Nostalgic, heavily orchestrated, cynical, and surprisingly self-conscious, The Car—the Arctic Monkeys’ seventh studio album—is a reflective piece focused on the band’s journey through different styles and its relationship with the audience.
After the release of the Arctic Monkeys’ 2018 jazz and sci-fi themed album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, many fans were disappointed and shocked by the sudden transition from indie rock hits such as “R U Mine?” to lyrically puzzling and slow-paced songs such as “The Ultracheese.”
In response to the backlash, The Car, which came out on Oct. 21, communicates a yearning for the band’s initial success and an acceptance of its change and growth.
“Sci-fi is off the table,” frontman Alex Turner said. “We are back on Earth.”
Self-critical lyrics dominate the album and serve as evidence of the band’s return to Earth.
Turner—with his signature aviator sunglasses, leather jacket or suit, and nonchalant onstage personality—is a crafted character, unable to strip down and expose all his flaws and insecurities. Almost every song on the album hints at this revelation.
“And I’m keeping on my costume / I’m calling it a writing tool,” Turner sings on the orchestra-driven song “Body Paint.”
By speaking through metaphors on “Body Paint,” Turner saves himself from the emotional vulnerability that comes with more honest lyrics. It is clear he feels most comfortable behind the grand persona he’s built through his pretentious but complex traits.
On the third track, “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” the album takes a brief turn from the retro and silky mood of the first two tracks—”There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” and “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am”—to an edgy and confrontational tone.
Drummer Matt Helders and guitarist Jamie Cook create a dark atmosphere as Turner mocks the closed-mindedness of critics who still long for the old Arctic Monkeys.
“Puncturing your bubble of relatability / With your horrible new sound / Baby, those mixed messages ain’t what they used to be,” Turner sings on “Sculptures of Anything Goes.”
But, through a few vulnerable moments, Turner also confesses that he feels he has let down both his audience and fellow bandmates.
“I had big ideas, the band were so excited / The kind you’d rather not share over the phone / But now, the orchestra’s got us all surrounded / And I cannot for the life of me remember how they go,” Turner sings on “Big Ideas.”
These brief moments of vulnerability anchor the album.
As a lead singer, songwriter, and occasional director of the band’s music videos, Turner speaks in first person about his leading role in the band. As he mentions in the lyrics of “Big Ideas”, the band got its fans “out of their seats, waving their arms and stomping their feet.” But Turner admits that it’s a thrilling scene with a magnitude that the band cannot recreate.
“Even if I wanted to make a record that sounds like the ones we were making 10 years ago, I don’t think I could,” Turner said in a 2020 interview for Rumore Magazine.
The Car conveys this nostalgia for the past, but resists the urge of lingering on it. Instead, it develops an objective, mature, and more present tone, making the album the band’s most honest work.
The Arctic Monkeys’ new album isa creative work made about and for its fans. It is passive aggressive in the sense that it acknowledges its audience’s desires but refuses to bend to them.
It is beautiful to see the evolution of the Arctic Monkeys who, despite criticism, have not given up on their authenticity. The Car is a symbol of the band’s departure from its younger self— it is neither home nor on the way to a clear destination, only moving forward. The 10 tracks, all thematically consistent, create the exciting sensation of being inside an imaginary vehicle on a non-stop journey with the band.