Coming out from a millennial-driven internet popularity into huge alt success (alt-mainstream, perhaps), the Arctic Monkeys are, for my money, one of the defining rock bands of the 2000s and perhaps beyond. The English group started in the kind of post-Britpop/post-punk mold that was very popular in the early to mid ’00s. They’ve since expanded to other influences, for better or worse, in the 16 years and seven albums since their first record was released in 2006. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Arctic Monkeys are definitively one of my favorite bands, but there’s no denying that their initial run of, say, the first three or four albums are foundational for me and still incredible today. But I’ll get to writing about them in short order. Excluded from this list, among live and demo albums and the like, is the EP WHO THE FUCK ARE ARCTIC MONKEYS? (2006), which is also worth listening to.
#7 — TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO (2018)
Favorite track: “One Point Perspective”
Coming after the biggest gap between albums for the band (at more than four and a half years), TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO was also the boldest departure from the expected style of the Arctic Monkeys. Clearly, that didn’t necessarily pay off in my eyes (or rather, in my ears). But it’s not like this record, a smooth, ethereal, loose sci-fi concept, is unpleasant to listen to. TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO has some impressive emulation of ’70s sounds and a fittingly spacey approach. The problem is I like my Arctic Monkeys kind of dirty and somewhat dark and generally rawer than they are here. TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO is technically impressive, and more than that, it is at times effectively moving, but I don’t find myself turning to it when I want to listen to Arctic Monkeys.
#6 — THE CAR (2022)
Favorite track: “The Car”
The Arctic Monkeys’ latest album at the time of this release and the impetus for this piece, THE CAR, continues TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO’s twinkling and lofty style. THE CAR, too, often sounds like a modernist interpretation of ’70s production style, and in this case, it’s more enveloping and impressive than on its predecessor. But it also shares the same problems as the stylistic departure that came before it. As a full mood piece, THE CAR is relatively stirring and proficient. As an album with a lot of songs I really dig and want to listen to on the reg, it’s disappointing. I understand that the latest Arctic Monkeys records are seen as artistic “evolutions” for the band, driven forward by frontman Alex Turner’s predilections and direction, but I just can’t get behind them the way I have for anything that came before. THE CAR is neat, a tidy exploration of something different, but not much more rousing than that.
#5 — SUCK IT AND SEE (2011)
Favorite track: “She’s Thunderstorms”
SUCK IT AND SEE was the Arctic Monkeys’ first defined foray into an overtly poppy sound, certainly informed by the Britpop of the generation before them. You can hear it right away on album opener “She’s Thunderstorms;” its opening moments come right out of an Oasis playbook, from the verve of its guitar sound to the plaintive drawl of Turner’s voice. Nothing to come after the first song matches it, but there are certainly stellar tunes to be found on SUCK IT AND SEE, including the title track and “Black Treacle.” But after a trio of albums that hit and just don’t quit, this feels a relative disappointment. And after more than a decade since its release, it’s clear that the Arctic Monkeys’ fourth record doesn’t foment a stronger impression in hindsight. SUCK IT AND SEE is a markedly more entertaining and alive release than the band’s latest two albums, but it’s still a minor work for the band.
#4 — AM (2013)
Favorite track: “Snap Out of It”
Immediately greeted with an enthusiastic reaction and since considered one of the Arctic Monkeys’ finest albums, and sometimes their best, AM has also received accolades in best albums of the 2010s lists and the like. AM was not quite my first new Arctic Monkeys album (I think that would go to SUCK IT AND SEE), but it was definitely one that I felt the hype for and I recall the tour that saw my classmates talking about the difficulty of getting tickets. I enjoyed AM immensely and its eclectic fusion of funk and dance with the Arctic Monkeys’ pounding rock produced a slew of great songs. But returning to it today, after not listening to it in full for quite some time, I found I wasn’t as infatuated with AM as I was at the time of its release. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great record. I realize, however, that it too lacks the qualities I love most in the Arctic Monkeys’ work, a kind of darkly playful rawness. AM’s production sheen and catchy tunes are, without a doubt, at the core of a really enjoyable listen, but there’s something missing.
#3 — HUMBUG (2009)
Favorite track: “Crying Lightning”
HUMBUG was released to a mixed reception from some fans for a perceived change in stylistic direction, but has since become a dark horse favorite in the Arctic Monkeys’ discography. I understand the instinct to be put off by it, but unlike the changes to come with AM and TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO, the steps taken with HUMBUG were an expansion, rather than departure, from the sound of the band’s first two albums. That could be attributed to the record’s producer Josh Homme, who brought the Brits into the California desert for some psychedelic and stoner rock influence. A Kyuss inspiration for the Arctic Monkeys might not have made the most sense at the time, but the band created whirling black holes of rock songs throughout HUMBUG. I don’t think the band even lost what made them great in those earlier years; they just changed the scope. That makes for an album that feels unique yet faithful to the Arctic Monkeys’ strengths, marking HUMBUG as one of the band’s best.
#2 — FAVOURITE WORST NIGHTMARE (2007)
Favorite track: “Fluorescent Adolescent”
Maybe there’s been too much description of how the Arctic Monkeys changed for certain albums or how they lost something that defined their earliest work. I say that because, even with just their second album FAVOURITE WORST NIGHTMARE, the band strived to do something different. Their sophomore effort brought in what I hear as surf rock influences (especially on “Fluorescent Adolescent”) and the embracing of pop and atmospheric production techniques. Turner’s Northerner accent is still very much present on FAVOURITE WORST NIGHTMARE, but he’s hitting a few different registers rather than the sing-talking he kind of did on this album’s predecessor. The record rocks and plays with a grunginess that defined the Arctic Monkeys’ first album, blending a darkness with an upscaling of fun sonic accents. FAVOURITE WORST NIGHTMARE is only lacking in comparison; it’s a great album with great track after great track.
#1 — WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT (2006)
Favorite track: “Mardy Bum”
The Arctic Monkeys have yet to top their first album for me. WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT is one of those near-perfect records, an exercise in not-so-simply producing all killer, no filler. WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM has been alluded to throughout this article as a kind of raw piece of menace that was compromised by broader instincts in the future. But it’s not like the album is an entire project in angst and overwhelming rock drive. It’s kind of a concept album about the club and bar (fine, pub) culture of its time, now a retrospective on nightlife for a generation removed by more than a decade from that era. So WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM is fun and often upbeat. I think “Mardy Bum” is the record’s most out-and-out sweet-sounding song, but it also delves into swirling and disorienting guitar and pounding drums. This interplay indicates the whole album’s ability to echo the utter strangeness of going out and trying to find love, sex, whatever. WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM is a portal, a record that transforms perception in its cohesive approach while staying in a pocket of straight ahead fun and catchiness, and very clearly in my book the Arctic Monkeys’ best album.