Image: Creative Commons

Rock’s Last Hope? Ranking Arctic Monkeys’ Discography

For the last eighteen years, British rock has been largely dominated by one band. Hailing from High Green in Sheffield, Arctic Monkeys have become a global icon in the music industry, enjoying a period of longevity, relevance, and success longer than other major British bands such as Oasis and The Clash, and over double the length of The Beatles’ seven-year tenure.

Whilst Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders may not have been as influential as John, Paul, George and Ringo, there is no denying that across seven records, 12 million album sales and over 7 billion streams on Spotify, the band has inspired an enormous following across the world, and the UK especially. Some have even gone so far as to proclaim Arctic Monkeys the ‘saviours’ of modern-day rock and roll, reviving the genre following the gradual decline of Britpop bands in the late 2000s.  

In this article, each of their releases (excluding their EPs) will be ranked from worst to best, although that is not to say that any of their albums are bad. Each album is fantastic and different from the last, spanning across a variety of different tones and genres, full of life and more hits than a game of Battleship played with a mirror. This is the complete ranking of Arctic Monkeys’ discography.

7. The Car (2022)

Recommended Listening: ‘Perfect Sense’ 

Following a four-year hiatus from releasing new music, Artic Monkeys returned with less of a bang, and more of a slight crescendo played on a string orchestra and piano. If one were to listen to ‘The Car’ directly after listening to their debut album, you wouldn’t know you were listening to the same band if not for Turner’s vocals. ‘The Car’ symbolises The Monkeys’ musical progression from indie rock to a more lounge/orchestral pop feel.

Whilst it may be their weakest work, it is by no means a bad album. The use of the string instruments throughout is a welcome addition to their repertoire, and Turner’s unique vocals are perhaps the best they have ever been. The first half of the album is also exceptionally strong, opening with the wonderful ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’, before moving to a darker vibe with ‘Sculptures of Anything Goes’ and ending with the crowd-pleasing and vibrant ‘Body Paint’.

However, the second half of the album, with the notable exception of the final song, is considerably staler than the first half. From the titular track up until ‘Mr Schwartz’, this section of the album is fairly forgettable, with most of the songs sounding void of character, propped up by vague lyrics about escapism and the mundane. On the other hand, the final track, ‘Perfect Sense’ is incredible, and makes up for the weaknesses of the last four songs.

Overall, ‘The Car’ is certainly a polarising album, with many traditional fans criticising Arctic Monkeys for not returning to their heavier rock roots, and others embracing the musical change and development that the band has gone through to create the release.

6. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)

Recommended Listening: ‘The Ultracheese’ 

If this ranking were solely based on how divisive Arctic Monkeys’ albums were, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ (TBHC) would sit undisputedly at the number one sport. In a major departure from their heavier rock roots that traditionally prioritised electric guitar and drums, the heart of this album is Turner playing a Steinway Vertegrand, the piano at which he wrote the entire thing. It also serves as the Monkeys’ first attempt at a concept album, telling the story of a luxury resort on the moon, with each song portraying a different perspective from different characters. 

Coming off the major international success of their previous album ‘AM’, fans were shocked when listening to the psychedelic space pop of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, with many longing for a return to the hard rock that had initially rocketed the band to fame. Whilst ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ is still a great album, its psychedelic and often self-indulgent tone has alienated many fans, with its songs sometimes coming across as pretentious and disorienting. 

Arctic Monkeys must be commended for their bold experimentation on the album, and for still being able to produce major hits despite the spacey vocals and intricately moody instrumentation. ‘Four Out Of Five’ is now a regular on the Monkeys’ live setlists, whilst the titular track showcases Turner’s witty lyricism and the exploration of the complexity of modern life. The best, and closing song on the album, ‘The Ultracheese’ is a perfect finale, reflecting on the passage of time, nostalgia and fame, providing more emotional weight than most of their discography. 

‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ may not be a fan favourite, but it certainly highlights the band’s willingness to evolve, as well as showcasing some of the best songwriting and musical prowess of Turner’s career.

5. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)

Recommended Listening: ‘Only Ones Who Know’ 

A potentially controversial pick, but their second album, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ sits at fifth place on this list. Whilst the band certainly doesn’t suffer from second album syndrome (a feat made even more impressive when one considers Turner was just 20/21 when writing the album), it just doesn’t quite reach the highs of the next albums on this ranking. 

‘This House Is A Circus’ and ‘If You Were There, Beware’ are the two weakest songs on the album, with the latter seemingly trying (and failing) to replicate the balance of heavy rock instrumentalism with introspective lyricism that the Monkeys used so effectively on the previous album. However, this does not take away from the fact that this album contains some of the greatest rock songs of the last twenty years. 

From the incredibly fast-paced guitar riff of ‘Brianstorm’, to the jaunty lyrical story of ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, the haunting ballad that is ‘505’ and the calm introspected nature of ‘Only Ones Who Know’, the album is full of greatness whilst displaying the beginnings of Arctic Monkeys’ ever-evolving sound. 

‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ is an album full of duality and contradiction as suggested by the paradoxical title, yet sometimes it falls flat in achieving this – the listener can easily become overwhelmed by the rapid tempo and gnarly riffs and yearn for a touch of moderation. Nevertheless, the album reaffirmed Arctic Monkeys’ position as the biggest band in the UK and its influence on rock music should not be underestimated.   

4. AM (2013)

Recommended Listening: ‘Snap Out Of It’

When this album dropped in September 2013, it sent shockwaves across the music industry. The softer, darker and more audacious rock that had been teased on the Monkeys’ previous album ‘Suck It And See’ culminated in the release of ‘AM’, the band’s most commercially successful and iconic album to date. It catapulted Arctic Monkeys to international stardom, becoming their first and only album to be certified platinum in the United States. 

Despite the album’s commercial success in becoming one of the most recognisable records of the past twenty years, ‘AM’s dedication to a more sophisticated sound means that it lacks the grungy rawness of their previous albums. In a word, it serves as a crossroads for the musical direction of the band, symbolising the Monkeys’ shift from troublesome Sheffield youth to a refined and Americanised group of suit and tie-wearing musicians. 

However, there is no denying that ‘AM’ is not full to the brim with some of the best songs of the twenty-first century. The slick opening song ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is indisputably the band’s biggest hit, containing one of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time. The high energy of the opener is carried on into the dance-inducing ‘Snap Out Of It’, the effortlessly cool ‘R U Mine?’ and the swagger-laden fusion of vintage and modern rock that is ‘Arabella’. The band also manages to balance a calmer, more introspective sound in the album, with the soul-searching ballad ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ exploring the temporary solace of nostalgic reflections, and the closing track ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ using lyrics from the John Cooper Clarke poem of the same name to create an anthem of yearning for love and affection.

From discussions online, ‘AM’ seems to be becoming an album that it is cool to hate due to its commercial success potentially alienating the band from their original fans, and whilst it certainly does show Arctic Monkeys taking a potentially divisive route with their musical evolution, it’s naïve to dislike an album just for being internationally popular. This is still a fantastic, genre-blurring record that made Arctic Monkeys international superstars and provided millions of fans with some of the best music the band has to offer. 

3. Humbug (2009)

Recommended Listening: ‘Pretty Visitors’ 

With the release of their third album ‘Humbug’ in 2009, Arctic Monkeys officially began their departure from sharp indie rock, and into a more experimental phase. The influence of the album’s producer, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, is felt throughout the record, giving its songs a brooding and dark atmosphere. ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ may have been the first evidence that the Monkeys were looking for change, but ‘Humbug’ is where the band really begins to mature and evolve as musicians. 

From the groovy bassline and sense of propulsion on the opening song ‘My Propellor’, it becomes clear that ‘Humbug’ is unlike anything we’ve heard from Arctic Monkeys before. This infectious, dark atmosphere is carried onto the album’s biggest hit ‘Crying Lightning’, and the rip-roaringly fast lyrical heavy metal that is ‘Pretty Visitors’. The album also takes a more introspected approach with the melancholic ‘Cornerstone’, with Turner’s lyrics telling a story about searching for a long-lost love, and experiments with dreamy prog rock on ‘Secret Door’. 

