Light and airy, filmic but intimate, carefully arranged but deceptively power-ful, “Suck It and See” is Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album. Recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles with long-time producer/ collaborator James Ford, it has a summery pop feel: with the bulk of work completed on the West Coast during January, it’s got the feel-good sound of stealing some winter sun, some out of season Vitamin D.
‘Everyone was in a really good mood when we were there,’ says Alex Turner; ‘so I think the fact we were having a laugh comes across. When I’ve played it to friends they’ve said “it sounds like you’re having a really good time”, I think we wanted it to sound quite fun and up, not too serious’.
‘It were more about making it more of a trip and an experience I suppose, going somewhere to do the record,’ says Matt Helders about the decision to record in LA; ‘we knew we wanted to go somewhere and do it and it were gray and horrible here’. Alex: ‘We were there for five weeks, a good stretch. But it were different to the last album when we went out to the desert and it was re-ally all about that experience and feeling far away’.
‘We were looking at places to record and that one seemed to tick all the boxes. The studio we were in (Sound City) there’s been some greats… there’s a really good drum room, that was a big draw, it’s where they did “Nevermind” [Nir-vana].’ ‘They were all saying it’s the best drum room in the world,’ adds Matt, ‘so it was a bit of pressure, no excuse to fuck it up!! Laughter better play something good then!’
For “Suck It and See” the Monkeys changed the way they work, as Alex ex-plains: ‘the plan this time was to get the songs together early on and have them be the guide. In the past perhaps it’s come from a riff or like different drum parts kicking around and then we’d piece it together. This time we’ve thought a lot more about what each finished song required in terms of its musical parts and the best way to realise it. We have done a little bit of that before but perhaps not as much as on this one.’
Suiting the album’s pop approach, “Suck It and See” is much more arranged than the last album, “Humbug”, with Jamie Cook’s guitar a particular revela-tion: adding flavour, excitement and a variety of textures in short bursts. Alex: ‘I suppose just that it was a decision to try and make things as simple as pos-sible, to get the sounds together and then try and do as little as we could and leave quite a lot of space and not do a lot of overdubs and organs’.
Matt: ‘We cut live and recorded – no cheating!’
Alex: ‘Not fix anything, we spent all the time rehearsing so that we could play them well enough to not keep going through and fixing the tapes. And even if there is a little bit in there we just left it’.
Matt: ‘Once you start fixing things you can get too obsessive as well, every little thing. Once you know you can easily sort it out with a computer the temptation is there. Even if you know you’ve done something wrong you know you can sort it out which a lot of people must do nowadays, Yeah everything’s perfect; ironed out’.
The album’s twelve songs vary in pace and texture, with Alex Turner’s vocals taking a more sophisticated, smoother approach – no less humorous or blunt, but a different pitch, more insinuating. ‘It’s kind of got lower as times go on,’ he reflects about his voice. ‘I think a lot of these ones I wrote at home on an acoustic guitar sort of sitting and when I do that I tend to sing softly and qui-etly and low and usually too low’.
‘So when we get it in with the band we have to move it up a couple of tones to get it to sit right. That’s something we never really looked at before like the key – getting the right key for things – cos we you used to get in and bash things out and it would take you too long to change the key so you’d just fuck-ing leave it Laughter but yeah that’s where I’m comfortable now singing in, there’s a bit more space I suppose, its not quite as rapid as it used to be’.
‘We had a discussion before we began, about what we wanted this to be this time and one thing we all agreed were we wanted to get really good songs ar-ranged and then hopefully the rest you can work out without the initial tunes there otherwise you might run into trouble. So I think that just meant me try-ing to listen to good song writers which I suppose meant listening to a bit of John Cale, I got into him a lot over the last years, and the Velvet Underground as well but his solo records like “Fear”.’
‘And I started getting into Country music which is something I’ve never gone anywhere near until quite recently, like I never understood it before. I know I’m never going to write a country tune, laughter, that just wouldn’t work but for that reason I can draw something from it. They’re really sort of smart arses sometimes those guys, like George Jones and that kind of thing. The sound doesn’t speak to me but the lyrics do’.
“Suck It and See” is full of songs that chart the twists and turns of sex and love with elemental imagery, sharp lyrics and great pop-cultural metaphors – with references to past rock’n roll classics (‘you look like you’ve been for breakfast at the Heartbreak Hotel’) different kinds of soft drinks (Dandelion and Bur-dock, Postmix Lemonade) and arcane 21st century leisure pursuits (Laser-quest).
‘I were thinking about this yesterday,’ says Alex about the wide open weather imagery of “Thunderstorm” and “Black Treacle”, ‘and the reason for this may-be could be, I realised this is the first time I’ve written not on the ground floor. Because I wrote most of the album in New York in the flat on the 4th floor so…’
Matt: ‘it’s being closer to the sky’.
