Arctic Monkeys are no strangers to reinvention, having pursued a range of musical directions since emerging as part of the mid-2000s garage-rock revival. On The Car, however, the band continues down the path set out on 2018’s left-field, lounge-infused Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, refining their approach with new baroque-pop influences to produce a lavish-sounding record.
Lush and orchestral strings fuse with Alex Turner’s falsetto vocals to add a sense of grandeur to the proceedings. Though swirling retro synths and pianos take precedence, the band’s characteristic sharp guitar leads cut through this air of mystique in calculated moments, such as the uptempo “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.”
Lyrically, the album marks a departure from the cryptic musings of Tranquility Base, set in a fictional space hotel. “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” epitomizes this more grounded approach, seeing Turner speak directly to a distant lover, lamenting their cynicism over a Bond-theme-esque soundscape. Turner also refocuses his metaphors surrounding a relationship in “Jet Skis On the Moat,” comparing nostalgic images of CinemaScope films with the “drying paint job” of a dying relationship.
The Car will not suit every Arctic Monkeys fan’s taste, particularly those wishing for a return to the raucous indie-rock of their early career. Rather than reminiscing debaucherous nights out in Sheffield, Turner admirably looks to the present, reflecting on his glitzy surroundings as an L.A. resident. This manifests both in the record’s grandiose stylings and in lyrical themes of artifice and glamour, such as the titular conceit on “Body Paint.”
Despite these sonic and lyrical merits, The Car tends to get lost in its own richness. Songs like “Big Ideas” and “Mr. Schwartz” revel in their extravagance, meandering through their run times without substantively developing the enticing melodies they initially present. At its most focused, The Car deftly combines evocative lyricism and serene baroque-pop. It’s a shame the band doesn’t sustain these moments, resulting in a record characterized more by its style than its substance.
The Car is available to stream on all platforms, and Arctic Monkeys will perform at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Nov. 9, 2023.