This album is one of the Monkeys’ best attempts at shifting their musical style, balancing their famously sharp and witty lyrics with experimental instrumentation, creating a sense of foreboding swagger that fails to appear in their other works. Whilst it may take a few listens to truly appreciate the musical prowess of the album, ‘Humbug’ works incredibly well posing as the true turning point of the band’s tone and style. 

2. Suck It and See (2011)

Recommended Listening: ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’

By far the Monkeys’ most lyrically impressive and emotional album, ‘Suck It And See’ is often overlooked and underappreciated by critics and fans alike. The record is far lighter in tone and instrumentation than its predecessor ‘Humbug’, crafting a playful and refreshing atmosphere that is reflected in its tongue-in-cheek title and melodic sound. Even its production quality is light-hearted, leading to a less muddied sound than the band’s previous work whilst retaining the raw edge that brought them success. 

‘She’s Thunderstorms’ and ‘Brick by Brick’ grab the listener’s attention with a punch of musical energy and simple, witty, memorable lyricism. ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ feeds on this energy with a slow build-up to a musical crescendo, and whilst it may not be the most intricate song on the album, it is nonetheless an effortlessly catchy and enjoyable addition.  

However, the true value of the album lies in its complex, profound ballads that explore themes of love, heartbreak, and nostalgia. On these tracks, the music is largely stripped down, allowing Turner’s unique lyrics and vocals to be the highlights. The acoustic titular track ‘Suck It and See’ is a mellow and sincere love song, painting evocative images of the importance of intimacy in a relationship, whilst the heartfelt gem ‘Piledriver Waltz’ adds a layer of emotional vulnerability coupled with the finesse of the Monkeys’ signature style and wordplay. 

Just like ‘The Car’, the final track of the album stands out, with ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ being nothing short of a musical and lyrical masterpiece. It subtly tells the story of a man reflecting on the ups and downs of his relationship, exploring the relatable uncertainty and fearfulness of romance, before realising that it’s only natural to be afraid and that the love we have should still be enjoyable. It’s a brilliant piece of music, brimming with vibrance whilst maintaining the raw emotions of its songwriting, making it the best song Arctic Monkeys have ever released. 

‘Suck It and See’ is an underrated triumph of musical evolution and ability, showcasing Turner’s lyrics at their best. Words do not do it justice; this is an album that must be listened to and then listened to again and again. It’s a timeless, nostalgic, introspective record, and the true pièce de resistance of Arctic Monkeys’ discography. So then, why isn’t it number one on this ranking?

1. Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not (2006)

Recommended Listening: ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’

After experiencing a modicum of fame with the release of various singles, Arctic Monkeys truly made their presence on the UK rock scene known when they released ‘Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not’ in 2006. It became the fastest-selling UK debut album ever at the time, and to this day remains the greatest and most remarkable musical debut of all time. Pretty impressive for an album about nights out in Sheffield. 

The record is Arctic Monkeys at their finest – quick-witted lyrics, sharp guitar riffs and lively rhythms. Marked as something of a concept for the way it describes the rough, dirty, and gritty nature of British nightlife, the album was named the best album of 2006 by Time magazine as well as winning the Best British Album at the Brit Awards that year. 

‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ is the album’s biggest hit, with lyrics simply describing how young people act in nightclubs, whilst ‘Dancing Shoes’ tells the story of men trying and failing to make moves on girls in the club before giving up and going home. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ describes the unsavoury nature of the clients of Sheffield’s prostitutes, ‘Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secured’ the trials and tribulations of getting into a taxi at the end of a night, and ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ the excessive artificiality of the indie rock industry. 

Prostitutes, pulling, drugs and drunkenness – how is ‘Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not’ Arctic Monkeys’ best album? There is nothing I can say about the musical quality or lyricism of the record that hasn’t been said already, it’s simply astounding. The reason why the album is the Monkeys’ best work is because of what it represents. In the mid-2000s, rock in the UK was declining in popularity, with indie rock in particular suffering. Then along comes a small band from Sheffield that releases one of the best rock albums of all time, reviving interest in the genre. 

Whether ‘Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not’ truly ‘saved’ rock will always be up for debate, but it is impossible to deny that it changed the landscape of rock in the UK and across the world forever, and that is why it is the best Arctic Monkeys album of all time. 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.