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How Alex Turner Conquered the Music World

From Rubble to Ritz: How Alex Turner Conquered the Music World

“We’re Arctic Monkeys, don’t believe the hype”

The words uttered by a cocksure Alex Turner in the opening moments of I bet you look good on the dancefloor back in 2006. Even then, he knew himself and Arctic Monkeys were destined for greatness – and shortly after, so did everybody else. 

Turner’s command of the music world has been nothing short of freakish. A meteoric rise, that in terms of reputation and chart positioning, hasn’t suffered a single slip-up – a consistency that no modern artist has managed to replicate. Since the beginning, the band set itself impossibly high standards, meeting these with ease and aplomb time and again.

The Artic Monkey's have reached Icon status
The Artic Monkey’s have reached Icon status

Six albums, six number one spots; it’s a staggering output from a band who have refused to rest on their laurels. Each release stepping a long way out of their comfort zone – fighting the urge to set complacent with a ‘winning formula’.

The latest record, extravagantly titled Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, is comfortably the most adventurous piece of work to date. Bombastic and self-reflective in equal measure, the ‘Tranquility’ began life as Turner’s solo project, evolving into a full-blown ‘Monkeys album at a later stage.

In true Alex Turner style – the album raised a few eyebrows on release. Presenting a monumental, winding journey through a wonderfully fictional world, it is a departure from previous efforts but also a clear mark of Turner’s evolution as a performer. The frontman has once again proved himself to be one of the industry’s most fascinating minds and undisputed talents.

Channeling inspiration from David Bowie, Turner reinvents himself on the album, creating his very own take on the ‘Starman‘ persona and embodying him through the music. Catchy hooks that had served his early days so well, gave way to bizarre, eccentric imagery and storytelling.

Self-indulgent? Perhaps, but which of the greatest performers in history weren’t? Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave, Freddie Mercury, Liam Gallager – all of them knew exactly how good they were and they used that knowledge to their advantage. Whether we like it or not, ego can be a powerful tool in a musician’s arsenal. 

Besides – if anyone has earned the right to be sure of themselves, few names can back it up quite like Turner can. 

Tranquility Base has ultimately proven to be a triumph, different in style but unwavering in success – the legacy of the Arctic Monkeys (and Alex Turner’s song writing prowess) is preserved and unfaltering.

The brilliance of the ‘Monkeys is that they have a knack for coming along with a record at just the right time. With an uncanny ability to be relevant since the release of their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, they have given a voice to those wrestling their own growing pains (it is no exaggeration to say that since their debut every slightly awkward 16-year-old in the country wanted to be Alex Turner). 

Alex Turner's slick back look
Alex Turner’s slick back look

Nearly 15 years on and that first release remains the fastest selling debut album by any band in UK chart history, shifting 363,735 copies in its first year alone. That of course, proved to be just a taster of what the next decade would bring. 

Whenever people talk about Oasis’ success, they talk about how they were exactly the right band at exactly the right time – and while it’s hard to compare any act to the Gallagher legacy, Turner and co have had that same knack of capturing the mood of a generation since breaking onto the scene after their formation in 2002.

So many bands from the same era have eroded into oblivion, acts who burst onto the scene filled with promise only to fall into that dreaded pit of the indie landfill. The influx of guitar-driven, radio-friendly groups of the early 2000s meant building something distinct and lasting was near-impossible, yet this group of unlikely misfits from Sheffield made it look like a walk in the park. 

There was no way to avoid them – wherever the band were in their journey, they had a monumental influence on pop culture. When Turner rebranded himself into a slick aviator-wearing rockstar (upon the release of AM), leather jackets became a staple in wardrobes up and down the country …barbers everywhere sighing at yet another request to recreate that Travolta-esque quiff that was suddenly cool again. 

If you were to pinpoint the exact moment Arctic Monkeys and Alex Turner stepped into true global superstardom, AM would definitely be it. The most chart-friendly, accessible album to date meant that not only had they conquered the world of guitar music, they had conquered the world of pop too. Mainstream charts and radio stations were dominated by the unmistakable opening chords of Do I Wanna Know, it rang around shopping centres, a whole new audience had been captivated; the world was theirs. 

This was also the record widely regarded as the one that truly cracked the much sought-after American market. And perhaps more importantly, it signalled the moment the frontman had became an icon, a maverick, someone who would hold a bigger influence than anyone could have ever imagined. For British indie rock…nothing would ever be the same again.

Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage in 2013

Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage in 2013 offered the most fitting platform imaginable to debut the latest iteration of Alex Turner, as the band stepped out to headline the most coveted slot in music for the second time in their career, with things being very different this time round. What followed would go down as one of the greatest performances in the festival’s history and yet another accolade to add to the ever-growing list. 

This wasn’t just about the music anymore, this was about the performance – it was about how they looked and moved on stage. This had become something far bigger and it set the tone for what the band had become and how they would approach the years that followed. 

Shortly after the Glasto appearance came the viral “bill me for the microphone” moment at the Brits that rounded off his bizarre, rambling speech about “that rock and roll eh?”. It came after AM was crowned Album of the Year. This kind of behaviour was now part of that persona he’d created and while to some it was arrogant, most of us unapologetically lapped it up and begged for more. 

The urge to constantly reinvent himself has been vital to both the group’s and his individual success. From the angsty 20-something hammering out catchy riff after catchy riff, to the cardigan wearing, lovestruck poet of the Humbug days. Going stale was something that Turner simply would not allow.

Whatever the character, one thing has always remained throughout these costume changes, an unrelenting, unrivalled level of talent. From a songwriting perspective few come close to Turner’s ability to turn a phrase, a combination of kitchen sink realism and the capacity to transform these uninspiring everyday situations into something mesmerisingly beautiful is staggering. 

It is that creativity that has driven Turner on to create equally impressive escapades outside of Arctic Monkeys. Venturing into the realm of cinema with the outstanding soundtrack for the staple indie flick, Submarine, which for many, was him at his very best in terms of out-and-out love songs.

Then of course there’s the immensely popular side project of The Last Shadow Puppets, which afforded him the chance to experiment with orchestral arrangements alongside Miles Kane and inevitably deliver two more chart-topping albums. Both projects capture completely different sides to his musical abilities but both somehow still ooze that same quality we’ve come to know and expect. 

Turner with Last of The Shadow Puppets
Turner with Last of The Shadow Puppets

With the track record he has, it’s hard to imagine him hitting any kind of ceiling. We’ve come to expect a frankly absurd level of quality and so far and there’s been no reason to doubt his ability to deliver for many more years to come. 

At just 34 years of age…who knows how long Alex Turner will continue to reign high. We have seen so many musicians before him tail off or lose interest, however the desire to create and push boundaries is still clearly there. There is a very real chance that Arctic Monkeys could continue at this level for another decade and here’s hoping that they do just that. 

What comes next? No one other than himself knows. Another chapter in the illustrious story of Arctic Monkeys? The solo project he intended Tranquility Base to be? Whatever it is, there is nothing left to prove for Alex Turner. Let’s just enjoy him for as long as we can. 


UP NEXT: 20 years of Coachella…