What we’re listening to (#21): ‘Submarine – EP’ by Alex Turner

Submarine, a 2010 film directed by Richard Ayoade of IT Crowd fame (who has directed some past Arctic Monkeys’ music videos, notably ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and ‘Cornerstone’), was about story of Oliver Tate and his comically strange and awkward coming-of-age. Visually it’s slightly washed out, a faint sepia colour correction a feature of most scenes, some Super-8 footage thrown in to boot. It really is a great film overall, quirky yet cool, and not too far on either side of the scale, topped off by a phenomenal soundtrack as written by Alex Turner.

He ditches his typical rock style that he’s been known for a long time and instead opts to pick up his acoustic guitar to provide at the time five (and a half) new songs – it’s soft, ballad-like, and there’s not too much going on that it detracts from itself as well as the film. If you’re watching the film, the tracks are more of a secondary focus, and so Turner doesn’t pull all the tricks from out of his sleeve lyrically and musically, instead restraining himself. The result is an album that on the surface, especially when combined with the content of the film, perfectly reflects the uncertainties of adolescence whilst showing the growth of Turner as a musician separate from the Arctic Monkeys, his at times snarky yet retaining tenderness.

 

 

‘Stuck on the Puzzle’, fairly barebones with simple percussion providing backing a slowly picked chordal-background, a solid bass riff, and a watery organ synth that comes to the fore at the end, is perhaps, audibly speaking, one of the more catchier songs on the album. Turner croons away about the stubbornness of a teenager’s emotions and the perceived eventual change in view that comes with age, and a realisation at the end that he just ends up in the same place he started, confused as ever:

“I tried to swim to the side
But my feet got caught in the middle
And I thought I’d seen the light
But oh, no
I was just stuck on the puzzle
Stuck on the puzzle”

‘Piledriver Waltz’, later reworked into a more upbeat and rocky version on the Arctic Monkeys’ Suck It and See, is also notable, it’s crescendo building up perfectly, a breathy delivery of the words ‘Piledriver’ bringing in the organ synth that lays in the background for the whole song to play a fantastic melody – lyrically though it’s not quite there, and Turner only just manages to make the hotel metaphor of the chorus work, the line “If you’re going to try and walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes” wrapping it up nicely. It’s a great way to close the EP, the time-signature changes a great highlight.

 

The other three tracks feature less instrumentation but provide better imagery via the more classic Turner-lyricism on display, and there’s so many lines that can be pointed too. Personal favourites include “And I will play the coconut shy//and win a prize even if it’s rigged//I won’t know when to stop//And you can leave off my lid, and I won’t even lose my fizz//I’ll be the polka dots type” (on ‘Hiding Tonight’), and “It’s like you’re trying to get to heaven in a hurry//And the queue was shorter than you thought it would be//And the doorman says “you need to get a wristband”” (on ‘It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind). The latter evokes almost Bob Dylan/Simon and Garfunkel-esque vibes with its fingerpicking, strings extremely delicately placed beneath, the former’s electronic notes almost equally as unobtrusive. ‘Glass in the Park’ features some fantastic secondary-lead guitar for a bit extra melodic weight.

The album does sound quite samey throughout, but that’s what was trying to be achieved, a soundtrack that could be followed with the progression of the film, with the progression of the character of Oliver Tate, and in fact shows very well the progression of Alex Turner as an artist.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

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