Arctic Monkeys' Career So Far: From Rubble to the Ritz
Published Jun 21, 2018"You can't go experimenting with the colours from different rainbows if you haven't got that base there in the first place to support it all," Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner explained to Spin in 2013. For four friends from High Green, Sheffield, the base they are supported by was formed very early. The monumental success of their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, propelled the young men to reach new heights of indie rock, comparable to their heroes like the Strokes.
After five acclaimed albums and multiple trots around the globe, the band retreated from the spotlight for a four-year hiatus. Now, they return with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, their latest opus. Who the fuck are Arctic Monkeys? A continuously evolving group who have barely faltered and show no signs of stopping.
1986 to 2001
Alexander David Turner is born on January 6, 1986 in Sheffield, England. The only child of Penny and David Turner, he takes piano lessons as a boy and is exposed to all sorts of music. Turner's father plays saxophone, trumpet and piano, with a history as a performing member of big bands. The younger Turner meets Matthew Helders (born May 7, 1986) at age seven; they live around the corner from one another and attend the same primary school. They perform Oasis's "Morning Glory" alongside friends at their final assembly before moving onto Stocksbridge High School at age 11. The two are in the same class at Stocksbridge and known to be very popular and bright, but never show-offs. Turner excels at sports — particularly basketball — but is regarded by many of his teachers as a chronic underachiever.
"I can't point to any one piece of Alex's work and say that's where his talent was, mainly because he was incredibly laid-back, which is why poor Mrs. Turner was tearing her hair out," Steve Baker, Turner's English and drama teacher will tell The Guardian in 2010. "But he was very good at drama — at projects requiring him to pretend he was in the Amazon jungle, or a shop steward in a town threatened by a bypass, daft stuff like that." It's in Baker's class that Turner is introduced to performance poet John Cooper Clarke, including his poem "I Wanna Be Yours."
Turner and Helders meet Andy Nicholson at Stocksbridge. The three friends spend the bulk of their adolescence listening to hip-hop like Outkast, Dr. Dre and Roots Manuva. Nicholson and Helders spend weekends at Turner's house, creating novice beats of their own. For Christmas in 2001, Turner and his next-door neighbour Jamie Cook (born July 8, 1985) both receive guitars. The gift encourages Turner to take his first stab at songwriting.
2002 to 2005
The breakthrough of groups like the Strokes and the Hives further piques Turner's interest in guitar bands. In 2002, he travels from High Green, Sheffield to Manchester alongside Helders and fellow childhood friend Nick O'Malley (born July 5, 1985) to see the Vines in concert — their first gig. That summer, after taking their GCSE's and moving on from secondary school to college, Turner, Cook, Helders and Nicholson form their own band. Nights spent out on Sheffield's West Street and watching their friends play local pubs fuels an interest in performing. They take their name from the list of fantasy football teams and imaginary bands that Cook is in the habit of doodling on his school papers: Arctic Monkeys.
Initially, Turner has reservations about getting behind the mic. "We did try another lad out as the singer, but he choked when it came to show what he could do," he'll tell Abu Dhabi's The National. "There was no way that I wanted to be the singer. The band that we followed at the time was the Strokes, and they seemed too cool for school in every way. I didn't feel I could live up to that. Even when I finally got round to writing my own lyrics, I had this sense of dread that the others would laugh me out of the room."
All four are beginners on their instruments and it takes over a year of practice in both Turner and Helders' garages, as well as at Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend, Sheffield, before they muster up the courage to play their first gig.
On June 13, 2003, Arctic Monkeys play their inaugural concert at The Grapes pub, supporting fellow local act the Sound. The set list features covers of "Hotel Yorba" by the White Stripes, the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" and "Harmonic Generator" by the Datsuns. The band are paid £27; the crowd's reception is riotous.
Prior to Arctic Monkeys' second live show at The Boardwalk in August 2003, Turner and Helders (on rhythm guitar and drums, respectively) join the band Jordan Suki to record at Sheffield's 2fly studios. Following the session, Turner brings up Arctic Monkeys to producer Alan Smyth. He mentions the upcoming gig and asks if they could record at 2fly and Smyth obliges.
Over the span of five-and-a-half days, the band record 17 demos. The tracks are promptly burned onto blank, untitled CDs and given out at shows, starting with their slot at The Boardwalk. It doesn't take long for fans to begin file-sharing songs. Without a name for the collection, the first sender aptly dubs them after The Boardwalk where they received the CD. As more demos begin to slowly accumulate, they are all classified under Beneath the Boardwalk, resulting in an ambiguous track listing.
"We never made those demos to make money or anything," Helders will tell Prefixmag in 2005. "We were giving them away free anyway — that was a better way for people to hear them. And it made the gigs better, because people knew the words and came and sang along. We can't complain about it."
