The Arctic Monkeys are one of those bands that have the misfortune of living in their own shadow. Though their work since their debut album is by no means bad — it is, in fact, pretty stellar — aggregate reviews always seem to fall just short of meeting the high-water mark established by that first effort.
However, with the release of their third studio album, “Humbug,” the group once more attempts to top their debut. This time around, the band had production help from Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme.
In contrast with the fervent energy of their debut and the fast, mean sounds of their follow-up album, “Humbug” takes on a darker, though no less mean sound than its predecessors.
This dark musicality takes the best of the Monkeys and twists their latest work into something different, but altogether grand. From the opening strains of “My Propeller” to the closing notes of “The Jeweler’s Hands,” the album thrums with a restrained, tightly coiled sort of energy.
Even the album’s slower numbers are not completely free from that energy. During the verses of “Secret Door,” one can hear the hints of a slick and slightly dangerous undercurrent.
That undercurrent is none too subtle during the album’s livelier tracks, like the first single, “Crying Lightning.” The song comes closest to the feel of the band’s previous work, though this isn’t saying much.
The bass opens the track with a smooth, seductive riff, to which an almost whispered verse is added, until it builds to a dull roar and an infectiously catchy chorus. The following track, “Dangerous Animals,” pulses with a feverish rhythm and paranoid melodies as well, adding to the dusky atmosphere that the album creates.
The album’s middle tracks are probably the weakest, though even these are mediocre at worst. “Potion Approaching” and “Fire and the Thud” do nothing to distinguish themselves from the surrounding tracks, but are nevertheless fun tunes.
Despite this lull, the closing tracks make up for any disappointment in spades. “Dance Little Liar” is a slow, chilling number that works its way under the skin, though some of the effects may throw some listeners off. Singer Alex Turner’s voice climbs and descends a narrow range in the song, but the turns he takes work to great effect, accentuating the frosty musicianship.
The equally impressive “Pretty Visitors” is more quickly paced than the preceding track, and the tune is played out in shouting, staccato bursts, and feels reminiscent of some tracks from “Favourite Worst Nightmare.”
The final track of the album, “The Jeweler’s Hands” is another slower song, this time rife with withering lyrics and a suitably creepy yet delightful melody.
Overall, “Humbug” is a great album, though a little darker than previous Arctic Monkeys fare.
Whether or not they have succeeded in topping their whirlwind of a debut album remains another question entirely, and one which is difficult to answer, given the vastly different tones between albums, but regardless of this, it nonetheless remains an outstanding effort.