Car, and the band still known as Arctic Monkeys.
Of course, the stories have changed from the early days, but the switch in musical accompaniment has been the most significant barrier to former fans continuing their journey. If anything, The Car ventures further from the thunderous drum fills and razor-wire guitars that cemented the band’s place in with the bricks of UK music and culture. Here, the strings move the listener, the jolts and pauses creating a rhythm in itself, it’s still music to move to, but at a more languid pace.
The funky strut of ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’ shows there is still a sense of Saturday night about the band, a realisation that some part of life must be spent on the dancefloor. Generally, it’s a collection free of time, or perhaps outside of time, suitable for whatever hour of day you pause to reflect. With lockdown turning day into night or vice versa in many households, it’s a disorientating feeling that many should know well.
As with the previous record, it’s wrong to take every line at face value; Turner excels at character play, but there are moments where the mask slips. From the same man who dropped in a line about being so full of shite, the cracks here hint at too much time looking inwards. Then again, if you haven’t overindulged in amateur self-help therapy in recent years, it’s likely you’ve been living on a spa complex on the moon.
And love has always been at the heart of Turners lyric book, not that this is too unusual for songwriters. At times celebrating but more often pursuing it, there are passages on The Car where you feel the loss of love overwhelm the singers’ thoughts. Including tales of a heavy heart on the opening track sets that idea firmly in your mind, and maybe it’s the swooning strings and crooner style that fits neatly with this thought, but there’s an air of melancholy throughout.
Early reviews, fretted over with deadlines in mind, are all hamstrung with the knowledge this record will only fully reveal itself in the months and repeated listens to come. It’s therefore no surprise in the opening half of the record, pre-release track ‘Body Paint’ shines brightest, setting up a stirring run, not race, to the end.
‘Big Ideas’ and ‘Hello You’ might be racked and riddled with doubt, but musically, they’re huge. You don’t need volume or pace to make an impact, and you’re never far from an instance that grabs attention and elevates itself above its surroundings. When it’s all bluster, nothing stands out, and the band has always known this. Previously, the softer moments offset the onslaught; here, it’s the occasional fuzz guitars or the spiralling end of ‘Hello You’ that take you higher. Closer ‘Perfect Sense’ has a more upbeat tone, without being too different from the rest of the record, ensuring the album bows out with a twinge of optimism.
The live shows next summer will be fascinating, but by then, the songs will be familiar to those who wish to know them and imperfect strangers to those who can’t move forward.
There are many years of unpacking The Car to follow, which is fun, but also unnecessary. It’s not the sound of a band in the flush of youth or the eye of the unforecasted storm, neither it should be. Some acts and their fans, oh good lord, their fans, are happy to remain frozen in time, refusing to move from a place and era they felt at home, but for the rest of us, there’s a need to keep moving. The Car seems apt for that journey.