Saturday, 24 December 2011

Alex Turner: The finest songsmith of our generation.

This is article will be an adoration of Alex Turner so if you don't like him, stop reading. Now. Let's get down to it. Alex Turner is far and away the greatest musician of our generation. Anyone disagree? Thought not. Ok, I'm not going to be that bias but I am going to metaphorically suck his phallus for the next few minutes.

Alex Turner was not put in an easy position at the beginning of his career. The Arctic Monkeys catapulted onto the scene with their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not which raided the English charts and launched the Monkeys into the media spotlight. The Arctic Monkeys were put on a pedestal. They were lauded as the 21st century's answer to The Beatles, they made colloquial accents in music cool and they were seen as saviours to the lagging English indie scene. The only problem with being put on a pedestal is that the tabloids put you up there only so they can knock you down. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not would be the yardstick that subsequent Monkeys' release would be compared against. This wasn't an easy situation to be put in when you're as shy and unassuming as the Arctic Monkeys are. The only way out of this would be to be damn good musicians. Good thing the Monkeys are.

But first, let's dissect the first album. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is generally considered to be something of a modern classic and that isn't just me talking. NME, Hot Press, Q and Time Magazine all named it as their album of 2006,  it is the fastest ever debut album from a band in the UK, two of the singles off the album ("When the Sun Goes Down" and "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor") topped the British Charts and NME even named it the 5th greatest British album of all time. But the statistics only tell half of the story. It is when you actually analyse the music that you begin to comprehend the brilliance of the album.

The album is something of a concept album telling the story of clubbers from Northern England. The absolute attention to detail and level of observance which each track encompasses is truly astonishing. Alex Turner sounds like a seasoned sociologist rather than a pimply nineteen year old. Take the song 'Dancing Shoes' for instance. I'll let Alex himself describe the topic it deals with - "people always looking to pull when they go out however much they mask it." This is a fascinating observation of human behaviour in nightclubs and once which is incredibly accurate. "When the Sun Goes Down" deals with prostitution in Sheffield, "Fake Tales of San Francisco" deals with the overbearing influence of American Culture on young British people and "From the Ritz to the Rubble" deals with nightclub bouncers who "want it all to kick off"

But it wasn't the laboratory-like observations of Turner that propelled this album to the top of the charts but the infectious guitar hooks and accessible nature of the insanely catchy songs. In essence, it was an album that could be enjoyed by a casual music listener not wanting to be enlightened or the more hardcore and profound critic. It was the perfect debut album.

Of course, Turner, and the rest of the Monkeys of course, had to prove that this spectacular debut album was no fluke, that they weren't simply the right band at the right time. And that they did. The Monkeys followed it up with the louder, the darker and the deliciously contagious Favourite Worst Nightmare. It was never going to be more successful or even better than its predecessor but my god, it is a cracking good album. 

Similar to their previous release, Turner's indomitable wit shone through on this record. From the wonderfully metaphorical track that chastises celebrity culture 'Teddy Picker' to the poetic, mystical break up song that is '505' this album provided us with some of the Monkeys' most impressive songs and indeed some of their most popular concert tracks (They still finish each gig with 505). The album consolidated the Monkeys' position as England's most exciting young band and indeed it cemented Turner's place as England's most talented and wonderfully unique song writers.

Artists must change however, the best ones do anyway. The Beatles did. Bob Dylan did. The Arctic Monkeys did. While Favourite Worst Nightmare was a departure of sorts from Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not it was still a typically British guitar pounding record with many of the same themes explored throughout both. This was not necessarily a bad thing as both albums are bloody brilliant but bands have to not change but tweak their sound after a while. The Arctic Monkeys did this with the 2009 release of the Desert Rock orientated, American-inspired album Humbug. It was certainly a departure from the norm for the Monkeys and one which polarised many fans.

In between Favourite Worst Nightmare and Humbug however, Turner had been involved with in a side project. He had teamed up with Rascals lead singer and guitarist Miles Kane and formed The Last Shadow Puppets. The Puppets released their first and so far only album in 2008 entitled The Age of Understatement. This album really is a gem. It amalgamated Kane's beautiful guitar playing with Turner's profound lyrical ability and ear for a melody. The result was a gorgeously sixties sounding album that showcased Turner's versatility and, above all, ability no matter what environment he was in to craft quality music.

Anyway, back to the Monkeys. Oh yes, Humbug. Humbug was quite the album as it was a true departure from the mainstream for the Monkeys. The songs were no longer as accessible, no longer beery sing-along chants. It was music that you had to sit down and have a good few listens to to truly appreciated. Listening to Humbug is quite a surreal experience as at some points, one questions whether this is the same band that only three years previous was betting that girls looked good on the dancefloor. It is a truly rewarding experience however as this album, like its predecessors is absolutely fantastic. A darker, more mature album with heavier guitars and heavier themes, it is telling evidence of how talented and versatile the Monkeys are. Cornerstone is perhaps the finest track on the album, in my humble anyway. It showcases Turner's unique ability to tell an original love story. It tells of how Turner, pining for a love he has lost tries to pretend that girls he is acquainting himself with now are in fact his lost love. He ultimately settles on his lost love's sister as 'She was close, well you couldn't get much closer'. A fascinating tale.

Fast forward to 2011 and Turner has (in my eyes of course!) truly cemented his position as the finest songsmith of our generation. In March, Turner's first solo record was released. The soundtrack to the the film by British comic Richard Ayoade Submarine was written and composed by Mr.Turner. There are only 5 songs on the soundtrack but they are gems, each one of them. Turner's voice is hauntingly sombre in 'It's Hard to Get Around the Wind and the lyrics in 'Glass in the Park' are as impressive as almost any of his in the Monkeys. It is a teaser of what Turner is capable of on his own.

The story of 2011 for Turner however was the release of the magical, the melodic, the absolutely fucking brilliant Suck it and See, the Arctic Monkeys' fourth full length album. It is a modern masterpiece. Love is the most common theme that runs throughout the album and it carries on where 'Cornerstone' left off, showing off Turner's talents as a stupendously talented romantic storyteller. 'Love is a Laserquest' tells of a girl who may have had a rather flippant attitude towards love in the past and may now be regretting it and 'She's Thunderstorms' tells of a girl who has been 'loop-the-looping around my mind' causing 'acrobatic blood flow'. It is a wonderfully poetic track.

The highlight of the album, nay, in my eyes, the highlight of the Monkeys' entire catalogue comes in the form of the album's title track. If anyone were to ever claim that Alex Turner cannot write a love song, presentation of this song would render said opinion invalid. One of the most evocatively beautiful songs I have heard, I swear, I have listened to it at least three times a day for the past two months. Its majesty is barely believable. I will end this article with the first verse of this song, proof if proof was needed that Alex Turner is the finest songsmith of our generation. If you actually made it this far through the article, I fucking commend you.

Your love is like a studded leather headlock
Your kiss it could put creases in the rain
You're rarer than a can of Dandelion & Burdock
And those other girls are just Postmix Lemonade.

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