Arctic Monkeys may have ‘saved rock'n'roll’ but can they save the album?

By eschewing pre-release whistles and bells with their new album, the band are boldly going back to basics

It might just be the most skin-crawling moment in recent music history. To watch it back now is to have every greasy pub band in Camden inside you at the same time. It is, of course, when Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner got up at the 2014 Brits and tried to make a Braveheart speech defending guitar music. “That rock’n’roll, it just won’t go away,” he cooed like he’d just been elected president of white guys. “It might hibernate from time to time, sink back into the swamp … but it’s always waiting there, just around the corner, ready to make its way back through the sludge.”

Turner later tried to brush the speech aside as a joke (by that point NME had already put him on the cover mocked up as Uncle Sam with the line “rock’n’roll needs you”). Once the histrionics were over, though, it wasn’t necessarily rock’n’roll that wouldn’t go away, but the success of the Monkeys. That award was four years ago, but their last album AM has sold more than 1m copies in the UK, almost unheard-of in the streaming era, especially for an indie band. HMV says it sold more vinyl copies of AM last year than any year since its release.

Perhaps this calm confidence is why Arctic Monkeys are again opting for a more old-school approach. Their new record, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, has been released without any lead-up singles. When it arrived, fans hearing it for the first time had to take it as a whole. There was no companion app or branded content tie-up, but those buying it in shops (including their global pop-up stores set up specifically for its release) also got a book of Turner’s lyrics, presumably so fans can rip pages out and affix them to the pinboard in their halls of residence.

It is a particularly bold approach when you consider that streaming services, which prioritise individual tracks and playlists, have grown hugely in the past couple of years. Most acts focus more on releasing all their best tracks ahead of an LP, which is often chucked out as an afterthought, if an album ever comes out at all. Even big-budget visual albums released by Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean and Bon Iver were teased with single releases, giving us a sense of what was to come.

The aim seems clear: not content with trying to save rock’n’roll, the Monkeys want to save the album, forcing fans to listen to their record as an entire statement rather than a collection of tracks. HMV’s music manager John Hirst has applauded their attempt to get people to “think about it as an album”, admitting to Music Week he was “delighted to finally have an album that’s likely to really shift some units”.

Perhaps at the Brits 2019, Turner can make a new surly speech, to the whoops of the assembled industry dons: “It just won’t go away, that £23.99 limited-edition clear vinyl plus lyrics songbook … ”


Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Arctic Monkeys add album prize to group gong at Brits

The boys from the Steel City have won the Brit award for British album of the year for the third time, staving off competition from the likes of David Bowie and Bastille

Ellie Violet Bramley

19, Feb, 2014 @10:00 PM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys win British group at 2014 Brits

Sheffield band take their fifth Brit

Michael Hann

19, Feb, 2014 @8:45 PM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys review – cheesy irony dissolves into masterful rock'n'roll
With his mocking intros and bingo-hall croon, Alex Turner is not entirely genuine – but this greatest-hits set is the stuff of a bona fide rock powerhouse

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

08, Jun, 2018 @9:58 AM

Arctic Monkeys lord it again

Sheffield band retain top two prizes while Take That and Kylie crown comebacks

Owen Gibson, media correspondent

21, Feb, 2008 @9:33 AM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys – review

From lithe, lusty rock to R&B and menacing theatricality, the Artic Monkeys were on form with impressive versatility, writes Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

10, Sep, 2013 @11:32 AM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See: album stream

Your chance to hear the fourth Arctic Monkeys album in full, a week ahead of release

Tim Jonze

30, May, 2011 @10:22 AM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys break chart records with new album, AM
Band are first group with five consecutive No 1 albums on independent label, with AM selling 157,000 copies in first week

Tim Jonze

16, Sep, 2013 @2:50 PM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys – review
A sensational 21-song set suggests that Arctic Monkeys' reinvention as rockers has given them wings, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

06, Nov, 2011 @12:04 AM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys – review

By adding west coast hip-hop to vintage hard rock, Arctic Monkeys, live, are more impressive than ever, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

14, Sep, 2013 @11:07 PM

Article image
Arctic Monkeys: AM – review

With its nods to 90s G-funk and rocker Josh Homme, Arctic Monkeys' fifth album is their best in years, writes Phil Mongredien

Phil Mongredien

07, Sep, 2013 @11:05 PM