‘The Car’ Will Take You on a Trip

Lead Singer of The Arctic Monkeys

PHOTO | Steven Anthony

The year is 2014. I’m in my Tumblr girl era, I wear black tights and a black skater skirt, and my low-top Chuck Taylors, and I smudge my eyeliner thick under my eyes until my mom tells me I look like a raccoon. Then, I retreat into my room to cry and take selfies, and what’s that sound? Oh, it’s “505” by the Arctic Monkeys playing in the background. Life is simple.

Now, it’s 2022. I’m in my senior year of college, I wear sweats and AF1s, and I have transitioned to wearing clear mascara, so I don’t have to scrub the black off my eyes after work each night. It’s a much less glamorous existence, but the good news is that the Arctic Monkeys are still making records for me to cry and take selfies to. Let’s talk about “The Car.”

The Arctic Monkeys are an English rock band from Sheffield, formed in 2002. Their distinctive, marble-mouthed frontman and lead vocalist is Alex Turner, Jamie Cook is on guitar and keyboards, Nick O’Malley is on bass, and Matt Helders mans the drums.

Their debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (2006), was the fastest-selling debut in UK chart history at the time and is one of the greatest debut albums of all time, in my opinion. Subsequent records met similar acclaim on release. It helped tremendously that Alex Turner has always been a total British heartthrob, with his dark eyes and slicked-back hair; add in his identifiable swagger and confidence and it’s plain to see why all the Tumblr girlies of the age drooled (and continue to drool) over him.

Amongst the college-aged population, they are best known for their 2013 record “AM.” This one has all the major hits, “R U Mine?” “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”. Following the album’s massive critical and commercial success and after the “AM” tour, the band announced that they would be taking a hiatus while pursuing other projects. Time passed, seasons changed, and I deleted my Tumblr account.

Immediately after the end of the South American portion of the tour, Turner decided to start writing new music with the idea of creating a song that would be a proper closure for the show- instead, he took a few years to create an album to close that show. In December 2016, Turner confirmed to BBC Radio Sheffield that the band was off hiatus and working on their sixth studio album, released in 2018 as “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.” The record is rather polarizing for listeners, although it reached critical acclaim, largely because it is a definite departure from “AM”’s guitar-driven sound due to Turner’s transition to a preference for piano. There is a deep sense of jazz influence; I consider it lounge pop.

“The Car” is that project; a record builds upon the sound developed with “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” but is now more accessible to a wider audience.

The opening track, “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball,” is a dramatic, semi-instrumental jazz number. The song is mellow and calming, and Turner’s vocals elegantly intertwine with the instrumentation and softly paced lyrics.

The second track, “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am,” brings higher energy with funky guitar riffs, and shaking staccato percussion. The lyrical matter focuses on a feeling of not belonging wherever it is that Turner has found himself.

“Body Paint” appears further along, and while it remains muted and slow-paced, the production and instrumentation feel much more interesting than other tracks. Here more than anywhere else I feel like Turner channels David Bowie through his vocal performance and seemingly fictitious lyrics. It’s an emotional ballad about knowing that your partner is having an affair.

“The Car,” the sixth track, was inspired by the photo that became the album cover for the record (a shot of an old E90 Toyota Corolla parked alone on the top floor of a building). It offers grand strings and a cold, mysterious energy. Turner sings cryptically, “But it ain’t a holiday until / You go to fetch somethin’ from the car.” Word, Alex Turner.

“Hello You” is a rhythmic track, one of few, and features some rather interesting key synths and swelling strings. The bongos on this one drive it all the way home, park it in the garage, and hang up the keys next to the door; they’re to die for. “Hello You” is probably my top track from the project, and it turns out that it was created in a studio session back in 2019, right after “TBH&C” concluded its tour.

“Perfect Sense” is the album-closer and shortest track of the record. It’s a poignant end to the 10-track project; direct and uncomplicated as much of the project is. I took the lyrics as a reference to Turner’s acceptance of his complicated life. The Arctic Monkeys are aware of what they bring to the table musically, and they are aware of their impact. It feels like Turner has had time to fully digest both his identity and the band’s identity. I think one line sums it up: “Sometimes, I wrap my head around it all/, And it makes perfect sense.”

Overall, I think “The Car” is a well-put-together record. Turner and the band have had years of honing this particular brand of sound following “TBH&C,” and this accessible blend of jazzy introspection suits them and their tastes in the year 2022. There are definite moments where the instrumentals may underwhelm listeners, but in the grand scheme of the album, I think it is precisely how Turner intended. I give “The Car” a 7.5/10.