You could suffice it to say that the same Arctic Monkeys that were blaring from an actual CD (yes, on a disc) through one cheap speaker on Thursday nights in LaCrosse, Wisconsin in 2009 are not the same Arctic Monkeys playing at Lollapalooza this coming summer. In fact, part of the ethos here resides in the notion that the difference between unassuming high school seniors in throwback jerseys and unassuming college underclassmen exploring the confines of their own musical liberation is, in fact, a great deal. And similarly, the distance between 2009 and 2018 musically is wider than the decade long differences of the past. Sadly, I’m not sure even Neil Young could have made it in the SoundCloud era. But the fact that the Arctic Monkeys are headlining one of America’s most–in my own opinion–unmusical festivals shouldn’t embitter Monkey’s traditionalists in the slightest, myself included. Realistically, it’s probably more new-Alex-Turner than anything they’ve ever done. And it’s not exactly worse, it’s just different. Nevermind, it’s worse and different.
Over the course of the past decade, the experimentation and maturation of the Arctic Monkeys, the pride of High Green, England, has blossomed dutifully, with each album venturing leisurely away from the beautiful mess of distortion that was 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That is What I’m Not. This, of course, was the album you’ve likely heard of if you’re a Monkeys purist of any variety–the one with their close friend Chris McClure’s unabashed face after a night out posing as the album’s cover art, and a pile of cigarette butts acting as the actual disc artwork. Their ode to a weekend of debauchery in England, signaled by their trademark first hit, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” as well as other hard-riffing anthems like “When the Sun Goes Down,” and the equivalent of an accelerator in song form, “From the Ritz to the Rubble,” became angsty anthems of brit-rock youth. They recalled memories of The Clash and Oasis, and conveniently catapulted themselves into American mainstream rock, capitalizing off the musical formula of The Strokes, The White Stripes, and even hints of early Kings of Leon before they too cashed out for the glib.
But bands change, because people change, and musicians are no different. Alex Turner and the rest of Arctic Monkeys are no longer familiar to the controlled chaos of their first works, supplemented by riotous, almost chant-like choruses that pioneered their most enduring compilation. In their following four albums, especially the last three–Humbug, Suck it and See, and AM–they have since developed a radio-edit sound that reveals only a shell of their former antagonistic nuances, both in the way they play their instruments and the way they sing their lyrics, leaving the way they title their new albums (see: Suck it and See) as all that’s left of their callous artistic indifference. Their garage sound has developed–carefully and commercially–ever so slightly with each release. But if you now hold their newest work up to the light of their initial sound, you see the opaque simplicity of their new work in direct contrast with the unmitigated, self-explorative transparency that endured from their first album. Even on their sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, songs like “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “505” still burn a bit of the old flame, but it’s clear that their youthful novelty is dying out because of some corporate advisory plan to “tighten their sound.”
So being excited for them to play the music industry’s most commercial and unsupervised teenage house party is a bit awkward, seeing as it is a double-edged sword, acting both as validation of an ascension of fame and a downtick on their original innocence, the couldn’t-care-less aesthetic that made them enjoyable to me originally. Perhaps my favorite memory of seeing them live in Milwaukee some time ago was who else was in the audience: there was a guy who seemingly hadn’t showered in weeks ticking along to the beat with his pointer finger ashing his cigarette into his hair. Maybe that dude will show up at Lolla, but my guess is that they’ll morph into some tween in a crop top who got lost on their way to see Tyga.
Anyways, listen to this playlist and learn the classics. Understand that Arctic Monkeys existed–and were twice as good–before they headlined Lolla. Undoubtedly, I still have love for them and have hopes they’ll take a Riot Van back down memory lane at least twice in their Lolla set. And when they do, you’ll know–and you can inject a small dose of 2009 into your life. Because those were the times, man. I’m actually moderately disheartened I won’t be anywhere near earshot of the festival.