In December 2003, Turner, Helders and Nicholson take a bus to London to see the Strokes on their "Room on Fire" tour at Alexandra Palace. The trio stay in a hotel without running water (but is a steal at £30) and meet Pete Doherty in the crowd that night.
After finishing college in summer 2004, Arctic Monkeys devote more time to music, playing all over the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland. Their popularity continues to spread as they upgrade to playing gigs at the Sheffield Forum to throngs of fans who already know the lyrics to every song. Apart from distributing the free demo CDs at shows, the group and their friends leave the discs behind on public transit for individuals to come across by chance.
While working at The Boardwalk in December 2004, Turner watches John Cooper Clarke open for the Fall. The two meet that night and Turner talks to him about Arctic Monkeys. "He's the first person and only person that's ever liked the name," Turner will tell Spin in 2013. "He said, 'I love it. It's like a picture, a drama, this monkey in the snow!'"
In May 2005, Cook quits his apprenticeship as a bathroom tiler. Later that month, the band release their debut EP, Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys, via their own Bang Bang Recordings — a label created solely for this release. It features the songs "Fake Tales of San Francisco" and "From the Ritz to the Rubble." Despite the release being limited to only 500 CDs and 1,000 seven-inches, it is also available from the increasingly popular iTunes Music Store.
Until June 2005, Arctic Monkeys' wave of success had been entirely in their hands. While major labels lobby the boys, it remains important for them to maintain their DIY ethos as they progress. They admire the ethics of Domino Records owner Laurence Bell, a fan of the group who only signs bands that he personally likes. That month, they sign to Domino.
Turner meets Miles Kane when his band, the Little Flames, support Arctic Monkeys on a UK tour that summer.
In August 2005, Arctic Monkeys play the Carling Stage at Reading and Leeds Festival. Typically reserved for performances by lesser known or unsigned bands, the music press hype surrounding them results in the tent swarming with an unusually large, exuberant crowd. "As 'Fake Tales of San Francisco' touches down, the horizon is a tidal wave of punching arms, with the first of 50 crowd surfers going over the top," NME says in their review. "Today the only thing that matters is being here to witness the point when The People forged their own superstar from a scrawny kid from Rotherham."
In September 2005, the band finish recording their debut album at Lincolnshire's Chapel Studios with producer Jim Abbiss.
"We're the Arctic Monkeys, and we're the next big thing," Turner cheekily scoffs during a packed gig at a Portsmouth leisure centre. Days later, on October 17 2005, the band release their first single through Domino. Taken from their forthcoming debut, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," recorded at Lincolnshire's Chapel Studios, hits #1 on the UK Singles Chart. It will go on to become one of the band's best-known songs.
Arctic Monkeys release "When the Sun Goes Down," as their second single on January 16, 2006. It quickly takes the #1 slot on the UK Singles Chart again. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not drops on January 23, 2006. The album sells 118,501 copies on its first day alone, more than the rest of the UK Top 20 records combined. It goes on to sell 363,735 in the first week, surpassing previous records to make it the fastest selling debut in UK chart history. Released on February 21, 2006 in the United States, the LP debuts at #24 on the Billboard album chart and sells 34,000 units in its first week — the second-fastest-selling indie debut in American chart history.
The album's cover features Chris McClure, a friend of the band, smoking a cigarette, with an overflowing ashtray on its reverse. Dr. Laurence Gruer of Scotland's National Health Service is quick to criticize the image, telling Glasgow's The Herald newspaper that it "reinforces that idea that smoking is okay." Johnny Bradshaw, Arctic Monkeys' product manager, denies any positive promotion: "You can see from the image [that] smoking is not doing him [a] world of good." The name Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is taken from the Alan Sillitoe novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, about an indignant, working class rebel in 1950s Nottingham.
Arctic Monkeys take home the award for British Breakthrough Act at the 2006 Brit Awards on February 15. One week later, they'll sweep the NME Awards, winning Best British Band, Best New Band and Best Track for "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor." NME also crowns Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not as the fifth best British album of all time.
Despite being lauded with praise in their native UK, the band face a tougher battle winning over American press. Following their debut American TV performance on the March 11, 2006 episode of Saturday Night Live, the Miami Herald proclaims: "The teen rockers revealed a lack of seasoning. Its drummer sang laughably out-of-tune harmonies, its lead singer wasn't especially charismatic, the music felt catchy but unexceptional."
However, the band feel no real desire to "crack" America. "Sometimes I think about other bands, and I wonder if they have conversations about their ambitions and that," Turner tells The Guardian in April 2006. "Everyone else seems to know what they're doing a lot more than we do. I read about other bands and it's as if they had a big meeting when they started and worked it all out. But we started just for something to do, because all us friends had bands. We never had a manifesto. We just wrote songs and it came out like this."
