Take to social media over the last six years of any publicly broadcast Arctic Monkeys performance or album release, and there they are, cloying for the days of nightclub mania. Polarising an audience as large as those who turn out for Alex Turner and company is no small feat, but it is a growing tradition for bands in Sheffield to turn themselves on their head. Nobody is expecting The Reytons to come out with a soft-spoken set of ballads, they are very much what happens when a band chases an audience brought up by Zoo Magazine and pre-AM Alex Turner. Arctic Monkeys opted against that and polarised the public in the same way Pulp did all those years ago in 1998. The Car is the This is Hardcore of a new century. Circumstantial differences, an immediate reaction which still burns on for both to this day.
Whether people warm to the idea of trading in nightclub surroundings for the perils of fame as they did for Pulp back at the height of Cool Brittania for Arctic Monkeys is yet to be seen. Probably not, tragically enough. Refined artistic influences and a push for the gluttony of fame, measuring it up as not worth the while after pursuing it for so long, both Pulp and Arctic Monkeys found themselves disillusioned with what propelled them to their lofty heights. Jarvis Cocker infamously fled to New York and hid out in a hotel room, writing up songs of paranoia and drug abuse while the band fell apart around him. Russell Senior left in a fury, so disheartened he was at their trajectory and with the first post-Different Class single, Help the Aged.
From this dark heart comes new light. This is Hardcore, in hindsight, was the beginning of the end for a nasty period in British culture, compartmentalised by Channel 4 documentaries and political powers of the time. Arctic Monkeys are not yet attuned to this and hopefully never will be. Instead, they are coddled and charmingly pushed for yet another traipse around the musical merry-go-round. An appearance on Later with Jools Holland shows just how relaxed and comfortable the band are with their new material. Comfort for a performer is of no interest to those who listen to the work. They want what they expect and are confused when it is nowhere close. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino divided the room as This is Hardcore did all those years ago. Intentional for the latter, but the former felt earnest and a manageable change of pace for an already interesting sound.
Working over the same few notes and tunes is of no interest to anyone. It is why the likes of Two Door Cinema Club, Franz Ferdinand and The Kooks never advanced. Their sound stayed the same. Had it been that way for Arctic Monkeys, they would not be the hard-hitting chart-topper they still are today. Managing expectations is not the job of any artist, but when Arctic Monkeys becomes as big as it is, a borderline institution where hardened fans and dedicated listeners feel a right of ownership, their complaints are far more vocal. Turner addressed this in Sculptures of Anything Goes, noting the impossible divide between the “horrible new sound” and the “bubble of relatability” punctured by those who no longer gravitate to their viewpoint.
It was all the same for Pulp too, who went from the meeting up in discos and fighting for the misfits and misshapes of the past to seedy paranoia and the inevitabilites of finding themselves growing old. Easy it may be to draw a parallel between the mood of the times and the impact it had on Pulp, it is harder to figure out when Arctic Monkeys decided a switch-up was needed. Following the release of an album as big and monumental as AM, it is clear to see wariness wash over the band. Five years coasting along on such an album, and people begin to expect nothing but the same. AM 2 as some began to call it and hope for, both before Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino and The Car. No such luck, and there is no chance Arctic Monkeys are going to move backwards at this rate. It is all about tempering expectations. As fans begin to realise there is no chance of backpedalling and club culture tunes from Arctic Monkeys, they must resign themselves to the 80+ tracks already available from the band on those topics or accept cultural and artistic movement as the positive it is.
“What exactly do you do for an encore?” Pulp once asked. Their reaction was to fend off against expectations. Give the people what they want and they won’t stick around for much longer. For the more artistically inclined, Arctic Monkeys are leveraging themselves as a far more interesting band than their contemporaries. Pulp did much the same as the Britpop bubble burst. Be Here Now from Oasis proved a car crash of coked-up tunes, of which only one remains relevant. Even then, it has a few minutes clipped off of it, for nobody needed a 70+ minute Gallagher brother’s record. Take a look at those who appeared on the scene at the time Arctic Monkeys did. Are they still there? Relevant? Still striding toward the top of the charts with consistency?
No, and it is through tired repetition they failed to continue their trajectory. All great musicians who are still relevant now as they were back in the day do so with continued change. David Bowie went from spider-loving Martian to bell pepper-eating businessman and continued a strong run of form despite the weakening of his material. Bob Dylan went from Voice of a Generation to religious-themed grooves before returning to a sentimental stretch of Frank Sinatra covers. Relevancy comes not from repetition but from challenges and risks taken when there appears to be no need. “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfil other people’s expectations. They generally produce their worst work when they do that,” were the famed words Bowie offered up and comers. They ring true. Arctic Monkeys will never satisfy their audience, because doing so brings them back down to earth, back to a moment in time which passed for them as well as those who grew with them a decade ago. Would they satisfy on another go at Teddy Picker? Definitely not.
Richard Hawley shifted from intense and demanding crooner rock to a straight-shooting rockability. Not because he needed to, he could coast along with no trouble on the pre-Standing at the Sky’s Edge work with no reason to change. But he changed because he wanted to, not because the audience demanded it. Arctic Monkeys fans signalling a disgruntled feel with the most recent records, crying out for the days where they sang of girls, gear and Grenadine-infused drinks is a warning light for the band. It is unlikely they will ever go back. Progress does not come from regressing to already-covered areas of work. Arctic Monkeys may never be the same, and listeners are better off for it.