I guess a couple of disclaimers should be mentioned before I launch into this and the first of those is that I am the biggest Queens of the Stone Age fan you will ever have the misfortune of coming across.
If a band had to write the soundtrack to my life, you bet your ass it would be QOTSA. They write dirty, sexy drug-fuelled rock music and are the best band currently recording and playing, and yes, that’s a fact.
So who gives a rat’s ass? Well, their frontman Josh Homme co-produced ‘Humbug’ (along with Simian Mobile Disco producer James Ford, but I know nothing about him, so back to Homme) and even if you’ve only heard a couple QOTSA songs, you’ll recognise his influence the second you hit play.
Arctic Monkeys made a name for themselves writing infectious, energetic and surprisingly funny and intelligent indie music that was easy for people to get into.
‘Humbug’ is a complete departure from that. If you want another ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’-type album, something easy with a slightly poppy flavour, then run screaming now, cause ‘Humbug’ ain’t that album.
‘Humbug’ is dark and smooth. It’s the result of Homme taking a group of young and incredibly talented musicians under his wing and teaching them everything he knows.
I’d love to know how the relationship developed. Anyone who heard frontman Alex Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets will know he’d already started experimenting with a more velvety vocal tone and darker sound before Homme stepped in, but the results post-Homme are phenomenal.
This album saunters into the room, kicking a dust storm up at its heels and calmly murders everyone in the bar. The production is slick and polished, everything happens exactly when and how it should, from the haunting organ pieces to the psychedelic Doors-ish interludes, it is almost instantly recognisable that yes, the boys from Sheffield have grown up. A shit-load.
Turner’s lyrics are as humourous as ever, only this time around they carry a kind of subtle menace and foreboding that will echo through your head the next time you walk a dark alley home alone.
The opening track, ‘My Propeller’ is just so fucking cool it’s scary. Just wait for the main riff to kick in, that’s Desert Rock my friends, the tone is unmistakable. But it’s Turner’s voice that’s really gonna blow your mind – he delivers an impressive baritone that flows like mercury and is sexy as hell (not in a gay way, just in a ‘Hey man, thought I would say’ way).
The first single ‘Crying Lightning’ (Track 2 on the album) has a bass line that snakes it’s way into your brain and almost feels like something out of a twisted carnival. Turner’s lyrics are at their most evocative on tracks like ‘Crying Lightning’ – ‘Your passtimes consisted of the strange / the twisted and deranged / and I love that little game you had called crying lightning’ – beautiful.
You know that new Pink single about how ‘This used to be a funhouse, but now it’s full of evil clowns’? Well, the things that are lurking in the funhouse that is ‘Humbug’ would eat those ‘evil clowns’ for breakfast.
But it’s on track 3 ‘Dangerous Animals’ that the band really starts to flex its new muscle. The song’s main riff feels like a track off the QOTSA album ‘Lullabies to Paralyse’ (in fact a lot of ‘Humbug’ feels like that, spooky, intense), and yet it’s got a lot of the infectiousness of Arctic Monkeys earlier stuff, this is the track you’ll find yourself humming in traffic.
Track 5, ‘Potion Approaching’ takes progressive rock in a completely different direction from anything I’ve ever heard. It starts with a riff straight from the Nirvana song ‘Very Ape’ and wanders waaaaayyy out there into the desert as it slides into a down-tempo interlude that smacks of The Doors.
From Nirvana to The Doors? Can it be done? It can, and the thing is, it works. The sense of pace and timing on this album is exceptional – they are in no rush to get anywhere, they give the tracks on this album the space they need to breathe comfortably and they make damn sure when their choruses hit, they hit hard.
There are too many tracks on this album for me to go through it all, so let it just be said that I cannot fault this album.
The Arctic Monkeys have shown huge balls in taking a totally different direction musically and I’ll tell you this much for free, the happy-shouty, jumping-up-and-down, radio-friendly audience they used to have are going to drop them like a worm-infested Happy Meal about 2 minutes into this album.
But the rest of us, the few thinking, feeling people left who still believe that the primary function of art, and thus music, should always be to challenge us, bend our minds to new ideas and force us to look deeper into our own selves, the rest of us will love the shit out of this album.
Final Verdict: 9/10