On March 20, 2006, Arctic Monkeys open a sold-out Oasis show at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. NOW Magazine writes: "AM will probably fill ACC-type complexes ten years from now, and, judging by this concert, so will Oasis."
Domino release a short film called Scummy Man on April 10, 2006. Written and directed by Paul Fraser, it's based on "When the Sun Goes Down" by Arctic Monkeys and focuses on prostitution in Sheffield, using the same actors from the song's music video to portray a night in the life of a 15-year-old drug addict who works as a prostitute.
Three months after the release of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Arctic Monkeys drop a new EP on April 24, 2006. Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? consists of five tracks, making it ineligible to qualify as an EP or single in the UK charts. Some speculate that the band are over-marketing themselves, and that the EP is solely for them to "cash in" on. "It's a mission statement, if you like," Turner tells The Telegraph. "We want to do things our way, and people think it's arrogance, so it's inevitable some people will get tired of us."
In May, the band announce that bassist Andy Nicholson will not be joining them on their upcoming North American tour, saying that the 19-year-old is suffering from "fatigue following an intensive period of touring." Having completed a European tour one week prior, Nicholson's exhaustion is apparent to both the band and their team. "We have another North American tour starting in Vancouver on Friday, there was a discussion, and it seemed the best thing for us to do was to say: 'Take a break. Have a few weeks off and give yourself time to recover,'" Ian McAndrew of management company Wildlife tells The Independent. "And while everyone's now looking at it as a major, significant event, the reality is that it's no more than that."
Nick O'Malley, childhood friend and former bassist of the Dodgems, fills in on bass from May 27 to June 17 as the band tour across Canada and the U.S. At the time, he works in Sheffield's local supermarket. Only a week after agreeing, O'Malley breaks his arm during some drunken antics with his ex-bandmates in the Dodgems. Despite it being his pick hand, he's still able to play bass and join the band on tour. He learns every bass part to Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not in two days.
Less than a week after the tour wraps up in Toronto, Arctic Monkeys confirm that Nicholson is officially out. "We have been mates with Andy for a long time and have been through some amazing things together that no one can take away," Turner, Helders, and Cook post on the band's official website. "We wish Andy the very best." The statement also says that O'Malley will continue as Arctic Monkeys' bassist for their remaining summer tour dates. Shortly after, he is confirmed as Nicholson's formal replacement.
Turner further elaborates on Nicholson's departure to NME: "We sorta found ourselves in a situation where we wanted to move forward. It weren't like us wanting to carry on like this as punishment for him wanting to opt out." Jamie Cook adds: "Everyone might say we're wankers and we shit on him, but they don't know. We know, Andy knows, and that's all that really matters."
A new song they've been playing live, "Leave Before the Lights Come On," is released on August 14, 2006. Their first single without Nicholson, its B-sides include covers of "Put Your Dukes Up John" by the Little Flames and Barbara Lewis's "Baby I'm Yours." It's their first single to not reach #1 in the UK, peaking at #4.
On August 27, 2006, the band return to Reading and Leeds Festival, this time on the main stage. Ahead of their evening set, they reunite with Nicholson backstage, where he and O'Malley are seen shaking hands and chatting amicably. NME graciously review the set, saying: "In stark contrast to Muse's all-flashing, all-smoke-spewing, all-fire-raining slot, Alex and his stocky, blokey-bloke bandmates simply stroll on without even the courtesy of shoving up a backdrop, plug in and play their songs with such fire and fury that they sound like Steel City itself suffering an amphetamine overdose."
Two weeks later, on September 5, 2006, Arctic Monkeys win the Mercury Prize for Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, beating out names like Richard Hawley, Hot Chip, Muse and Thom Yorke. Awarded annually to the best album from the UK and Ireland, the prize includes a coveted £20,000. Only the original members, with the exception of Nicholson, are present to receive the award. "We're very, very pleased because it's just good tunes, that's what we try to do," Turner says in their acceptance speech. "There are no tricks. Too many people try to do too many tricks." At a press conference following the ceremony, he cheekily adds: "We deserved it because we had the best record." Turners, Helders, and Cook reunite with Nicholson once more to donate their Mercury Prize earnings to a charity, the name of which they keep private.
Arctic Monkeys surprise their hometown of Sheffield with a performance at The Leadmill on February 10, 2007. The gig is kept secret until an hour before they take the stage. It is their first performance after completing their second album and they preview a slew of new songs, including "D Is for Dangerous," "Fluorescent Adolescent" and "Brianstorm."
