Alex Turner, the smoking hot, ice cool frontman of the Arctic Monkeys, is not just a beautiful musician. He’s also the unsung hero of the noughties crop of lyricists, whose writing quietly electrifies meaning; and for many, the voice of a generation.
What with their being a band and not The Dead Poets Society, the Arctic Monkeys are unsurprisingly mostly known for tunes alone – however its Turner’s lyrics that ultimately earn them royal status within the alternative music world. An ability to write stunning lyrics is Turner’s gift, his way of changing the world if you like, and Alex never fails to satisfy as far as the words are concerned. Lyrics are an underrated part of song craft; a catchy melody or flamboyant delivery can often overshadow the words within them, but they’re the bridge between musician and listener, and really the true measure of a song.
When I was younger I preferred the idea of the Arctic Monkeys over the actual experience of listening to their music, because their songs of lack the immediate gratification that a good pop beat arouses. However New Year’s Eve Eve, I bought one of their albums (thank goodness for buy one get one free deals at HMV); and that record was Humbug. As I listened to ‘Crying Lightning’, and once I had overcome the resonance of that husky, northern voice, I became very much taken with words that I didn’t fully understand. I was not yet old enough for these lyrics to be accessible to me, yet I could still feel the weight of their significance, and the way in which they would become very relevant to me one day. Their brilliance was rather confusing though, because what was so exciting, so revolutionary about ‘and my thoughts got rude as you talked and chewed on the last of your pick and mix’? On paper the words were disappointingly un-exotic, even boring.
Turner’s lyrics brush off the idea that they’re true ambassadors of feeling, yet we can all relate to the emotions that they evoke
It took me a number of years to work out what it is that makes the band’s songs shine despite the undeniable normalcy of the experiences than inform them, but I now think I’ve nailed it. The magic is that Turner manages to capture human experience exquisitely. Amid our wildly buzzing imaginations he conjures reality in all of its gut-wrenching inwardness with a steady, unaffected face. His lyrics humorously brush off the idea that they’re true ambassadors of feeling, yet we can all relate to the emotions that they evoke. Take the opening track of AM’s ‘Do I Wanna Know’: “Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few? ‘Cause I always do. Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new.” These diluted words should not be very exciting, yet virtually all British teenagers can relate to the surging, traumatic and desperate feelings of adolescent relationships trapped within those lines.
Another reason that Alex Turner’s lyrics are so exciting is because of the mysticism the man shrouds around in. Alex does not have a twitter page and the top result when searching for such a thing is ironically ‘Alex Turner Says’, which perfectly demonstrates the mammoth importance of his words. Instead of socially networking, he uses the band’s albums to carefully narrate his thoughts, and by offering such restricted access to his personal life the band’s intrigue and image is strengthened; placing himself as heir to the artists who’ve utilised the same introversion before him, such as David Bowie or Nick Cave. Although the press may have stolen the odd detail from his private life, his words on wax are blank and untarnished by what we already know about his private life (The opposite situation to Taylor Swift for example, whose songs we automatically assume must be about Harry Styles…)
Essentially, Alex Turner refuses to be a victim of the world of celebrity, and chooses instead to protect his precious skill as an artist. He clearly values his words highly, and admits to being a linguistic perfectionist (which he cites as his reason for not having a Twitter account). However, when he does release some of his lyrics into the musical atmosphere, they are plainly, unapologetically English and excruciatingly realistic.