AM’s mood is that of the late-night/early-morning hours, as club beats mix with post-hookup melancholia, although it focuses more on rhythm and riff than on contemplative moments. The Monkeys’ new favorite song formula—driving midtempo beat, slinky guitar, distracting falsetto harmonies—works best on the opener “Do I Wanna Know?,” but it grows stale after its seemingly endless repetition. “Arabella” or “Knee Socks” might have stood out as other highlights if the album were not already saturated with mediocre versions of songs like these. At the same time, both of these tracks do find strength in prioritizing Alex Turner’s lyrical and vocal performance, a stylistic hallmark of the Monkeys’ earlier records.
Throughout, the Monkeys’ creative drive feels tapped out: attempts to incorporate piano ballads (“No. 1 Party Anthem”) and “ooh la la” vocals (“Mad Sounds”) seem taken from a checklist of tired musical tropes. Influences are painfully obvious in parts: Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age has shaped the band’s sound ever since he produced their 2009 album, Humbug, but now “Fireside” practically lifts the vocal melody from Homme’s own “Leg of Lamb.” Luckily, the sun rises on the album’s night out with “I Wanna Be Yours,” a bare-bones crystal of a song. Cheesy lyrics aside, the song’s plaintive refrain creates an emotional immediacy conspicuously missing from the rest of the album.
In initialing the record AM (a move that Turner concedes is derivative of the Velvet Underground’s VU), Arctic Monkeys attempted to put a personal stamp on an album that ultimately lacks just that—personality.