Alex: ‘yeah looking out of the window and there being a lot more sky…’
Matt: ‘’like Australia – the sky’s further away…’
For fans of Turner’s lyrics, there are some classic lines: ‘trust some ellipses to chase you round the room’ (“Library Pictures”); ‘the type of kiss where teeth collide’ (“Reckless Serenade”); ‘I’m sure you’re still breaking hearts with all the efficiency that only youth can harness’ (“Laserquest”).
One of the best lines comes in the title track “Suck It and See”: ‘I poured my aching heart into a pop song, I couldn’t get the hang of poetry’. How much are these lyrics autobiographical? ‘It’s not accurate at all, Alex admits. ‘Because I think that’s something that I have done before and like I used to really write about exactly the situation that happened and after a while I sort of wished I hadn’t.’
‘And I don’t know if it is harder for everyone else to enjoy then as well if it’s your thing. I’m more into making songs the best they can be and I think to do that you don’t want to put too much of yourself but I think you have to do a bit because it can go too much the other way. That’s something I’ve done as well. And with poetry I feel like it’s just like a couple of leagues up, you’re not hid-ing behind a melody’.
The album also contains several great rockers (“Library Pictures”) but two in particular stand out. The first, “Brick by Brick” has a killer riff and Matt Held-ers on his first full band vocal: ‘it was very enjoyable’, he says. The track origi-nated in a band catch-phrase. Alex: ‘we got off a long flight once and we were in Miami, we were sort of sitting around in the bar and had an idea for a song called “Brick by Brick” and we kind of just wrote it through that night’.
Matt: ‘it were like an ongoing thing for a long time…’
Alex: ‘a few weeks yeah’.
Matt: ‘different lines, there were probably a thousand options, you could put anything in’.
Alex: ‘whatever you want to do as long as it’s “Brick by Brick”, so we went through this and the list was probably three times as long as it ended up…’
Matt: ‘feed your child…’ laughs
Alex: ‘we never like kind of wrote down what it were…’
Matt: ‘yeah even down to when it we were at the studio there were like slight changes…’
Alex: ‘the only thing we knew we were going to have three “I wanna rock and roll”s, cos one rock and roll is funny, two rock and rolls is a bit funnier but three is just fucking awesome!’
On the first single “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” the band itemise various things that you shouldn’t do: ‘wear your shell suit on bonfire night’, ‘do the Macarena in the devil’s lair’. Alex: ‘that song is an idea rather than you sort of sitting down and writing a letter or something. There’s a few we’ve had like that before and this is definitely one of them. “Brick by Brick” is very much an idea. You think we’re going to have a song and then you just make a list of things and that list will be too long at first and then you shorten it down’.
‘But yeah “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause…” was that somebody said that once. I was in the studio with James Ford and the engineer or whatever, I pinched his seat and he was fiddling around plugging something in and I said “don’t sit down because I’ve moved your chair” and James started laughing and said “that sounds like it would be a 60s garage tune or something like that”, laughter and then he said “you should write that”.’
‘So then I thought if you can’t sit down because I’ve moved your chair what list of ridiculous things can you do that are like more dangerous or risky, cos like sitting down would be dangerous, that’s what we’re really focusing on, we re-ally don’t want him to sit down but he can do whatever else he likes’.
Let’s go back to those soft-drink references on the anthemic title track, “Suck It and See”….
Alex: ‘Dandelion & Burdock is a rare fizzy drink, English I think.’
Matt: ‘yeah probably not even so much down in London I don’t think. I was watching Saturday Kitchen one week and he used it in a recipe and he’s from Leeds or whatever and Louise Redknapp had never heard of it before she were like ‘what’s this…’
Alex: ‘Apparently John Paul Jones really likes it as well….’
Matt: It’s good, I should incorporate it into drinking vodka. I do have them quite regularly because well I know where to get them laughs like its always in chip shops. It’s really quite sweet’.
Alex: ‘and then postmix lemonade you have a lot more often so I thought that would be quite a good analogy to compliment a woman laughter if she’s …
Matt: ‘one of a kind…’
Alex: ‘yeah ‘you’re rare’ … and doing that with a fizzy drink seemed quite fun-ny’.
But wait a minute: what about that album title? A reference to last album “Humbug”, or what?
Alex: I guess it is in a way but we struggle with putting a title on a record and have done every time and I dunno… To be honest we just thought that, out of all of the song titles, that was the one that made most sense. That’s quite a nice phrase, it’s an old British phrase.’
Matt: ‘It’s a bit “Carry On”….’
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