After a brief break during which Alex Turner collaborated with Miles Kane on The Last Shadow Puppets, Arctic Monkeys released their third, Humbug, in 2009. They brought in Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme to co-produce, giving the album a heavier, dirtier, and edgier sound than previous releases. While still a critical success, the album doesn’t get the same acclaim as the band’s others, which I think is a downright mistake. This album is brilliant.
Humbug doesn’t have the same degree of catchy hooks and sing-along quality as Whatever People Say I Am… and Favourite Worst Nightmare. It’s undoubtedly darker (even seen in the album title). If Favourite marked the band’s rise to maturity, Humbug has them digging down into a grittier and shadowy sound. There’s still the trademark lyrical acrobatics and strong guitar riffs, but now they are more thoughtful and deliberate. The songs are artful — full of pauses, builds, and explosions. Casual fans may overlook this album for not being as “fun” as the two previous, but dedicated listeners will applaud its sophistication.
The album launches with “My Propeller,” a great song with equally great b-sides. This leads into “Crying Lightning,” one of the band’s standout tracks. These two tracks are a one-two punch of the album’s depth, showcasing a sound that is a little more unsettling than fans were used to, and composition a little more elegant.
One of the greatest tracks on the album, and the band’s discography as a whole, is “Cornerstone.” Much lighter in comparison to tracks like “The Jeweller’s Hands” or “Pretty Visitors,” “Cornerstone” is sweetly endearing and offers a brief respite from the album’s moodiness. It also has one of the best videos the band has ever made.
Humbug may not be a casual album but is worth the challenge to embrace.