Three albums in, Arctic Monkeys are making no special effort to surprise. “Crying Lightning,” the first single from the new Humbug, is a bouncy, sexy, more-than-a-little-menacing rocker that documents how two lovers sniff around each other on a rainy afternoon. Like Arctic Monkeys’ first big international hit, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,” “Crying Lightning” follows a rambling structure that allows frontman Alex Turner to deliver his lines as though he just ran into the listener on the street and can’t let us go until he’s explained what happened to him. But while the “Dancefloor” method is still an effective way to put together a rock single, the formula starts to lose potency as Humbug plays on.
Humbug carries a somewhat darker mood than earlier Arctic Monkeys LPs: At times, it resembles The Doors, possibly by way of Echo & The Bunnymen. And there’s more than a little theatrical flair to a lot of these songs, such as “Secret Door,” which isn’t too far removed from vintage Morrissey. On the whole, though, Humbug is a lot like the albums that came before it, only significantly less memorable. Too much of the disc sounds rote and booming, designed to give rowdy festival crowds something to drink to. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. When Arctic Monkeys get hold of a song like the roaring “Potion Approaching”—with its thick riffs, sudden tempo shifts, and rhythmic handclaps—they sound like the most exciting rock band on the planet. But more often than not on Humbug, they sound like a less inspired version of themselves.