Worth Revisiting: Arctic Monkeys – Humbug


A while ago, we gave you a ranking of Alex Turner’s (and Arctic Monkeys’) albums, which placed third release Humbug in first place ahead of their much loved debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and their biggest album AM, which launched them into superstardom and introduced the world to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’

The ranking pulled in a lot of comments, some agreeing but most disagreeing, reflecting the popular sentiment that Humbug is the Monkeys’ weakest effort to date. Personally I think that’s bullshit, and the album is actually their most complex and accomplished work.

So sit back, hold your angry comments to the end, and give Humbug another chance.


Like most other ‘disappointing’ albums, Humbug is a huge departure in sound for the band and saw them largely abandoning their tried and tested formula from the first two records (fast-paced and hook-driven), in favour of a darker, ominous and more deliberate sound.

Sure, the first two are incredible, but you can’t tell me that Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare don’t just sound like one long album. If the band hadn’t shaken things up with their third release, who knows how long the band would’ve kept this up for, and how quickly we’d have gotten sick of it.

Humbug may sound slower, but it isn’t any less intense, and simply takes this energy in different directions. Don’t believe me? Just start by listening to fan favourite ‘Pretty Visitors’, and the ominous organ that opens the song. Then the crazy fast drum fills in the chorus. Then the moody slide guitar that closes out the song. The track is gloomy, heavy and just generally excellent.



Lead single ‘Crying Lightning’ is equally epic, starting with a typical Favourite Worst Nightmare-esque catchy riff, but taking it in a heavier, darker and more precise direction than their earlier tracks.



The Monkeys went dark on this album and had a blast doing so. Hell, they even gave us covers of the ‘Prince of Darkness’ himself, Nick Cave.



The album is sonically more complex than the first two releases, thanks largely to having rock legend Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles of Death Metal) at the helm as a producer, and guest vocalist on tracks like ‘The Jeweller’s Hands’ and ‘Potion Approaching’. Alison Mosshart (of The Kills and The Dead Weather) also lends her distinctive vocal chops to ‘Fire and the Thud’.



Humbug also copped criticism for abandoning the witty, anecdotal-style of lyricism from the first two albums, which tell relatable tales of youth from the streets of Sheffield. Whilst the album’s lyrics are indeed more cryptic, they slowly open up after multiple listens, but always leaving just enough vagueness to keep them more intriguing. Just listen to ‘Cornerstone’ which takes the simple and familiar tale of being reminded of an ex wherever you look, and turning it into something downright poetic, and strangely humorous.

“And I elongated my lift home,
Yeah I let him go the long way round
I smelt your scent on the seat belt
And kept my shortcuts to myself”

Oh, and the music video is hilarious.



The album also features one of the band’s best ever tracks, ‘Dance Little Liar’, which finds each of the members at their most electrifying.

Turner twists and turns his way through a tale of cheating and infidelity as the instrumentals grow more and more intense, progressing from dirty, reverb laden guitar to fast drum rolls, fuzzy bass and QOTSA-style duelling guitars. Listen to the track from start to finish, check out how much maturity the band demonstrate compared with the first two albums, and tell me you don’t think its time to give Humbug another chance!


About Mark Royters

Many years ago I was given an Arctic Monkeys EP. Everything changed from that moment onwards. I'm a Sydney-based music writer, reviewer and interviewer.

View all posts by Mark Royters

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