In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene with the bratty, colloquial garage punk of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, few listeners suspected that the group of Sheffield teenagers would ever become grungy desert rockers. But they did exactly that, darkening their sound with the help of Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and growing immensely as musicians at the same time. They’ve produced a multitude of covers along the way, and their diversity and quality is a great gauge of the band’s musical evolution. On the cusp of releasing their fourth album (the strangely named Suck It and See), here’s a look at five of the Arctics’ best cover performances.
The first time I heard the heavier, grubbier production on Humbug, I immediately thought how good some tracks would sound backing James Bond movies. Arctic Monkeys preempted me by playing a Bond theme – the Shirley Bassey classic “Diamonds Are Forever” – at Glastonbury 2007. Listening now, the heavy drums and Alex Turner’s confident, dramatic vocals are an obvious precursor to the band’s move away from their spiky teenage sound.
Both Arctic Monkeys and Amy Winehouse became superstars in 2006, with the releases of Whatever People Say I Am… and Back to Black, respectively. The Arctics gave a nod to their contemporary with a cover of Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” Considering the lyrics it’s an unusual choice for them to cover. That said, they do a nice job replicating Mark Ronson’s old-fashioned soul production without any of his ubiquitous trumpets, though Alex Turner can’t quite match Winehouse’s slinky vocals.
Showing a preference for both pop covers and older tracks, the Arctics take on another female vocalist with a dreamy cover of Barbara Lewis’ saccharine 1965 single “Baby I’m Yours.” It’s a strange recording for the band, completely without the braggadocio that they bring to their own music. 747 singer Oisin Leach shares vocal duties with Turner for a cover that maintains the innocent mid-sixties sweetness of the original, complete with tidily harmonized “oohs” in the background.
Stopping by the ever-popular Live Lounge in 2007, Arctic Monkeys took on not one but five female vocalists to cover “Love Machine” by British popstars Girls Aloud. It’s a lighthearted and largely unrehearsed cover, but the band has fun straying so far outside their genre. Girls Aloud music is nothing more than frothy, guilty-pleasure pop, so it’s fun to hear the increasingly serious Arctic Monkeys joking around and flubbing the backup vocals on this stripped-down live take.
Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” is one of the Monkeys’ most recent covers, and one of their best. Released as a b-side for the single “Crying Lightning,” the track became a staple on the tour for Humbug. The band name-checked Cave as an influence on the album, and the cover is a perfect fit for the sinister, winding guitar of Humbug. Turner drawls his way through the vocals, punctuated by dramatic drum breaks.
Bonus: If the band had ever played it in full, their cover of Patsy Cline’s “Strange” would have made this top five. Lyrically the track has a lot in common with the unappreciated Monkeys torch song “Cornerstone,” and Turner’s thoughtful vocals and sparse guitar make Cline’s classic timeless. But because it only makes appearances as an outro to “Fluorescent Adolescent” at gigs, it’s a bonus here.