With their nervy and literate indie rock sound, Arctic Monkeys arrived in 2005 with a blast. Assisted by rave reviews and online word of mouth (they were one of the first bands to benefit from social media), the band quickly became a sensation in the United Kingdom, where they were seen as the heir apparent to the throne left vacant by Oasis and the Libertines. Buoyed by the single “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not briefly grabbed the title of fastest-selling album in British history. It landed on top of both the U.K. and U.S. rock album charts and took home the Mercury Prize. What set the group apart was Alex Turner, a singer/songwriter with a biting wit and grasp of English vernacular (not dissimilar to Paul Weller, the godfather of modern British rock). However, driven by their maverick creative spirit, Arctic Monkeys have proven highly unpredictable, reworking classic rock traditions on 2007′s Favourite Worst Nightmare and beefing up their guitars with the assistance of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme on 2009′s Humbug. Eventually, they also laced in some of the louche lounge aspects of Turner’s swinging side project the Last Shadow Puppets, as on 2013′s AM and 2018′s arty Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, but by that point, the band were a staple throughout the world: a respected, adventurous, and successful group who could easily be called Britain’s biggest band of the early 21st century.
Alex Turner and guitarist Jamie Cook began their music careers in 2001, when the friends both received guitars for Christmas. Two years later, they began performing shows around their native Sheffield with drummer Matt Helders and bassist Andy Nicholson, two fellow students at Stocksbridge High School. A series of demo recordings followed, and Arctic Monkeys’ audience swelled as fans circulated those recordings via the Internet. The musicians soon found themselves at the center of a growing media circus, with such outlets as BBC Radio examining the band’s music and mounting hype.
By distributing their homemade material on the Internet, Arctic Monkeys were able to build a sizable fan base without the help of a record label, effectively circumventing the usual road to superstardom. They continued to buck tradition by signing with Domino Records in 2005, eschewing a major-label’s budget for Domino’s D.I.Y. cred and hip roster (which also included Franz Ferdinand, a touchstone for the band’s sound). The smart moves paid off as Arctic Monkeys’ first two singles — “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and “When the Sun Goes Down” — both topped the U.K. charts. Critical reception was similarly favorable, but few could have predicted the whirlwind success of the band’s debut album, which ousted Oasis’ Definitely Maybe as the fastest-selling debut in British history (a record that was broken one year later by Leona Lewis’ Spirit). Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not sold 363,735 copies during its first week alone, transforming Arctic Monkeys from underground stars into mainstream figures.
Arctic Monkeys’ debut sold approximately 300,000 total copies in America — enough to warrant more media coverage. Their success continued as they released a spring EP, Who the F**k Are Arctic Monkeys, and prepared for a stateside tour. Temporary bassist Nick O'Malley was brought aboard for the band’s American shows, while a fatigued Nicholson stayed at home. Nicholson then announced his official departure when the band returned home in June 2006, and O'Malley remained with Arctic Monkeys as a permanent member. That fall, the guys received the 2006 Mercury Prize and donated the accompanying money to an undisclosed charity. Additional accolades included Best British Breakthrough Act at the BRIT Awards and Best New Band at the NME Awards. NME also made a bold assertion by deeming the group’s debut one of the Top Five British albums ever released.
Released in April 2007, Favourite Worst Nightmare updated Arctic Monkeys’ sound with louder instruments and faster tempos. The bandmates had recorded the sophomore album quickly, wishing to return to the road as soon as possible, and the speedy turnaround between records helped maintain the group’s popularity at home. Favourite Worst Nightmare sold 85,000 copies during its first day of release, and all 12 tracks entered the Top 200 of the U.K. singles charts. As Alex Turner briefly turned his attention to a side project, the Last Shadow Puppets, Arctic Monkeys received another Mercury Prize nomination and took home two titles at the 2008 BRIT Awards. Recording sessions for a third album commenced in early 2008 and lasted throughout the year, with producers James Ford (who previously worked with Turner on the Last Shadow Puppets’ album) and Josh Homme (frontman of Queens of the Stone Age) adding some newfound heft to the band’s sound. Meanwhile, Arctic Monkeys released a concert album entitled At the Apollo — with accompanying video footage captured on 35mm film — before unveiling Humbug in August 2009. Humbug went platinum in the U.K. with the singles “Crying Lightning” peaking at number 12 and “Cornerstone” topping out at 94.
The band hit the road that February, kicking off a multi-leg tour that ran through the rest of the year. After playing another handful of shows in early 2010, the guys took a short hiatus before reconvening with James Ford for their fourth album. Sessions began that fall, and the resulting Suck It and See arrived in spring 2011, topping the U.K. album chart and landing at number 14 on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, Turner also wrote music for a Richard Ayoade film, Submarine, whose soundtrack doubled as the frontman’s first solo release.
In February 2012, Arctic Monkeys released a song entitled “R U Mine?” on their YouTube channel, which indicated that an album was on the way. A few months later, the band played at the London Summer Olympics opening ceremony, performing “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and the Beatles’ “Come Together,” but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that the group’s fifth album was to be revealed. Entitled AM, the record was released in September, a few months after a triumphant headlining performance at Glastonbury 2013, which was opened with the new song “Do I Wanna Know?” Both a critical and commercial success, AM topped the British charts and reached number six on the Billboard 200. It also earned the group a Mercury Prize nomination and won British Album of the Year at the BRIT Awards.
Following the end of their tour in 2014, the band entered an extended hiatus, during which time the individual members pursued solo projects. In 2016, Turner released his second album with the Last Shadow Puppets and toured. Arctic Monkeys resurfaced in April 2018 with the loungey Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a softer affair than their previous albums. Along with topping the U.K. album chart and Billboard Top Rock Albums chart, the LP became the group’s fourth to earn a Mercury Prize nomination. Later that year, the band issued the TBH&C B-side “Anyways” as a single. A concert album, Live at the Royal Albert Hall, recorded during the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino tour arrived in November 2020, with all proceeds going to benefit the War Child U.K. charity organization. ~ Andrew Leahey & Stephen Thomas Erlewine