British rock superstars, the Arctic Monkeys, have returned after a five year break with their 6th studio album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Intricate, lucid and rather repetitive – it’s potentially the group’s most devisive record yet. At first listen we were feeling underwhelmed, yearning for the big riffs and sing-a-long choruses of previous records – but after a few listens, you find yourself being sucked in.
The album kicks off with Alex Turner singing, “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes”, in a sort of pining, nostalgic croon that sets the tone for the whole record. The album is a window into his mind with the other three standing in the background, playing their diminished role. Star Treatment is the first track off the album and our interpretation of this song is that Alex no longer feels of this world, like he is too far removed from reality as he sings, “I found out the hard way that here ain’t no place for dolls like you and me”.
When you learn that the album was written by Turner on a keyboard before showing any of the other members, you realise that it is more of an Alex Turner solo album with a backing band than a big new Arctic Monkeys record, as the distinctive qualities the other members bring to the table seem to be some what diluted. It’s as if he is having a conversation with the piano, and as a result, there is a theme of disconnect and confusion running throughout; confusion in it’s message and confusion in the music aswell.
In our opinion, Turner is at his best when straightened up a little by his band mates, as without their influence, he diverts off on tangents constantly and the songs become quite bewildering.
The pace of the album is a little frustrating aswell. The big singles like Four Out Of Five and One Point Perspective slightly amp up in energy, but the tempo of every song stays almost exactly the same the whole way through the record. This has the effect of making it feel like one continuous song and does become a little dull at times.
This leads on to the question many are asking: is this a concept album? The constant tempo certainly points you in that direction as does the name. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino comes from the first moon landing when they landed on Tranquility Base, alluding to the idea that it is essentially a hotel on the moon. Turner seems to be the master of the house (or hotel we should say), living in this fictitious world he has created. He even made the artwork!
From this world he seems to be exploring topics that trouble him, from past relationships in the album closer The Ultracheese, or even weighing in on Trump in the song Golden Trunks, singing, “the leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks”.
Turner’s dialogue throughout is probably the best part about the record. The melodies and riffs are fine, but they are not stand out and most of them sound pretty similar to songs already released. We can’t help feeling like a lot of these songs wouldn’t seem out of place on the Humbug record released in 2009, and considering that was almost ten years ago, it is a little frustrating considering the music they have made in the middle.
So you may be thinking – this is not what we demand from the Arctic Monkeys! Well we certainly thought that on the first listen, but there is a lot that lies below the surface of this record. Turner’s lyrics are intelligent, funny, bizarre and also slightly melancholic in parts – his famous poetic ability is certainly shown in all it’s glory on this record.
You also start to pick up on the more delicate melodies hidden away on certain tracks the more you unpick the record. It has a very similar feeling to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul record in that it just feels different to what you know of the band’s previous work. You aren’t quite sure what to make of what you’re listening to, but it’s the bloody Beatles so it must be good!
Before you know it, you find yourself singing the melodies you didn’t know were there, when going about your day, and with each listen, you uncover another Turner quip that will have your ears pearking up. It is a clever record for those who are willing to delve deeper and work with it. It is obvious that the band were not trying to achieve another rock anthem classic like AM, but rather just publish a piece of work that they think is decent. All of the promo and PR surrounding the album has been equally as nonchalant and laid back as the record itself; there were no huge marketing campaigns or chat show appearances. It’s almost as if Alex Turner has asked the band, can we chuck this concept album of mine out and then release another classic in a few years?
This certainly feels like a pivotal moment for the band. If this record is just a stopgap while they figure out where they are going to go as a group, then we can accept this album for what it is, a slight Alex Turner showcase. We can only hope that on the next record we will get Helders’ outrageous drumming, O’Malley’s hipswinging bass lines and Cook’s rock-arena riffs, aswell as Turner’s stunning lyricism. If not, it could mark the beginning of the end for one of Britain’s greatest ever bands.