The Many Faces Of Alex Turner & The Arctic Monkeys
As time goes on, bands and frontmen change their images and aesthetic. For instance, the Liam Gallagher that joined Oasis in 1993 was a different man entirely to the one that finished with Oasis in 2009. With the launch of clothing brand Pretty Green that year, he'd swapped the Umbro hoodies for a more sophisticated look, donning leather jackets and paisley scarves - two items that would form the backbone of the Pretty Green collection to this day.
No band has changed their image quite like the Arctic Monkeys and especially frontman Alex Turner, who is a regular inclusion on "How To Look Like..." lists by fashion magazines. The man has this admirable shape-shifting quality, always managing to look fantastic on-stage, regardless of what he wears. Beneath all of the wonderful leather jackets and fifties shades, the real thing that changes is the sound of the band and with it, Turner takes on a different persona, playing to the album's vibes and overall sounds.
The Timid Teenager - The Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not Era
After experimenting with hip-hop beats in drummer Matt Helders' garage for some time, Turner convened with schoolmates Andy Nicholson and Jamie Cook to form a band. Soon after, the Arctic Monkeys formed, establishing themselves as children of the early 2000s garage rock revolution, headed up by New Yorkers The Strokes and their 2001 debut Is This It (you can find that brilliant album here: https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/album-of-the-week-the-strokes-is-this-it).
The Alex Turner that rose to stardom with the band that still holds the fastest selling debut record in British music history was someone who you could describe as a shy sixth former. He stood on stage with his Arctic White Fender Stratocaster in Fred Perry polo shirts and jeans. Despite a lack of stage presence during their early days, the Arctic Monkeys developed this charm and allure based on the subject matters of those early songs such as Fake Tales Of San Francisco or Mardy Bum.
The songs discussed typical teenage quandaries, such as clubbing, dodgy relationships and in some instances, the two combined together. Despite its subject matter, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not exuded a playfulness in lyrics that would be mimicked in Turner's on-stage presentation and fashion choices.
The Brash Teenager - The Favourite Worst Nightmare Era
2007 saw the arrival of the Monkeys' second LP Favourite Worst Nightmare and a much more aggressive and faster Alex Turner. That sophomore album saw a continuation of the 'cheeky chappy' we'd gotten to know so well on their debut, but with a little more pomp and attitude.
More songs became fast-paced such as the brash Brianstorm and the aggressive Teddy Picker that Favourite Worst Nightmare spawned and their first headlining Glastonbury set that year is just as punchy as this era would suggest.
Combined with this, strobe lighting and loose drumming from Matt Helders in particular meant that this second album run had enough punch and stamina to last all the way to the end of 2007.
The Sinister Stoner - The Humbug Era
With the release of the Humbug album two years later, the Monkeys and Turner experienced their first shape-shift from the 'cheeky chappies' from Sheffield to something darker, featuring a thicker sound and deeper vocals from Turner. Covers like Red Right Hand from Nick Cave would make it onto the setlist at 2009's Reading Festival and be played at a lot of shows all tour long, with its low bass notes and thumping drums.
The Humbug era would see Alex Turner run a mile with this sinister vibe, growing out his hair and curling it one way then the other, letting it shroud his face. Polo shirts were soon replaced by Oxford shirts and leather jackets, still equipped with jeans, but washed-out jeans at that.
This fashion change marked the second incarnation of this aggressive Turner, but the aggression became a little more refined with the sound of Humbug portraying this perfectly. There's a column you can find on Humbug here as part of our long-running Album Of The Week feature: https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/album-of-the-week-arctic-monkeys-humbug.
The Vintage Rocker - The Suck It And See Era
Suck It And See saw the Monkeys create a lighter, more vintage sound, harking back to bands like The Beach Boys and some parts of The Beatles' back catalogue in a respect. They lost a few fans here, following the drastic sound changes from album to album.
Humbug was a marmite album for fans, so Suck It And See aimed to alleviate those issues. Unlike its predecessor, Suck It And See was recorded with minimal overdubs and live takes, creating a much more accessible sound. We included it in our Music For Summer column and rundown earlier in the year, which you can find here: https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/music-for-summer-a-selection-of-albums-for-you-to-get-stuck-into
It saw Turner change his hair predominantly from the long curls we saw in 2009 to a fifties-style quiff that would ultimately be continued into the AM era and in some parts of the Tranquility Base era too. The full American-style Turner wouldn't be seen for another two years, hitting cleaner vocals in live performances and giving a more well-rounded feeling to live sets.
The Fifties Teddy Boy - The AM Era
Two years down the line from Suck It And See, the Monkeys would receive their first taste of international success, taking on a more hip-hop based sound, letting the guitars take a small backseat in favour of the drum-kit and bass.
AM is the Monkeys' most commercial record to date, breaking into the Billboard Top 200 in the USA and containing some of the more well-known tunes such as Do I Wanna Know? and R U Mine? amongst deeper cuts such as Mad Sounds and No. 1 Party Anthem.
To match, Turner continued from where he'd left off with Suck It And See and continued down the path of someone with swagger and class. He became a little more American with this album, taking on the accent when speaking at shows or in interviews. The hair soon became slicked back, with him donning leather jackets to match the aesthetic. AM saw many people jump onto the Arctic Monkeys bandwagon and propel them to worldwide greatness.
The Crooning Lounge Singer - The Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Era
A five year hiatus brings us right up to date with the release of Turner and co's latest offering, the conceptual Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. It ushered in an entirely new aesthetic and mood, seeing Turner play the part of a lounge singer both on the album and during live shows.
As a release, Tranquility Base proved divisive, some loved it and some hated it. There's no denying that it cements Turner as one of the country's finest songwriters, with hints of love, science fiction and satire taking centre stage across this celestial soundscape. It's one of the most out-there concept albums released in a long time, with minimal promotion giving it this cult-like following.
Turner would change his appearance drastically during this tour, sporting a beard for some of it, as well as entirely shaving his head around the summertime last year during a small American tour. It saw him transform from an outgoing fifties teddy boy to an insecure crooner, washed-up by a sudden decline in popularity as he plays to only a few people in the hotel's jazz club.
People talk of how there are albums that define them as people or change their lives and for me, Tranquility Base was that record. It ushered in a difference in character and perceptions, opening my eyes to elements of culture I'd have otherwise left unturned, such as films by both Stanley Kubrick and Jean-Pierre Melville.
We've got a gleaming review of Tranquility Base up on the site for your delight and delectation (https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/arctic-monkeys-tranquility-base-hotel-casino-album-review) , as well as a live review from first night of of the Monkeys' return to London at the O2 (https://www.untitledblog.co.uk/post/arctic-monkeys-live-at-the-o2-9th-september-2018-review). Both articles, much like this one, provide an insight into the Tranquility Base era that brought in a new side to Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys in their entirety.
It's hard to look past the ingenuity and charm of the Arctic Monkeys and Alex Turner as a frontman. He controls the crowds beautifully at concerts and intrigues listeners with their records in every passing beat.
With all the individual album run-downs and accompanying live performances, it's easy to see why the Monkeys have become one of Britain's best loved bands and will most likely only grow in popularity as time passes.