On Valentine's Day, the band win two Brit Awards, for British Group and British Album. They accept the awards dressed as Wizard of Oz characters and the Village People, respectively, via pre-recorded clips.
At the 2007 NME Awards on March 1, Arctic Monkeys are on hand at London's Hammersmith Palais to receive the awards for Best Album and Best Music DVD for Scummy Man.
Amidst media speculation over living up to the massive success of their debut, Arctic Monkeys release "Brianstorm" on April 16, 2007. Often mistaken for "Brainstorm," it's inspired by a strange character the band encounter in their dressing room after a gig in Osaka, Japan: "He definitely left a mark on us. He might have been a magician. He might even be here now. But if we ever find out who he was, it might spoil it," Cook tells NME. The frenetic, first single off their second record sets the stage for Favourite Worst Nightmare to drop the following week, first on April 18 in Japan, followed by April 23 in the UK.
Most of the album is recorded in East London's The Garden Studio at Miloco Studios, which has hosted the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode and the Cure. Mike Crossey (who worked with the band on Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys) and James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco take production duties. Miles Kane reunites with Turner to perform additional guitar on closing track "505."
Doubts of a sophomore slump are quickly squashed. The Guardian state that "...they've successfully negotiated the daunting task of following up the biggest-selling debut album in British history" while The Daily Express say that "...this time around there's a confidence and sense of innovation that makes each track a stunning surprise."
However, Turner will express his own mixed feelings regarding the record. "There was definitely that feeling that we needed to move on to the next album really quickly," he will tell Stereogum in 2011. "We didn't want to give ourselves enough time to second-guess ourselves too much. As a result, that second album is far from perfect. I mean, there are some songs on it that I really like and that we still play, but there are others that I don't care for as much."
Favourite Worst Nightmare hits #1 on the UK Albums Chart; the same day, all 12 tracks chart in the UK Singles' Chart Top 200. It marks the first time an entire album has charted. Instead of relying on traditional sales, the band look to their tech-savvy fan base for online downloads.
Arctic Monkeys receive the 52nd Ivor Novello Album Award for Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. The Clash's Mick Jones presents Turner with the award that honours songwriting and composing talents.
On June 22, Arctic Monkeys perform before headliners Muse on Glastonbury's Pyramid stage. It's the end of a very rainy day, but the crowd don't let it dampen their spirits. "It takes a certain kind of band to move every member of the audience at the main stage, but everyone from the front row all the way back to the tents is on their feet, delighted and singing in anticipation, even before the Monkeys begin," writes The Guardian. The set features guest performances from Dizzee Rascal and Simian Mobile Disco, as well as a cover of Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever" in honour of her upcoming performance two days later. Kane also appears to perform "505" with the band.
"Fluorescent Adolescent" is Favourite Worst Nightmare's second single; written by Turner and Johanna Bennett, his girlfriend at the time, in a hotel room prior to the recording of the sophomore album, the song peaks at #5 on the UK Singles Chart.
The band host their own mini-festival at Manchester's Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Both dates sell out and 50,000 fans fill the grounds to watch Amy Winehouse, Supergrass, the Coral and Arctic Monkeys. The latter's performances draw comparisons to Oasis's record-breaking, back-to-back shows at Knebworth House in 1996. "In the Britpop era, Oasis overreached by playing Knebworth and subsequently burst their bubble, but there are no such problems for Arctic Monkeys," The Guardian says. "As thousands surge toward the stage for Britain's hottest band, 'Fluorescent Adolescent' demonstrates what a stadium pop experience should sound like." This Is Lancashire compares the two groups further, saying that their shared similarities include "...cocksure swagger, gritty northern lyrics and, more than anything else, an ability to pen sing-along anthems that have their fans screaming for more."
In late summer, Turner travels to France to lay down tracks for an album with Kane and Ford at Black Box Studios.
Arctic Monkeys receive their second Mercury Prize nomination for Favourite Worst Nightmare, ultimately losing to Klaxons' Myths of the Near Future. "A year ago, we were in the studio making this album and we were sitting in the studio watching Arctic Monkeys win this," singer James Righton says during the acceptance speech. "We saw that and thought 'We have to make a new album.'"
The band open for Queens of the Stone Age in Houston, TX on September 18. It's the first time their paths cross with Josh Homme.
"Teddy Picker" is released as Favourite Worst Nightmare's third single on December 3. It enters the UK Singles Chart at #20, their lowest charting single yet. The B-sides, including a Richard Hawley feature, are released under the pseudonym Death Ramps. Domino release 250 seven-inch copies of the new tracks, telling fans that: "Unfortunately, we're not allowed to tell you the true identity of the Death Ramps, but needless to say, they're a band with A Certain Romance (wink, wink)." They go on to play a handful of secret Death Ramps shows alongside Hawley and Miles Kane, frontman of the Rascals.
