Rock band Arctic Monkeys released The Car on Oct. 21

Olivia Johnson

Rock band Arctic Monkeys released The Car on Oct. 21. (Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.)

Their 2013 hit “Do I Wanna Know,” with its singular baseline, evokes a barrage of aestheticized images: galaxy print, black turtlenecks, and the teenage preoccupation with the aesthetic of Marlboro Red cigarettes. Arctic Monkeys’ lead singer and songwriter Alex Turner was, in many ways, the face of this pop culture movement.

And at the peak of the indie-sleaze wave, during the height of their commercial success, the Arctic Monkeys, as we knew them to be, ceased to exist. Faced with the impossible task of outdoing one of the most influential albums of the decade, Turner instead pivoted, and in 2018, the band released Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. It’s an album that acts as a complete left turn from the band’s previous themes and sound. The lounge music-inspired concept album explored themes of consumerism, technology, and waste through the setting of a luxury hotel bar at the landing site of the Apollo 11. While the band took an artistic risk with this divergence, the album benefited because its  alien sound could not be compared to the rest of their discography. 

The Arctic Monkeys had been many things over the years, but until their newest release in 2022, vulnerable was not one of them. Four years after Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Arctic Monkeys gives us The Car. Released in October, the album holds onto the loungey, laid-back vocalizations of the band’s preceding LP but lets go of the pretense. Here, there is no armour; the only brooding narrator is Turner himself, and this time he’s talking to us. It’s refreshing. 

This newfound vulnerability is best articulated in the song “Big Ideas.” This song features Turner alluding to his writer’s block in the chorus: “I had big ideas the band was so excited … I can’t for the life of me remember how they go.” The refreshing simplicity of these lyrics, coupled with the mature, understated sound, feels like a consummation of the band’s development.

There’s a disjointed aspect to The Car; it sounds like a series of confessionals, united only by the fact that the songs are being crooned in confidence over the band’s steadfast jazz drum beats and orchestrations. While it would have been satisfying to see more continuity, this eclectic mix of testimonies isn’t entirely a bad thing. It allows the band to explore numerous sounds and themes, all governed by a core principle: honesty.

Additionally, The Car’s orchestrations are consistently impressive. Instead of being pigeonholed into a singular sound, each track feels like an intentional exploration. With its funky baseline and tongue-in-cheek vocalizations, “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am” is a particularly fun listen. tongue-in-cheek vocalizations. The interplay between Turner’s pessimistic lyrics “stackable party guests / to fill the awkward silences” and the upbeat tune paints a coherent picture of Turner putting on a show despite his the sense of malaise, forced onward by a catchy tune. There’s a partnership here that was missing from the band’s previous work; it seems as though Turner has taken a step back and allowed the rest of the band to fill in the gaps. 

The Car is imperfect, but by leaving space for those imperfections, it achieves something much more valuable than a perfect album: a truthful one. Nearly two decades into their careers, the Arctic Monkeys are finally speaking directly to us, and the work they’ve done on The Car has me excited to hear what they have to say.