- - Monday, June 6, 2011

Suck It And See

Arctic Monkeys


Arctic Monkeys recorded their last album in the California desert, where they shacked up with Josh Homme - founder of Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, and Them Crooked Vultures - and emerged with a new sound. Their guitars were heavier, the tempos slower, the music more indebted to hard rock than British pop. Some of the new songs packed a punch. Others, weighed down by their sludgy, viscous ambience, missed the mark entirely.

On their fourth album, Arctic Monkeys return to the skittish, erudite music that launched their career five years ago. Like U2 regaining its footing after the half-baked dance record “Pop,” the Monkeys are back in their natural habitat, delivering a punchy tracklist that focuses on classic song structures once again. This isn’t hard rock anymore; it’s terse, barbed pop music inspired by the Jam, with the occasional fuzz-tone guitar serving as the only link between this record and the previous release.

At the same time, the guys are still insistent on pushing the envelope. First off, there’s the divisive album title. “Suck It And See” is a common wisecrack in England, where it mainly refers to boiled sweets (e.g. “If you’re wondering how this lemon drop tastes, why don’t you just suck it and see?”). The phrase has risque connotations almost everywhere else, though, and Arctic Monkeys already have run into censorship issues with one major U.S. retailer.

Then there’s the tracklist, which includes song titles like “Love is a Laserquest” and “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala.” Frontman Alex Turner, blessed with the gift of gab and a lounge singer’s croon, fills both songs with lyrics that skip between articulate couplets and loose-ended gibberish. He compliments a woman during the title track by comparing her to a beverage - “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock, and the other girls are just post-mix lemonade” - and gets downright confusing on “Shalalala,” where he sings about “a telescopic hallelujah” hanging on his beloved’s wall. Say what?

The head-scratching moments here are lovely, though. They’re proof of a band having fun once again, and they’re surrounded by melodies that recall Mr. Turner’s side project, the Last Shadow Puppets, whose music takes its cues from the lavish, orchestral pop of Scott Walker. There aren’t any string sections here - they wouldn’t fit with the band’s no-frills M.O. - but the songs are often just as elegant, even if you can hear Mr. Turner’s sly grin every time he dips into his lower register.

Monkeymania has died down since 2006, when the band’s debut album became the fastest-selling record in British history. Arctic Monkeys have not become “the next Beatles,” as they were once hailed by countless U.K. publications, nor even the next Oasis. What they have become are creators of songs that occupy the outermost rings of the mainstream, flaunting a marketable sound without pandering to current tastes.


The Tedeschi Trucks Band


Good luck crowding this group into a tour bus.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band, formed last year by the husband-and-wife duo Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, is an 11-member ensemble of roots musicians and jam band veterans. The group makes its studio debut with “Revelator.”

Jam bands normally thrive on the road, where their improvisatory music can explore new territory every night. Still, “Revelator” manages to distill the group’s live energy into a single tracklist, with slide guitar riffs courtesy of Mr. Trucks (familiar to Allman Brothers fans as Duane Allman’s replacement) and soulful, Earth momma vocals from his wife.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is a musical family, and like all families, things get cacophonous at points. “Revelator” is mostly a harmonious affair, though, not to mention an appetizer for the band’s summer tour.

Bonnaroo 10 years after

Speaking of summer concerts, more than 100 bands are routing their tours through Tennessee this weekend, where the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival will celebrate its 10th year. Originally established as a jam band festival, Bonnaroo has grown into the Coachella of the East, sporting diverse lineups that include rap titans, rock icons and buzz bands. This year, the headliners include Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic, the Strokes, Buffalo Springfield and My Morning Jacket.

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