Every Arctic Monkeys album ranked from worst to best

Arctic Monkeys
(Image credit: Zackery Michael)

In Autumn 2022 Arctic Monkeys showed beyond question that they are a national phenomenon. With the announcement of tour dates for summer 2023, the Sheffield quartet became the first British guitar group formed in the 21st century to upgrade from arenas to stadiums. This elevation is even more remarkable when one considers that their two most recent albums – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, from 2018, and The Car, released last month – eschew propulsive indie-pop-rock bangers in favour of the kind of material that sounds like it might have been written for the soundtrack of a revered but niche European art-house movie.

Anyone wondering to what extent the band have calmed things down in their second decade might consider that by the time frontman Alex Turner steps forward to the microphone over three nights at the Emirates Stadium, in London, or at a pair of hometown appearances at Hillsborough, the home of their beloved Sheffield Wednesday, it will be have been a full decade since they released a song that looked good on the dance-floor. 

Mind you, the Arctic Monkeys have long been a draw. In October 2005, a full three months prior to the release of their seismic debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the Yorkshiremen cemented their reputation as the most happening band in Britain with a sold-out appearance in front of 2000 people at the Astoria in London. In terms of box office, they’ve not really a missed a beat since.

Just as remarkably, the group’s commercial achievements have been realised with music that pays little mind to notions of playing things safe. In fact, with the notable exception of Talk Talk, it’s difficult to nominate another domestic group whose body of work has journeyed quite so far from its point of origin, in such a short space of time. 

So, please, make yourself comfortable. Here’s what they’ve been up to over the last 16 years…

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7. The Car (2022)

The Car

(Image credit: Domino)

Never mind that the Arctic Monkeys’ seventh album is their first not to enter the British album chart at Number One – even their enduring appeal is no match for a new record from Taylor Swift, it seems – The Car still managed to rack up well in excess of a 100,000 sales in its first week of release. Not bad for a collection that can be danced to only by people addicted to Night Nurse.  

In the days of their debut album, the Monkeys might well have been the favourite band of the mums and dads of people who are now their youngest listeners. Sixteen years later, though, on The Car, they sound a lot more like the kind of group beloved of granddads and grandmas. Is it superior stuff? Yes, probably it is. Is it also an acquired taste? Yup, very much so. 

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6. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)

Favourite Worst Nightmare

(Image credit: Domino)

Emerging only a year after their scorching debut, the release of Favourite Worst Nightmare could easily have seen Arctic Monkeys disappear without trace into one of the biggest elephant traps in music – the classic 'sophomore slump'. Perhaps sensibly, their approach on record number two was not so much to overhaul and refurbish a successful sound – the revolutionary gear-changes would come later – as embellish it with noticeable signs of sure-footed progression.

Although the LP might rightly be remembered as the last time its authors were a straight-up superior indie-rock band, with tracks such as Brianstorm and This House Is A Circus kicking up a hurricane of energy and pizazz, it is Favourite Worst Nightmare’s quieter moments that point the way out of what, in lesser hands, might well have been a cul-de-sac of post-adolescent fuzz. 

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5. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)

Tranquility Base album cover

(Image credit: Domino)

Although Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was hardly the first time the Arctic Monkeys had reshaped their sound, the album’s 11 songs represent the most radical overhaul in the group’s history to date. In just one swoop, out went slinky but svelte guitar-driven vignettes, and in came what one reviewer memorably, and correctly, described as "a strange, wonderful album… that almost feels like [the music-makers] have embarked on their own full band side-project."

But even though the band’s sixth album plays hard to get, given time and patience this vast expanse of carefully constructed calm unfurls in rewarding and surprising ways. And with Alex Turner stationed at the piano, with Four Out Of Five – which is probably a fair mark for the album as a whole, actually – the Yorkshireman filed one of his true masterpieces. 

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4. Humbug (2009)

Humbug

(Image credit: Domino)

They’ve got balls, we’ll give em that. Just when the Arctic Monkeys had established their sound, over the course of two wildly successful albums, Humbug, their third, saw them pull apart their own infrastructure for the purposes of putting it back together in a more complex, and a markedly less immediate, fashion.

