When Humbug's first single—the plodding, spacey sorta-ballad "Crying Lightning"—was released, I was underwhelmed. Having fallen in love with the Arctic Monkeys, especially Alex Turner's sassy coo, with their debut album, 2006's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, and then again with Favourite Worst Nightmare the very next year, I'd been eagerly awaiting album no. 3.
"Crying Lightning" just didn't seem like a very exciting offering—and I felt the same way about the Monkeys' latest as a whole. At least initially.
After a few complete listens, Humbug begins to coalesce in some unexpected ways, but it may take some effort to make the initial connection. It's a teenage album, blistering with bits of heartbreak, a deep nostalgic twinge and a dirty-mindedness that's alternately coy and direct. Mostly gone is the rockier side the Monkeys have indulged previously, though hints remain on tracks like "Potion Approaching" and "Pretty Visitors." But the softer side takes over on songs like "Cornerstone" and "Secret Door," calling to mind some of Squeeze's finer moments: a breezy, wistful funk-pop.
It all suggests the soundtrack to the band's own retro-prom fantasy. Most of the songs—especially "Secret Door"—are perfectly suited to the awkward slow-dancing that a prom evening invites, interspersed with quick bursts of adrenaline. This is the Monkeys at their most sincere and plaintive, and if you're not too cynical to follow them in this new direction, Humbug should make your heart skip a beat or two.