Humbug is a great example of how you can have all the same pieces, all the same musical components from your previous albums, but can create something completely different in the simple construction of said pieces. It’s that the Arctic Monkeys significantly altered their sound, but by enlisting Josh Homme from QOTSA as a producer there’s a looser, bludgeoning vibe to the tracks, overall more claustrophobic and viscous. It all leads to a deeper, darker record that gets better with every listen. In other words, just another Arctic Monkeys record.
“My Propeller” immediately sets the tone for what’s to come: the space between the instruments in gone, in its place a thick, syrupy melange of noise that coalesces together to form these murky, sludge-influenced pop gems. There’s a real creepy middle section to “Dangerous Animals” that feels like the song went to darker side of town, had some questionable drinks and got into a fight before coming back to sound off the chorus one more time. “Secret Door” on the other hand sounds as if the 60s pop explosion got sick and tried to sing through a haze of drink and sorrow. Matt Helders’s drumming is still phenomenal, maybe even moreso on Humbug because he’s able to really stay within the confines of the song and manage to find small pockets of expression that make everything go up a notch. Keyboards are more present as well, often dressing the background space where you would usually find emptiness to better isolate the individual instrument contributions.
Vocally and lyrically Alex Turner sounds like he’s growing up, getting more subtle and less crazed with his melodies. But they’re that much more effective, standing up above the music and layered with harmonies. But prettiness will only get you so far, and when the band turns it up on something like “Pretty Visitors” you can really hear Homme’s influence creeping in. I could easily hear Queens of the Stone Age covering this song.
Overall, Humbug is a hug grower of an album…maybe the most straight ahead rock album the band has released. So if you’re looking to hear what that sounds like, check this one out.