I remember this song being on the radio, back in 2013, and I didn’t know what it was. It was another few years before I started listening to Arctic Monkeys, so I missed the bus on that discovery. It reminds me of the early 2000’s rock revival, though. I think I would have really loved it in 2001, but that would have been a good five years before Arctic Monkeys made their first record, or even existed as a group, for that matter. But it’s funny, in a way, how a 2013 song reminds me of bands from the early 2000’s who were all trying to sound like bands from 1979. It’s just the cyclical way music works. All the hooks come around again and again, freshened up with new hairstyles.
This is my favorite Arctic Monkeys song, the one that made me think of them as more than a retro-garage rock band. It’s got atmosphere and grandeur, which every band should aspire to. There’s a line than not every group crosses between promising and fully grown, and I would place this track firmly on the fully grown side. In the music field – whether rock, pop, or crunk – becoming fully grown is hardly a necessity. The music industry rewards youth, raw energy and sophomoric ideations. There’s been many stars who never rose to the height of their creative powers because they had so much success being young and stupid they either died young or retired. And with rock bands being an embattled species, it’s particularly nice to see a rock band that gets heralded as important and does something to live up to that besides dying young.
Okay, you know I’m a sucker for things that look and sound retro. Call it false nostalgia for things I’m not old enough to remember. Of course I’m going to pick a song that sounds just like something from the sixties. And the Arctic Monkeys exist to capitalize on that. They’re engineered to appeal to people who long for the days when five-piece rock bands with guitars roamed the streets. That’s not an insult. They’re not taking advantage of our collective nostalgia, they’re sharing it. They’re not old enough to remember that shit either. Sometimes sincere enthusiasm for things that came before is a lot more appealing than a calculated attempt to fiddle with the future. That’s how the entire British Invasion came about, just for example.
Sometimes the quiet song in the middle of the album, that you don’t really notice between all the hits, is what ends up becoming your favorite. I’ve been discovering Arctic Monkeys this year, after holding out on them for a long time, and this little song, surprisingly, is one of the ones that made me go, “Wow this is some pretty rad songwriting.” Songs with loud guitar solos and a catchy chorus are what’s designed to impress you, that’s why most people frontload their albums with bangers. But sometimes the bangers aren’t actually the most impressive material. I’ve always been a proponent of discovering deep tracks out of context. That’s something the magic of going digital has allowed us to very easily do, and it say what you will about the degradation of the album as a cohesive artistic statement, but I freaking love picking songs out of order and just hearing them on their own. You can experience a work in an entirely different way that way.
And here we have some of that guitar rock that 2006 was sorely lacking. It was sorely lacking so much that the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album shot them straight to instant fame and breathless accolades of the sort that almost inevitably lead to sore disappointment. There’s hardly a cursed accolade worse than ‘instant classic’ to sink a promising ship, especially if it’s plastered on a debut. As an audience, if you’re not one of those fans who were in on the ground floor and get to say “I told you so!”, your first impulse is to find something to hate. “This so-called instant classic is sooo overrated” you parry “You lot can’t impress me, for what even is guitar rock than just the same Stooges album regurgitated ad nauseum?” That’s actually a pretty fun position to take for the aspiring armchair critic. It’s even worse if you’re the band, and you’ve got nothing to do for the rest of your life except try to live up to a load of hype that got thrown at you when you were barely old enough to sign your own checks. I’m going to hold my initial position here and say that the first Arctic Monkeys album was not actually as monumentally great an achievement as the hype would have it, though apparently a garage rock concept album about the spoils of partying is just what the world was hungering for. However, it was a good start, with or without hyperbole, and more importantly, these guys really beat the odds. They didn’t flame out under pressure, they kept working and got tighter and developed a more interesting image and made increasingly better albums and actually grew into being one of the best guitar bands.
First off, Suck It and See is a dumb album title, to American ears at least, though the Arctic Monkeys assure us that in the UK it’s not a rude phrase at all. Two nations divided by one language, as they say. Title aside, though, it’s apparently become one of the essential rock albums of the 2010’s, an era that’s been short on good solid rock and roll. Somebody has to tide rock music through one of its periodic dead spells, and these guys nominate themselves. Hence the greaser hair. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on the fence about Arctic Monkeys for a while, with the suspicion that if the competition were stiffer, they’d be less acclaimed. But they’ve been riding an upwards arc, with increasingly stronger music, and I’ve come around and had to admit they’re a good rock band who don’t really need a caveat. Yes, the world needs a good rock band right now but… Hey, hey, my, my, as the poet said.
As promised, I’ve made an effort to learn more about the Arctic Monkeys. Since some of you like them so much. And I have to admit that I’ve come to regret that time I didn’t stick around to see them play at ACL. I mean, I’m sure that whomever I did end up seeing that day was much better, but I was right there and if I’d stayed I probably would have been converted right then and there, instead of several years later. Anyway, they’re a rock band, in the unpretentious classic sense of writing songs on guitar, and this is a rock song. The title is a either a millennial colloquialism or a Prince homage.