Arctic Monkeys return home after a year of touring and celebrate with a tour of large venues across the nation, playing two shows each at London's Alexandra Palace, Manchester's G-Mex Centre and Aberdeen's AECC. Fellow English rockers the Rascals and the Horrors join as support acts. Some Arctic Monkeys fans are unhappy with the latter's inclusion, whipping bottles, cans and shoes onstage throughout their sets. The Telegraph's review calls their London set on December 10 "...the most hostile reception that this writer has ever seen inflicted on a support act." At the second Manchester show, Turner introduces "D Is for Dangerous" as "D is for dickheads throwing things at the Horrors."
The band play their final show of the year at Manchester's Apollo on December 17. The performance is recorded for a live album and film to be released the following year in cinemas and on CD/DVD.
2008 to 2010
In February 2008, Turner shares details of his new project: the Last Shadow Puppets, made up of Kane, Ford and himself. Canadian composer Owen Pallett arranges orchestration for the songs on The Age of the Understatement, the group's debut, and conducts recordings by the 22-piece London Metropolitan Orchestra.
That month, Arctic Monkeys win three NME Awards for Best British Band, Best Video for "Teddy Picker," and Best Track for "Fluorescent Adolescent."
On April 14, the Last Shadow Puppets release their debut single for the record's title track. Its B-side features a cover of David Bowie's "In the Heat of the Morning," which the icon calls "a day maker." The Age of the Understatement follows on April 21, entering the UK Album Chart at #1, and selling over 51,000 copies in its first week. It receives favourable reviews; Pitchfork writes that "...the biggest difference between the Last Shadow Puppets and Turner's main gig is in the lyrics. Though less immediately noticeable than the majestic production, the change in the scale of Turner's songwriting is ultimately more profound." The record is nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2008, but loses to Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid.
In June, the Last Shadow Puppets play a surprise set at Glastonbury. Helders plays drums on "The Age of the Understatement" and Jack White performs a guitar solo on "Wondrous Place." They go on to perform at that summer's Reading and Leeds Festivals.
In September, Arctic Monkeys travel to Joshua Tree, CA to record two sessions for their forthcoming third record at Rancho De La Luna with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme. They record a third session before the year ends at Homme's Pink Duck studio in Los Angeles.
Late Night Tales: Matt Helders, a Helders-mixed DJ compilation, is released in late October as part of the Late-Night Tales/Another Late Night DJ series. Its closing track is a spoken word story by Turner, entitled "A Choice of Three."
Turner's lyrics book containing sketches and plans for proposed songs on the new record is stolen. The unfortunate incident ends up revitalizing his creative process. "I went the morning after and brought a couple of Moleskines and sat around for a couple of hours trying to remember it all," he tells NME. "But I found the whole process made me write more things, complete things that I wouldn't have otherwise."
Arctic Monkeys play their first gig of 2009 in New Zealand on January 12. They debut four new songs: "Dangerous Animals," "Pretty Visitors," "Go-Kart" (which will go on to be called "Potion Approaching") and "Crying Lightning."
Following their tour of New Zealand and Australia, the band head to Brooklyn for a fourth and final session for their new record with longtime producer Ford. Turner expresses concern that the bi-coastal studios would produce disparate sounds, but the vibe of working with Homme in Joshua Tree carries over and effortlessly permeates Ford's work.
At the NME Awards on February 25, Arctic Monkeys take home the Best Music DVD trophy for At the Apollo. The Last Shadow Puppets earn a Best Video win for "My Mistakes Were Made for You."
On July 6, Zane Lowe debuts "Crying Lightning," the first single off the third album, on his BBC Radio 1 show. Released on vinyl on August 17, it's B-side features a cover of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand."
Humbug is released on August 24 in the UK and quickly follows its predecessors to #1 on the albums chart. It features an assortment of instruments the band have not previously used, including baritone and slide guitars, keyboards, xylophones and glockenspiels.
In their review, Pitchfork writes that the record "...demonstrates a great deal of staying power for a band that could have imploded before it ever got this far," while Spin says that "it's accomplished, but not particularly infectious." Alison Mosshart of the Kills sings backing vocals on the record's sixth track, "Fire and the Thud." Humbug's release sets the stage for Arctic Monkeys to headline Reading and Leeds for the first time and fully unleash their new material.
The record's second single, "Cornerstone," drops on November 16. "I wrote 'Cornerstone' one morning quite quickly," Turner tells Uncut. "There's something to be said for writing in the morning. At other points in the day, you're a bit more defensive. I saw it as a challenge to write something in a major key, but that wasn't cheesy." Reaching a peak position of #94 on the UK Singles Chart, it fails to live up to the success of past singles.
