I’ve been waiting for this one with some level of excitement, not only because Arctic Monkeys produced a really interesting debut album (and an okay sophomore effort), but also because of the news that the group had travelled to Josh Homme’s desert studio, Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree to have their new work recorded and produced by the Queens of the Stone Age frontman.
It should then come as no big surprise that Humbug wears the mark of QOTSA on it like a badge in a much similar fashion to what happened with the Foo Fighters after Dave Grohl got off tour with Homme and recorded One by One. The album makes sense in much the same vein as the Foo’s-meets-Queens effort as well, concentrating as it does on a heavy rhythm section (bass and drums never getting the attention they were constantly vying for on previous releases) and nefarious, echoing and clanging guitar tones.
Dangerous Animals expresses this in a more outright fashion than many of the other tracks, hosting Homme’s backing vocals and breaking into Zeppelin stomp complete with careening guitar solo at the climax of the song. That isn’t to say that the charm of previous Monkeys releases has been put entirely to the wayside though — Alex Turner’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics and vocal styling are still intact, even if they may be hidden for most of the first half of the album.
The song-structuring of older Arctic Monkeys songs also makes its way through here as well but, even at its most familiar form (like in Potion Approaching) there is the sense that Homme has helped give the Sheffield boys a new perspective on their sound, letting them know that psychedelic diddling and darker tones don’t necessarily have to mean an abandonment of their already-established formula.
After 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare I was about ready to stop caring about the Arctic Monkeys, putting the success and catchiness of their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not down to an interesting snapshot of mid-2000s rock and ignoring further reiterations of the sound. The release of Humbug has changed that however, and, I’m happy to say that it’s actually a really great album, indicative of a new lease on musical life for the group and a great addition to mainstream rock for the immediate future.