Friday, October 9, 2009

Alex Turner, the Lyricist

At some point I will write about the Arctic Monkeys as a complete unit because every component of the band is outstanding. Each instrument in their playing is highlighted, yet there remains a harmony in the way it all comes together; somehow the guitars, bass, and drums are each prominently featured while retaining an overall sound that is clean, precise, and uncluttered.

I am going to focus on the word play of their songs because I believe that Alex Turner is shaping up to be the best rock lyricist in the game right now. His use of language and poetic sensibilities are not taught or acquired - this is an inherent gift. All he needs to solidify his place amongst songwriting greats are fresh experiences to inspire him, and continued desire to write about those experiences.

The Humbug album has infinitely more personal subject matter than we have seen in previous Arctic Monkey albums. The first two Arctic Monkey albums also had great use of language, but told observational stories about strangers, groups of partygoers, or people about town. Increasing intimacy in Turner’s songwriting revealed itself in the Last Shadow Puppets album and it has continued to evolve for the Humbug album. (NOTE: Miles Kane shares writing credit for the Last Shadow Puppets album. There are two distinct lyrical styles at play on that album, and I would venture to guess that Turner is responsible for the more verbose songs.) For Humbug, Turner reveals an endearingly vulnerable side – and in the process, writes an incredibly sexy album.

What makes this album sexy? It is about a guy that has freely submitted himself to a dominant lover. He willingly surrenders all control of his body and his heart, with the ominous feeling that he will get crushed. This affair will inevitably end badly for him and it seems that his fatalistic feelings about the future contribute to the excitement of the relationship. Evidence of his deferential status in the relationship is everywhere; In Crying Lightning he is “approaching your throne,” in The Jeweller’s Hands he sings, “If you've a lesson to teach me, I'm listening, ready to learn”, in Fire and the Thud he pleads “If it’s true you’re gonna run away, just tell me where, I’ll meet you there.” My favorite lyric of the album is in Dangerous Animals:

You should have racing stripes
The way you keep me in pursuit
Shopping the heal of your boot
And you press it in my chest and you make me wheeze
Then to my knees you do promote me

Turner has come a long way from the confident teenager who wrote Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. That is not to say he lacks confidence now (you have to have confidence to perform My Propeller). But his writing reflects the humility of someone who has seen the world, gained experience, and perhaps had his heart squeezed a bit. Early on, he demonstrated tremendous maturity in his writing and it will be exciting to follow his career as he continues to hone his craft.


1 comment:

  1. A really good piece. Too many people have been commenting on the fact that the Arctic's have given up their lighter tone for a more psychedelic feel. But whether you like the new stuff or not (I absolutely love it), Turners lyrics are still amazing