hmv's Albums Of The Year...#1 Arctic Monkeys' AM
Over the last month, we've asked all our staff members to vote for their favourite albums of 2013 and they've responded in droves. Over 500 albums received votes, but, after every vote has been counted, we have our final tally. Today, at long last, it's time to reveal the #1 in our poll, the album that won almost double the votes of every other record in the running for the title. It is, of course, Arctic Monkeys and their outstanding fifth album AM.
Unlike most bands heading into the studio to record their fifth album, it felt like Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O'Malley and Matt Helders were on a real upward curve. Their fourth album Suck It And See had been hailed as a return to form (whether this is fair on their 2009 effort Humbug, which has some outstanding tracks, is a matter of opinion), they'd headlined festivals across the world and released a series of one-off tracks, including 'R U Mine?' and the following 'Evil Twin', two tracks which were hailed as some of their best work to date.
Those singles hinted at a dirtier,garage rock-inspired direction, quicker in tempo and harking back to the grimy riffs of The Stooges and MC5. However, the resulting album, previewed in early summer by stomping single 'Do I Wanna Know?' was something different entirely.
From the moment, the ominous kick-drums that begin 'Do I Wanna Know?' swagger out of the speakers, AM doesn't let up in its brilliance. It draws influences from far and wide with Black Sabbath and The Black Keys playing as a big a role as the likes of Outkast and Dr Dre's discography, with towering guitars meshing perfectly alongside a rhythm section that has never sounded tighter.
'One For The Road' is a slinky, brooding love song with some of Turner's best lyrical phrasing to date. Admitting in interviews beforehand that he'd decide to focus on 'boy meets girl', some of the quips are both laugh out loud funny ('From the bottom of your heart/The relegation zone…') and supremely clever ('I knew this would be on the cards'/I knew you wouldn't fold').
'Arabella' is just as witty and catchy, with the singer's descriptive powers reaching new levels of brilliance, same for 'I Want It All'.
This album's quieter moments are just as thrilling as the sauntering rock songs, 'No.1 Party Anthem' and 'Mad Sounds' are tender vignettes full of poise and poetry, while 'Fireside' is a weird, Lennon-esque, ditty.
One of the album's undoubted highlights is recent single 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?', a track built around one of the band's groovier riff to date and another that brilliantly captures a tale of late-night bad behaviour that just about everyone can relate to.
Throughout the album, Turner is on stunning lyrical form; he's grown from the ultimate observationist into something far, far more interesting. As with many of the lyrics on Suck It And See, there's a sweetness and hopefulness tone to his words, but with plenty of underlying darkness.
The playing is just as accomplished. Matt Helders proves once again that he can turn his hand to just about any style, powering some tracks with heavy-set drumming and humming away in the background on others. Nick O'Malley's basslines are higher in the mix than ever, giving the songs a real groove and dynamic energy, while Turner and Jamie Cook's guitars fizz along superbly.
If there was an iota of doubt left that Arctic Monkeys are the real deal, a band who will be talked about in the same breath as the Stones, Oasis and The Smiths, then it's gone now. Sleek, smart and supremely good from the first second to the last, this is an absolute triumph.
Best Track: 'One For The Road'
You can check out all 10 of hmv's Albums Of The Year here.