Produced, variously, by James Ford and QOTSA's Josh Homme – with the latter responsible for recording seven of the set’s 10 songs – Humbug demands dedication from listeners tasked with locating diamonds now secreted in a thick forest of dense arrangements and (sometimes) foggy sounds. Artistically courageous it may well be, but the opinion of Sean Fennessey, from the US magazine Spin, that Humbug is “accomplished, but not particularly infectious” is also true.

Apart, that is, from Cornerstone. A gorgeous contemplation of a love recently lost, told through the prism of a pub crawl, here it takes Alex Turner less than four minutes to lay out his vertiginous talents as a writer of the perfectly sublime pop song. “I thought I saw you in The Parrot’s Beak,” he sings, “messing with the smoke alarm. It was too loud for me to hear her speak, and she had a broken arm.”

Beat that. 

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3. AM (2013)

AM

(Image credit: Domino)

Perhaps for the first time since their debut album, the release of AM came with the sense that Arctic Monkeys had made a record that was recognisable as a classic in real time.

Sure, its dozen songs featured plenty of deeper currents in which to swim on repeated listens, but with this came material that grabbed its constituents by the lapels on the kind of first date that is destined to end with breakfast the following morning. 

The highlights are many. Opening cut Do I Wanna Know? is pure seduction set to music. Knee Socks is pop magic. I Wanna Be Yours takes the work of another great northern wordsmith, the punk poet John Cooper Clarke, and frames it in the most gorgeous of settings.

Best of all, though, is the perfectly-judged and entirely exquisite ballad No.1 Party Anthem, in which Turner writes once more about affairs of the heart, and places below, with a skill that few can equal. “It’s not like I’m falling in love, I just want you to do me no good,” he sings. And what’s more, “you look like you could”. 

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2. Suck It And See (2011)

Suck It And See

(Image credit: Domino)

Despite its innumerable high points, Suck It And See, the Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album, is worth the price of entry for the song Love Is A Laserquest alone. A plaintive and deeply poignant rumination on the ruination of heartbreak, from first word to last its perfect poise offers all the evidence needed to support the notion that Alex Turner is the finest English lyricist since Elvis Costello.

Do you look into the mirror to remind yourself you’re there, or have somebody’s goodnight kisses got that covered?” he asks of a women who is no longer around to answer the question. Oh well. “When I’m not being honest I pretend that you were you just some lover,” he adds. 

Although far from unloved, Suck It And See – a quick aside: for a band as good with words as the Arctic Monkeys, they’re often strangely rubbish with titles – is certainly its authors' most under-considered LP. Certainly, it's worth another listen for any of the group’s constituents who may have allowed weeds to obscure its memory. After all, any collection that features the couplet “lately I’ve been seeing things, bellybutton piercings” should never be laid aside for too long. 

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1. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

(Image credit: Domino)

Given the strength of the Arctic Monkeys’ finest work, it seems unfair to nominate just one album as being the best of the bunch. In terms of its impact, though, the quartet’s explosive first LP, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, can’t really be placed in any place other than the summit.

Let’s put it this way: if the job of a debut album by a white-hot rock band is to present its wares with maximum immediacy, not to mention minimum fuss, this does the job as well as classic first instalment in living memory. With sales of 360,000 copies in its first week, it’s not for nothing that it became the fastest selling debut in the history of the British charts. 

For all its punkish fizz, though, the songs themselves showcased a band who sound like they were built to last. As ever, Turner’s talent with pen and pad is at times, is indeed often, jaw-dropping. With a perfect ear for the northern vernacular, Fake Tales Of San Francisco imagines an underwhelming band playing in a club to audience divided between poseurs and the unimpressed. The only exception, it seems, is one of the member’s girlfriends. “Yeah, but his bird says it’s amazing, though, so all that’s left is the proof that love’s not only blind but deaf,” Turner sings. Seriously, how can anyone fail to applaud that?

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Ian Winwood
Freelance Writer

Barnsley-born author and writer Ian Winwood contributes to The Telegraph, The Times, Alternative Press and Times Radio, and has written for Kerrang!, NME, Mojo, Q and Revolver, among others. His favourite albums are Elvis Costello's King Of America and Motorhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith. His favourite books are Thomas Pynchon's Vineland and Paul Auster's Mr Vertigo. His own latest book, Bodies: Life and Death in Music, is out now on Faber & Faber and is described as "genuinely eye-popping" by The Guardian, "electrifying" by Kerrang! and "an essential read" by Classic Rock. He lives in Camden Town.