The third and final single to be taken from Humbug is "My Propeller," announced in February 2010 and released on March 22. It charts at #90 and precedes the band's benefit performance at London's Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Arctic Monkeys' world tour in support of Humbug wraps up on April 22 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Turner begins writing material for the band's fourth record during the summer.
In autumn, the foursome reconvenes in an East London synagogue to begin rehearsing and fleshing out arrangements. An intensive six-week period of work on the new record follows, with Ford joining them in the later stages to give his input and record live demos on his digital recorder.
2011 to 2012
On March 4, 2011, the band upload a video for a new song entitled "Brick by Brick," featuring Helders on lead vocals, to their YouTube channel. He explains that while it's not a single, it will be featured on their fourth album. Less than a week later, Suck It and See is announced for release on June 6.
On March 18, the Submarine is released — Richard Ayoade's directorial debut. A friend of Arctic Monkeys and the director behind the videos for "Fluorescent Adolescent," "Crying Lightning" and "Cornerstone," he asks Turner to help out with the film's music. Turner writes six original songs and Ford records them in whole, unedited takes at One Inch Studios in East London. The acoustic EP is a welcome reprieve from Turner's typical style and garners a positive reception.
"Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" is released for download as Suck It and See's first single on April 1, followed by a limited-edition white-label seven-inch on Record Store Day. It charts at #28 on the UK Singles Chart and is released on seven- and ten-inch vinyl with two B-sides on May 30.
Arctic Monkeys kick off the Suck It and See world tour in Stockholm, Sweden on May 5; it's their first live show in over a year. They celebrate the release of their new record with two homecoming performances on June 10 and 11 at Sheffield's Don Valley Bowl. Support acts include Miles Kane, the Vaccines, Dead Sons, Anna Calvi and Mabel Love. Clips from the performance are featured in the video for "The Hellcat Spangled Shalala."
Domino Records streams Suck It and See on SoundCloud for the week leading up to its official release. By the end of the week, each track has over 100,000 plays.
Recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, Suck It and See debuts at #1 in the UK and sells over 82,000 units in its first week, dethroning Lady Gaga's Born This Way. It makes them the second band in UK history (next to Keane) to take four consecutive albums to the top of the albums chart.
Helders describes it to NME as "enjoyable for us and the listener. And it's maybe a bit more easy-going. Not easy listening, but with a few poppier tunes. But in an interesting way." He adds: "With Humbug, we recorded 25 songs and narrowed it down afterwards. This time we had a clear idea of where we were going before we even went to the studio." The track "Piledriver Waltz" first appears on Turner's Submarine EP but is re-recorded with the whole band. A number of major U.S. supermarkets deem the album's title and artwork-free, monochrome cover "rude and disrespectful," and only sell copies with a large sticker obstructing the words. The English idiom simply means to try something first in order to find out if it will be successful.
In July, the band release iTunes Festival: London 2011. The live EP consists of six assorted tracks from their discography.
Arctic Monkeys release the video for "The Hellcat Spangled Shalala," Suck It and See's second single. On August 8, most of the single's stock is destroyed in an arson fire at Sony's distribution centre in North London during the London Riots. While retail release is severely hindered, "The Hellcat Spangled Shalala" drops on August 15 and the limited amount of remaining inventory is available exclusively through the band's website. The B-side, "Little Illusion Machine (Wirral Riddler)," is credited to Miles Kane and the Death Ramps.
"Suck It and See" is released as the record's third single on Halloween 2011. Due to an increase in downloads, the B-side "Evil Twin" ends up charting higher than the single itself. "Black Treacle" is released as the fourth and final single in January 2012. The sole B-side, "You and I," is credited to Richard Hawley and the Death Ramps.
On February 26, 2012, Arctic Monkeys upload a video for a brand new song entitled "R U Mine?" to their YouTube channel. It's made available for download the next day and released on limited edition, purple seven-inch vinyl, featuring the B-side "Electricity," for Record Store Day. "The song, not to get too heavy, is about that uncertainty that comes with love sometimes. Wondering where you are with it all," Turner tells NME. "That particular bit is like the thing Lil Wayne and Drake do. We've been listening to a lot of their stuff recently. I like that thing they do where they talk about something backwards, so they talk about it, but then say what it actually is on the next line. It's hard to explain, but I guess it's a little nod to that idea." The song sets the stage for the band's forthcoming fifth record.
In March, the band embark on the first leg of a North American stadium tour as support for the Black Keys. When Turner is asked by Rolling Stone if he's doing any writing while touring, he replies: "We've messed around in sound checks, but I'm not gonna meet a deadline, and it's not like I need to write, though I want a head start for the next time around."
Arctic Monkeys perform "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and a cover of "Come Together" by the Beatles at the opening ceremony of the London Summer Olympics.
