There'd Better Be a Mirrorball
Released 21 October 2022
After recording The Car, there was, for “quite a long time, a real edit in process,” Arctic Monkeys leader Alex Turner tells Apple Music. Indeed, his UK rock outfit’s daring seventh LP sounds nothing if not composed—a set of subtle and stupendously well-mannered mid-century pop that feels light years away from the youthful turbulence of their historic 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. If, back then, they were writing songs with the intention of uncorking them onstage, they’re now fully in the business of craft—editing, shaping, teasing out the sort of sumptuous detail that reveals itself over repeated listens. “It’s obviously 10 songs, but, even more than we have done before, it just feels like it’s a whole,” he says. “It’s its own.”
The aim was to pay more attention to dynamics, to economy and space. “Everything,” Turner says, “has its chance to come in and out of focus,” whether it’s a brushed snare or a feline guitar line, a feathered vocal melody or devastating turn of phrase. Where an earlier Monkeys song may have detonated outward, a blast of guitars and drums and syllables, these are quiet, controlled, middle-aged explosions: “It doesn't feel as if there's too many times on this record where everything's all going on at once.”
On album opener “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball”, Turner vaults from a bed of enigmatic, opening-credit-like keys and strings (all arranged with long-time collaborator James Ford and composer Bridget Samuels) into scenes of a prolonged farewell. So much of its pain—its romance, its dramatic tension—is in what’s not said. “The feel of that minute-or-so introduction was what feels like the foundation of the whole thing,” he says. “And it really was about finding what could hang out with that or what could be built around the feel of that. The moment when I found a way to bridge it into something that is a pop song by the end was exciting, because I felt like we had somewhere to go.”
For years, Turner has maintained a steady diet of side work, experimenting with orchestral, Morricone-like epics in The Last Shadow Puppets as well as lamplit bedroom folk on 2011’s Submarine EP, written for the film of the same name. But listen closely to The Car (and 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino before it) and you’ll hear the walls between the band and his interests outside it begin to dissolve—the string arrangements throughout (but especially on “The Car”), the gently fingerpicked guitars (“Mr Schwartz”), the use of negative space (the slightly Reznor-y “Sculptures of Anything Goes”).
“I think I was naive,” he says. “I think the first time I stepped out to do anything else was the first Puppets record, and at that moment, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is totally in its own place and it's going to have nothing to do with the Monkeys and what that was going to turn into.’ And I realise now that I don't know if that's really possible, for me anyway. It feels as if everything you do has an effect on the next thing.”