Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner | Credit: Matthew Baker/Getty Images

Arctic Monkeys Review – Band’s Old and New Selves Coexist at Melbourne Gig

Arctic Monkeys performed at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Wednesday, 4th January.

“I wanna tell you about a girl,” said Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys‘ front person, near the halfway point of the band’s first Australian headline show of the post-Covid era. The girl, in this instance, was ‘Arabella’, a modern lover with a 70s head. But the preface was a direct quote from Nick Cave.

Eight songs previous, Turner had waltzed onto the stage, still thin as ever, and still flanked by his pals from Sheffield: drummer Matt Helders, guitarist Jamie Cook and bass player Nick O’Malley. Turner has kept hold of his adolescent looks and his daggy, awkward movements over the last 16-odd years. But, as the primary creative force in the Arctic Monkeys, Turner’s career has been an exercise in continual forward movement – and, in recent years, transformation.

On record, Turner’s stylistic and thematic explorations have always been worthwhile. The outcomes haven’t always been artistically satisfying (as in the case of 2011’s Suck It and See), but Turner’s willingness to proceed headlong into the creative unknown has kept Arctic Monkeys at the vanguard of contemporary rock music.

On stage, as the front person for one of the biggest bands in the world, Turner’s still something of a work in progress. Take the Nick Cave interpolation, for instance. “I wanna tell you about a girl,” was hardly the only nod to Nick Cave found during the band’s 100-minute performance. Turner’s bespoke Italian suit was another. It certainly fit him well, but he never achieved the look of rock’n’roll abandon he might’ve fantasised of – that clammy, shiny heroin chic displayed by many of his idols.

Arctic Monkeys
Alex Turner | Credit: Valerie Lee

Arctic Monkeys’ onstage personnel has expanded beyond the core foursome to include a couple of keyboard players, a percussionist and a guitarist. This freed Turner to exercise his swaggering front person persona, and at the Myer Music Bowl, this began with the night’s opening song, ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’, from the band’s latest record The Car.

Turner seemed most comfortable flexing his muscles during the newer material. ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ and the album title track, ‘The Car’, are rooted in slow, lugubrious melodies, which benefit from affected displays of over-earnestness, something Turner has a handle on.

But the soon-to-be 37-year-old Turner is still figuring out how to reconcile his heroic front person ambitions with the band’s busier, rockier songs of old. These songs dominated the set list, despite it now being nearly ten years since Arctic Monkeys made music of this nature. 2013’s AM got the most love – in addition to ‘Arabella’ we heard ‘Snap Out of It’ (a rather slight song, albeit one with a pesky vocal hook) and the imperial big guns, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘R U Mine?’

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Arabella’

Something that distinguishes The Car from much of the band’s previous output, at least in a formal respect, is the amount of space in these new songs. Turner’s verses have often been filled to the brim with canny observations and words that just feel good when spat out in a South Yorkshire accent. The winding verses of ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ are a case in point, likewise the opening sequence of ‘R U Mine?’ – try saying, “I’m a puppet on a string, Tracy Island, time travelling, diamond cutter shaped heartaches” five times.

The highlight of the night – except, perhaps, for ‘Teddy Picker’ from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, for which the band were able to access some of the agitated, raw energy that pulsed through their early shows – was ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’, the first song on The Car and the first song of the encore.

It’s a bold piece of songwriting from the typically verbose Turner, and not for the inclusion of a classic Hollywood string arrangement, but for the amount of space left empty. A number of lines are left dangling throughout, marking the song with feelings of melancholy and resignation.

“Don’t get emotional,” he sang, resting forward over one of the fold-back speakers, sunglasses unmoved from when he walked onstage 90 minutes earlier. The song crests with the line, “So can we please be absolutely sure / That there’s a mirrorball / For me.” Turner reached into the upper limits of his falsetto for these final three words, and while he couldn’t execute them with much vocal power, the beauty was in the attempt.

This moment was illustrative of Turner’s ongoing commitment to making more of himself. If Turner keeps aiming high, Arctic Monkeys shows will continue to be suffused with a sense of exploration and discovery.

Further Reading

Arctic Monkeys ‘The Car’ Review – Decadent Leisure and Immobilising Nostalgia

Taylor Swift Vinyl Sales Help Push the Format Ahead of CDs in 2022

Arctic Monkeys Announce Premiere Stream Of New York City Concert

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