Album Reviews: Arctic Monkeys and Taylor Swift

On Oct. 21, the Arctic Monkeys and Taylor Swift released their new albums, “The Car” and “Midnights, respectively. The Falconer explores the sound evolution of these two musical giants and how this evolution has allowed them to stay popular for nearly twenty years.

The Car by Arctic Monkeys

“Don’t get emotional, that ain’t like you.”

These are the very first words Alex Turner, lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, sings on the first track of their new album, “The Car.” Yet it is hard not to get emotional, especially when this album, after a four-year wait, is such a radiant success. Saturated with weeping strings and fervent lyricism, “The Car’s” 10 tracks are uncharacteristically tranquil for the Arctic Monkeys — a far cry from their garage rock beginnings. However, these retro, space-lounge tunes demonstrate the band’s most vital characteristic: their ability to adapt and reinvent their sound again and again, resulting in mainstream success for nearly 20 years.

The new album follows “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino,” the band’s 2018 venture into a slower sound. The Arctic Monkeys delve further into the use of new instruments in this album, making “The Car” a more daring, developed version of its predecessor.

The album opens with “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball,” arguably the crowning achievement of the tracklist. With its stabbing piano notes and jazz-inspired percussion, the song is the epitome of longing. Alex Turner’s somber voice draws you in, and as the violins swell, you melt into the song. It feels like sunlight in the late afternoon, like conversation pits and the deep orange hues of the ‘70s. It’s classy; it’s lavish; it’s melancholic. It is the perfect way to start the album.

At a few points throughout the tracklist, listeners can detect subtle hints of the Arctic Monkeys’ original alternative-rock sound. “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am,” the second track, is a return to those swanky guitar riffs that Arctic Monkeys fans know and love.

Even more noticeable is the heavy instrumentation of “Sculptures Of Anything Goes.” The synthesized drums on this track are reminiscent of “Do I Wanna Know?” an iconic song from “AM,” arguably the Arctic Monkeys ’ most well-known album. “Sculptures Of Anything Goes” is eerie, a more mature version of the band’s earlier music with a space-synth twist.

The fifth track, “Body Paint,” is by far the most discernible example of lounge pop on the album. The strings, ballooning into each pause of the lyrics, are very apparent in the song, with the band fading in and out to create an instrumental effect that surprisingly does not clash.

The band further explores new sounds in tracks like “Mr. Schwartz” and “The Car.” The percussion is subtle and repetitive, light-years away from the drum-based tracks of old. According to drummer Matt Helders, this new style is actually much harder to play.

“The rock guy is easier,” Helders said in an interview with Radio X. “To the naked eye it probably appears less technical, but in actual fact, it is more of a challenge to do what was going on on this record.”

From lyrical genius to technically advanced drumming, the careful consideration put into every aspect of this album truly demonstrates the maturity and growth of the band.

This is the very thing that makes “The Car” stand out in a career already so colored with successful music. Fans of the Arctic Monkeys’ previous work may not understand this new album on the first listen, but it is the incredible maturity and development of the band’s sound that truly defines “The Car’s” brilliance.

However, this dramatic shift in sound is nothing new to the Arctic Monkeys. The band’s seven albums have no discernible pattern in theme, and that is how fans like it.

The band debuted with “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” which, at the time, was the fastest-selling debut album in British music history. Hot on the post-punk revival indie rock scene, with heavy influence from bands like The Strokes and The Kinks, the Arctic Monkeys were a smashing success in the U.K.. Their first album was fast-paced, heavy and chock full of electric energy.

“Favorite Worst Nightmare,” their second album, is noticeably toned down compared to their first. From the once-brash percussion, even to Turner’s iconic Yorkshire accent, the album feels more refined. The technique of their drumming is more polished, while the lyrics expose new emotional

“Humbug” was the band’s third album. With trudging guitar riffs and a darker, dustier energy, the album was an even more dramatic shift for the Arctic Monkeys. Taking influence from co-producer Josh Homme, founder of The Queens of the Stone Age, the band took a leap that would land them at No. 1 on the U.K. charts for the third time.

It has long been disputed what exactly makes the Arctic Monkeys so good. Incredibly, they have reached No. 1 on the U.K. charts with each of their previous six studio albums and retained pop culture relevance for nearly two decades. While this success has been attributed to their exhilarating stage presence or rapid growth due to the digital age, these factors cannot take all the credit. The Arctic Monkeys’ discography has a tumultuous history, including twists and turns through different genres, while retaining that same trademark swagger.

