These days Arctic Monkeys are not a band singing songs about "f***ing taxi ranks", as frontman Alex Turner quipped recently. They made their last record, 2009's bizarre Britpop/stoner hybrid Humbug, in a desert. One member, the drummer no less, has the mobile telephone number of one P Diddy. And the singer - a young man who, on arrival, did so much to quench British pop's obsession with the empty idea that is 'the working-class hero' - now writes lyrics like, "Library pictures, of the quickening canoe / The first of its kind to get to the moon": a couplet more befitting Gandalf the Grey than it is Liam Gallagher.
Of course, this sort of buffoonery is to be encouraged. Still, it's hard not to want the band's fourth record to embrace the unconventional more than it actually does. Initial signs are promising. Many of the song titles sound like they were conceived by a drunk Butlins Redcoat. One is called Love Is a Lazerquest; another, Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair (one can only hope its sister song, I've Got a Whoopee Cushion and I'm Not Afraid to Use It, turns up as a B side). But for the largest part, Suck It and See isn't the stubborn, radio unfriendly career swerve that Humbug proved to be.
If anything, it's a halfway house between where many expected them to be going, and where they were. On one hand, it marks the return of actual tunes (Reckless Serenade, the hard-edged title-track) - stuff that you can hum - as well as, not taxi ranks per se, but kitchen sink musing about "chin-chewing" cokeheads (Black Treacle) and "damsel-patterned alleys, where you go for a smoke" (All My Own Stunts), two songs that will be embraced by anyone fannish about their early work. On the other, there's now an oblique Dylan-esque romanticism to many of Turner's lyrics and tunes (the title and contents of opener She's Thunderstorms is lovely), few of which suggest their future as karaoke staples and some of which prefer groove, not just over melody but all other constructs of song. They fit a mould, but it's an askew, mismade one.
If you were enjoying the band's joyride into the weird, Suck It and See is a record that may disappoint in its convention. Personally it makes me wish they'd just given a chorus or two to Diddy and be done with it. But while the reins of pomp have certainly been reined in somewhat, it's hard to shake the suspicion that Suck It and See is further evidence that Arctic Monkeys are still Britain's best guitar band - albeit one that'd be even better if they ever decide to truly lunge into the unknown.