2013 to 2014
On May 22, 2013, Arctic Monkeys debut a new song, entitled "Do I Wanna Know?" during a performance in Ventura, CA. Following an official release on June 19, it enters the UK Singles Chart at #11 and marks the band's highest charting single since "Fluorescent Adolescent."
Days later, the band announce AM. Set for release on September 9, their fifth album is recorded in Hollywood at Sage & Sound Recording where the foursome has been rehearsing. They hole up there for months, recording demos on '70s-era four-tracks before inviting long-time producer and friend Ford out. Heavyweight electronic producer Ross Orton (M.I.A., the Fall) joins to co-produce. AM reunites Arctic Monkeys with Homme once more, who provides backing vocals on "Knee Socks" and "One for The Road," and features additional collaborations with Bill Ryder-Jones of the Coral and Elvis Costello's drummer, Pete Thomas. The band recruit the latter to fill in on recording sessions when Helders breaks his hand after drunkenly punching a wall. Tchad Blake, who worked on the Black Keys' 2010 breakthrough Brothers, mixes the 12 tracks after additional recording is completed at Rancho De La Luna.
Turner collaborates with Queens of the Stone Age on their sixth album ...Like Clockwork. The song "If I Had a Tail" features his vocals, and he inspires "Kalopsia" by telling Homme about the condition wherein everything seems more beautiful than it actually is.
On June 24, Arctic Monkeys headline Glastonbury for the second time. Six years after they took to the Pyramid Stage, they return stronger and more electric than before, performing three tracks from the new record. "This is the best it gets! You only ever do, like, five gigs like this. And that one was the one," Turner tells NME following their stellar set. "You do big shows, big festivals all the time. But it's a different beast, Glastonbury. We'll carry on playing to a lot of people all over the summer, but it won't have that feeling we had just then. That feeling I can't describe. It felt like I was in outer space."
AM's album cover is revealed on July 15. The waveform depicted on it is reminiscent of an amplitude modulated (AM) single, while its title takes direct influence from the Velvet Underground's VU compilation.
"Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" leaks on July 29 before its official release as AM's third single on August 11. The song's sultry, broken beats remind publications like Drowned in Sound and Slant Magazine of Dr. Dre's signature brand of '90s G-funk, while No Ripcord states that it "...sounds like it's been ripped from a Jurassic 5 mixtape before Turner's exacerbated thirst to relieve his libido once again shines through."
AM drops in September to a rush of critical acclaim. Turner's songwriting is sharpened and polished; his lyrical poetry weaves effortlessly through themes of love, loss and lust. NME crowns the record with a 10/10 review, dubbing it "the most incredible album of their career." The Guardian doesn't fawn quite as hard in their review: "There is a depth — a willingness to experiment, a refusal to be pigeonholed — that rewards repeated listens and makes this their most coherent, most satisfying album since their debut."
Closing track "I Wanna Be Yours" takes John Cooper Clarke's poem of the same name and sets its words atop of a simple, slick arrangement. AM sells nearly 100,000 copies in its first two days and totals nearly 158,000 by the end of its first week, making it the second-fastest-selling album of 2013. Arctic Monkeys' fifth consecutive album to debut at #1, they set a new record as the first band on an independent label to achieve such a feat in British chart history. Three days after its release, AM is shortlisted for the 2013 Mercury Prize, but ultimately loses out to James Blake's Overgrown. NME names AM the best album of 2013, saying that it is "...the album against which everything else will now be measured."
On February 19, 2014, Arctic Monkeys win two Brit Awards for British Group and British Album of the Year. It's the third time that they've topped both categories, making them the first act in Brits history to do so. During their acceptance speech for Album of the Year, Turner rambles about the "cyclical nature in which [rock'n'roll] exists" before literally dropping the mic. Fans express alarm and concern that the frontman is unwell.
The band dominate the NME Awards one week later, collecting statuettes for Best British Band, Best Live Band, Best Album, Best Video ("R U Mine?") and Best Fan Community. Turner is also named Hero of the Year. He references the previous week's Brit Awards during their Best Live Band speech, saying: "I used all my best shit last week." John Cooper Clarke is on hand to give the band the Best Album award.
At Tokyo's Summer Sonic Festival, Helders tells AFP: "There isn't any rush to do something else yet. For now, this album seems like a place to leave it for bit." Turner elaborates to NME, saying that the band's headlining sets at Reading and Leeds Festival in August "seems like the perfect place to leave things for a while." Their global trek in support of AM sees them on the road for over a year before it's brought to a close on November 14 in Brazil. A hiatus feels needed and well-deserved.
