On The Car, Alex Turner and co. embrace big string arrangements, but harken back to the disco depression that made 2013’s AM an instant classic
“How am I supposed to manage my infallible beliefs?” Alex Turner asks over a brooding, chilling Moog. The song is “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” the third track from Arctic Monkeys’ The Car, but it could easily be a line off their 2011 classic AM, containing the same disco depression and lounge act bravado he basked in nearly a decade ago. But we’re in a darker, post-pandemic dance floor now, which Turner instantly confirms in this 37-minute-plus evening: “So if you wanna walk me to the car/I’m sure to have a heavy heart/So can we please be absolutely sure/That there’s a mirrorball for me?”
Turner continues to ask a lot of questions on this record, from the sexy “Jet Skis on the Moat” (“Is there something on your mind or are you just happy to sit there and watch the while the paint job dries?”) to the indie stunner “Hello You” (“Still draggin’ out a long goodbye?”). The answers remain alluringly elusive. But the band’s musical purpose comes through crystal clear in the elegant strings and subtle riffs cleverly woven throughout album, resulting in the most mature work the band has ever released. The last time Turner sounded this passionate was 2011’s Submarine, his debut solo EP recorded for Richard Ayoade’s film of the same name. His vocals cut like a crisp fall wind, and he comes off like a disillusioned yet hopeful lounge singer in the same way that Father John Misty does on Chloë and the Next 20th Century (Theme of 2022: the Rat Pack Revival).
On the highlight “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am,” a guitar flutters around a drum machine in a whimsical daze that makes it the kind of disco gem only Jesse Ware could cover (and should). If the latter half of the record falls off at all, pick back up on “Big Ideas,” a hypnotic reflection where Turner sits back and puts the strings front and center. “I had big ideas,” he sings. “The band were so excited/The kind you’d rather not share over the phone.”
AM was so heart-wrenchingly excellent that it looms over the Sheffield rockers and their fans, but unlike 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, The Car seems like its true predecessor. No one is spilling drinks on their settee, but there are hints of the AM-style guitar and leather-clad coolness that were absent from Tranquility Base. “I’m not saying we’re never going to do something that sounds a bit like Sabbath again,” Turner told us. With The Car, we’re one step closer to getting a “Sweet Leaf.”