Arctic Monkeys AM – Indie Rock with a little RnB

“Indie Rock and RnB?” you gasp, wondering what that could possibly sound like. In short, it sounds like endless sex in a luxurious high-end hotel room; but not in a sickeningly romanticised kind of way (listen to the below clip, you will not regret it). A few of the songs from the Arctic Monkey’s 2013 album incorporate the incredible amalgamation that is Indie Rock + RnB, such as Do I Wanna Know? and I Wanna Be Yours; the latter of which I will be pulling apart later in this post. If you wanna get into the nitty gritty details of each genre and the elements integrated into I Wanna Be Yours , you’ll have to read on.

What is Rhythm and Blues (AKA RnB)?

The genre of Rhythm and Blues or ‘RnB’ as it has come to be known, originated as “music created by and targeted to black Americans (Ripani, 2006).” It was melded from a blend of well-timed European country, blues and soulful African-American gospel to create a meaningful but somewhat more upbeat sound than the era was used to (ie. it was timed, unlike gospel, which is where the European influence came in). The term Rhythm and Blues was first used by “Billboard magazine in its June 25, 1949 issue, when the company switched the name of the black record sales chart from “Best Selling Race Records” to “Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records.” (Ripani, 2006).” Many genres such as Jazz, Funk, Blues, Soul and more recently a slow type of rap are included under the umbrella of RnB. The genre also had a hand in birthing Rock’n’Roll and of course, Hip-Hop. The genre has been melded into many different things over the years, however even now today in 2017, the RnB charts on iTunes and the like are predominantly filled by black artists (see picture below):

rnb-chart
iTunes Top 10 RnB Chart, 22/02/2017

As Rhythm and Blues encompasses so many different genres, it is difficult to name particular characteristics. Blues was a majorly drawn from to create RnB so you would think the lyrical content would be similar. However, while the lyrical content Blues was generally very real and about life in general, the Rhythm and Blues themes tended to be more about love and/or relationships, which is something that has carried through to modern RnB. The reason for this is that Blues, along with Gospel, was sung together by many African-Americans travelling on slave ships or enduring other hardship to express what they were going through. RnB on the other hand was more designed to lift spirits and take people away from their day-to-day lives. Moving on to instrumentation of the genre, which generally  consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, saxophone, and sometimes background vocalists, which was an influence from Gospel songs (Class notes). Check out these famous examples below:

  • Ray Charles, who was a pioneer of RnB during the 1950s:
  • James Brown was a famous singer from the 1960s, who was more into the Soul style of RnB:

More recently we have slow rap artists such as Usher, who are also blanketed under the term of Rhythm and Blues. The are likely referred to under this term because of the slow, Soul-type vocals, long instrumental breaks, lyrical content, constant backbeat and also the face that most artists of this music are African-American: 

What is Indie Rock?

Independent or ‘Indie’ Rock is a sub-genre of one of the Alternative Rock genre, which in itself is one of the endless spawn from the father genre of Rock. The many segmented styles of Rock perhaps more than anything, refer to different political and social values within the music, rather than changes within the music itself (although there are those as well). Some draw parallels between high art and Indie Rock, “both of which depend upon a lack of popularity for their value, and require specialized knowledge to be fully appreciated” (Hibbett, 2005). Independent Rock started out as Rock music from artists that were not signed to labels, however in our ever changing and technologically evolving society, it is becoming more commonplace for artists to not be signed to labels, or to create their own labels. Therefore, how now, do we define Independent Rock? Independent Rock was a niche genre, but as more independent bands have become famous, it is now quite mainstream; does this mean going against the values of its own genre?

The roots of Independent Rock can be traced back to the underground music scene of the late 1960s and Punks challenge to the popular music industry. Throughout the 1990s however, Indie Music became a big part of Britains 1990s mainstream scene. The band Oasis (1995) is a significant example of the genre when it peaked:

They were authentic, had wild behaviour on tour, there were fights between brothers Noel and Paul Gallagher and the music was different to what people were used to hearing on mainstream radio (although in that decade it became the norm).  This genre draws a lot from the ‘DIY’ attitude of punk, with advances in technology allowing people to take production and distribution into their own hands. Professor David Hesmondhalgh calls this the ‘democratization of the music industry (1999).’ This new way of distribution also allowed a wider spread of the genre, through Britain, Europe and the US.

Characteristics often included an overall Lo-Fi sound, with ‘jangly (trebly, arpeggiated picking)’ guitars, lyrics with more depth, minimal focus on the rhythm track and a minimal display of musical prowess on stage (Hesmondhalgh, 1999), very ‘by the people, for the people.’ Some say the Indie Music genre is subjective, meaning different things to different people. This is somewhat true; for example the Arctic Monkeys are an Indie Rock band who, until the release of their 2014 AM album, had a very elitist anti-digital, all-analogue production style. However, with their latest album they abandoned this attitude, and awards were won, history was made.

Arctic Monkeys – I Wanna Be Yours

What makes this song a blend of the above two genres?

First we’ll start with the basics. The song has a duration of 3 minutes and 4 seconds and a Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Outro structure, which are both typical attributes of a normal Rock song. However, the BPM is 68 which is more generic of a slower RnB song.

The lyrical content is actually based off of a poem by Punk poet John Cooper Clarke (for full poem see here), which speaks for itself in favour of Indie Rock. Furthermore, the bass has a Lo-Fi, almost muffled sound to it, while the guitars have a lot of treble and some sort of vibrato effect.

The overall theme, implied by the song as a whole gives way to RnB, being about love, sex and luxury. Furthermore, the vocals having a lilting, almost talking tone to them at times which is seen in many contemporary RnB songs and there are also backing vocals in much of the piece. Additionally, the drums have a constant and never changing drum backbeat and throughout the bridge and outro the guitars come more to the forefront, with an echo of the chorus melody. The chorus effect in the background also gives an impression of, well, a chorus which of course there was a lot of in Gospel music. Frontman Alex Turner himself said that for the album of this song they wanted to borrow from “the architecture of RnB (The Guardian),” applying the “compositional perspective of what a hip hop or RnB producer would be to a four piece Rock ‘n’ Roll band, manipulate instruments to become building blocks [like a beat for a Rap song] (Radio.com).”

So there you have it, a beautiful mix of Indie Rock and RnB. As a nice little ending I’ll leave you with a favourite contemporary album of each genre:

The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness (Rhythm and Blues)

Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All (a little less garagey than Arctic Monkeys, but Indie Rock nonetheless)

The Guardian,. Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner On New Album AM ‘I Want To Sound Like 50 Cent In Da Club’. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Hesmondhalgh, David. “INDIE: THE INSTITUTIONAL POLITICS AND AESTHETICS OF A POPULAR MUSIC GENRE”. Cultural Studies 13.1 (1999): 34-61. Web.

Hibbett, R. (2005). What is indie rock? Popular Music and Society, 28(1), 55-77.

Radio.com,. Arctic Monkeys On Their Smash Album ‘AM’ And The Inspiration Behind It. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Ripani, R. J. (2006). New Blue Music : Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950-1999. Jackson, US: University Press of Mississippi.

 

 

 

 

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