2015 to 2016
Los Angeles trio Mini Mansions, featuring Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman, release their second album The Great Pretenders on March 23, 2015. Turner provides additional vocals on the track "Vertigo."
In the fall of 2015, Pallett and Ford both confirm their work on the Last Shadow Puppets' followup record. "Bad Habits," the group's first single in eight years, is released in January 2016 and is soon accompanied by the announcement that their second album, Everything You've Come to Expect, will drop on April 1. The Last Shadow Puppets tour the world in support of it.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Turner addresses his odd acceptance speech at the 2014 Brit Awards. "A lot of people thought I was waffling away on drugs. But I wasn't. I just can't pretend getting an award was something I've dreamed about since I was a kid, because it isn't."
Turner returns home from his 30th birthday celebrations to find a Steinway Vertegrand piano, gifted to him by his manager. The instrument will greatly influence the sixth Arctic Monkeys record. He'll tell Billboard in April 2017: "Prior to that point I didn't really have many ideas, and in my memory, that was the point at which they started to come. I really do think sitting at the piano tricked me into writing a lot of this stuff."
Iggy Pop releases his 18th album, Post Pop Depression, on March 18, 2016, featuring Helders behind the kit. Two months later, the drummer marries actress Breana McDow (and mother of their daughter Amelia) in Rome.
Joanne, Lady Gaga's fifth studio LP, drops on October 21. Helders drums on opening track "Diamond Heart" alongside Father John Misty.
The Last Shadow Puppets release The Dream Synopsis EP on December 2, featuring covers of the Fall's "Totally Wired" and "Is This What You Wanted" by Leonard Cohen. Later that month, Turner confirms to Shamir Masri of the BBC that Arctic Monkeys' hiatus is over, and the foursome have reunited in their hometown of Sheffield to begin work on their sixth album.
2017 to 2018
In April 2017, photographer Daniele Cavalli posts photos of Turner seemingly recording a piano take, as well as additional images of the band members hanging out in Los Angeles, on Instagram. That same month, Alexandra Savior releases her debut LP, Belladonna of Sadness, which Turner performs on and co-produces alongside Ford.
Speaking to motorcycle website For The Ride, O'Malley reveals that recording has officially begun, and that the record will see release in 2018. "If it isn't," he says. "We've got problems."
The hiatus strengthens and renews Arctic Monkeys' relationship. "Put it this way," Turner tells Exclaim!, "I can't think of a better time that we've had than the one we did just now. Normally, by this time, you've come to believe in the studio — you've been there, you're ready, it's time to go. We had a really great time doing it. In relation to making music and doing this stuff, surround yourself with a bunch of people that are better than you are and funnier than you are. I can support that."
Subscription service Vinyl Me, Please announces a reissue of Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Pressed on heavyweight 180-gram multicolour "smoke" vinyl, it comes with a 16-page lyric booklet complete with photos.
On April 5, 2018, Arctic Monkeys announce their long-awaited new album. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is slated for a May 11 release. Speaking to MOJO, Turner says that the album has a very autobiographical tone: "I'm having a word with myself, intermittently, throughout all 11 tunes." In DIY's review of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Lisa Wright writes "the quartet's long-awaited sixth is like nothing they've done before," and that "it's all either genius or the sound of a man unraveling."
The album artwork behind Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is designed by Turner himself — a physically constructed model made of illustration board. "I started to think about the hotel lobby and things that might be in it," Turner tells Exclaim! "Model was one of them. I made a key chest and an information sign. I was exploring all of this when I started to work on the model idea. Eventually, that superseded everything."
Essential Arctic Monkeys
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino, 2006)
The monstrous success of Arctic Monkeys' gritty debut blew doors wide open for them, solidified their place in history and threatened to swallow them whole. Its hype is merited; opener "The View From the Afternoon" immediately sets the riotous stage, interlocking pounding drums and frenetic yet succinct guitar riffs. The energy carries throughout the record's 13 tracks, culminating in "A Certain Romance," an insightful dissection of contempt, class solidarity and existential frustration that showcases Turner's sharp lyrical abilities.
Humbug (Domino, 2009)
Josh Homme's influence on Arctic Monkeys' third record leads to their darkest sound yet, punctuated by slower tempos, eerie organ interludes and reverberant guitars. "Crying Lightning" is aggressive and rides along an overdriven bass line, while the lovelorn "Cornerstone" delivers some of Turner's finest, subtle storytelling atop gentle drums.
AM (Domino, 2013)
The quartet's fifth record is easily their most accessible. Trading shaggy locks for slicked, coiffed do's, the Monkeys evoke a late night, after-party atmosphere with slow-grinding guitars, strong backing vocals and an R&B edge. AM is a self-assured and undeniably groovy album that sends the band out on an exceptionally high note before their hiatus.