Their career has been defined by the fact that their music cannot be defined. The constant reinvention of their sound is truly what makes the Arctic Monkeys, the Arctic Monkeys.

Midnights by Taylor Swift

In the wee hours of Oct. 21, pop sensation Taylor Swift redefined herself once again.

While fans had grown accustomed to more acoustic sounds from Swift with her recent sister indie-folk albums “Folklore” and “Evermore” and re-recorded country albums “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” and “Red (Taylor’s Version),” Swift returned to upbeat pop with her tenth studio album “Midnights,” a 13-track collection of midnight musings from throughout her life. 

To some listeners, Swift’s songwriting in this midnight drop may sound like a rehashed “1989” — her 2014 work that earned her a Grammy for Album of the Year. However, this album, which broke the Spotify record for most streams in one day, marks a truly career-defining moment for the 16-year veteran of the music industry, a moment in which her evolution is on full display.

From early on, Swift’s music has been revolutionary, beginning at 16 years old with her self-titled album, a spunky country work of teenage angst and love. At 22 years old, her transition from country to pop stardom brought fans lyrical masterpieces like the country-pop “Red” and pure pop “1989,” a genre-defining album that reimagined what teenage pop could be.

Swift further experimented, rapping on “Reputation,” a passion-fueled study of atonement, and trying bubbly pop-rock on “Lover.” She made yet another shift with her mid-pandemic releases “Folklore” and “Evermore,” two stripped acoustic albums that are true wonders of storytelling.

This innate ability to reinvent herself, from her youthful love stories to her mature, self-reflective tracks, has made Swift appealing to a wide range of listeners.

Nowhere is her boundless talent and versatility more clear than in her latest album. Illustrated in the stories of 13 nights, Swift weaves her career into one eclectic work in “Midnights.” Unlike previous albums in which the musical style of each track was uniform to the album’s theme, this collection, at first listen, seems a bit amorphous. However, this diverse sound is what makes the album brilliant, as Swift conveys to listeners that she is not chasing a trend, but expressing her authentic voice.

Swift begins “Midnights” with the peppy “Lavender Haze.” While this song embodies Swift’s catchy pop tunes of the early 2010s, it also introduces the breathy vocals and layered synthesizers that she experiments with throughout the album.

While I am partial to Swift’s more acoustic sounds, I still appreciate her versatility, especially in “Midnight Rain,” which she opens with a voice that reverberates between a rich, deep timbre and a trilling high tone. While all the tracks on “Midnights” exhibit Taylor’s evolution — from “Vigilante S**t,” a sultry anthem that parallels “Reputation,” to “Maroon,” an alluring return to her distinguished red motif — two songs stand out as impeccably embodying Swift’s redirection as an artist. Retaining the peppy beats and breathy vocals that define this album, “Mastermind” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid” truly display Swift’s talent.

Playing with how she has been perceived by the media throughout her career, Swift explores her calculated nature in “Mastermind,” likening her relationships to a chess match. To anyone consumed by perfectionism, this track marks an opportunity for self-analysis. 

With a quivering voice and crescendoing chorus, “You’re On Your Own, Kid” embodies the album’s message of midnights spent in woe. While her writing sometimes falls into cliches on “Midnights,” this song, which explores innocence and resilience, marks some of the most poignant lyrics of the collection.

Swift is known for her secrets, and “Midnights” upheld that reputation. Three hours after its release, she dropped seven more songs: “3am Tracks.” While tracks like “Paris” and “Dear Reader” fall short of the original 13, two tracks of this surprise drop stand equal to the highlights of “Midnights.” “The Great War,” an acoustic track reminiscent of her 2014 song “Clean,” marks some of the best lyricism of this collection, perfectly conveyed through ringing vocals. In an unexpected throwback to her country roots, Swift’s deep voice — with a hint of southern twang — in “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” captivates listeners and marks the pinnacle of her maturity, as Swift explores stolen innocence with expertly-placed religious motifs. 

While it is easy for a listener to fall into the trap of guessing at the circumstances of each midnight musing, this album is best consumed as a revelation to be interpreted personally. In a seemingly-purposeful move, Swift, who is often thrust into the web of who’s-who in Hollywood, challenges her listeners to empathize with her vulnerability instead of delving into her past at the surface-level. 

As the vocals of “The Great War” ring and the melancholy in “Mastermind” echoes, Swift provides her listeners with an all-consuming album and a chance for self-reflection, one that will leave you awaiting her next reinvention.

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