Arctic Monkeys | Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Album Review
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is conceptually brilliant and showcases Arctic Monkeys at their most unconventional. While it may prove to be bitter listening for fans of the Sheffielders' stadium rock material, it will surely go down as a bold expansion in years to come.
What bracket is right to put Arctic Monkeys in? They're kind of a post-Britpop band, but they're also stadium rock giants. They're pioneers of 2000s indie, yet they're also garage rock pushers. Labels and genre tags are merely ways of putting bands into categories for easier descriptions, and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino only adds another sub-genre that the Monkeys can find themselves part of.
Tranquility Base is not a disappointment. Die hard fans of AM and their startling debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not may find their latest record to be lacklustre in comparison, but it almost feels like a necessary expansion, soon to be recognised as a quintessential album in the Monkeys back catalogue. Just like other artists' transitions (hello, David Bowie), Tranquility Base is bound to cause controversy and maybe even disillusionment amongst fans, but its content is nothing short of musically impressive.
It's not like Alex Turner and co. have shunned their previous work completely. Some tracks (namely the standalone single, 'Four Out Of Five') still nod towards the dancefloor anthems of the past, with lines like, "Lunar surface on a Saturday night, dressed up in silver and white, with coloured Old Grey Whistle test lights" evidently pushing their signature, down-and-dirty weekend antics vibe. The only difference here is the slower change of pace, making for an essentially suave nature, not inappropriate in tone and fashion for a Bond movie soundtrack, which in this case, would undoubtedly be Moonraker.
Turner's apparent change in singing style and speed isn't even much different from AM's 'Do I Wanna Know?', drawing comparisons to the line, "simmer down and pucker up". Tranquility Base is less a total departure and more an experimental effort in the name of ego and class musicianship. The album opener, 'Star Treatment' radiates space-like flair, but steers clear of obnoxiousness and obvious lyricisms. Arctic Monkeys clearly have Bowie to thank for his pioneering creative stance, not to mention his vocal style, which Turner surely has adopted.
The use of piano is a large focal point of the record, which helps generate the lounge feel of the album. Turner churns out twinkly notes that shine throughout, resulting in the notion that unquestionably, Tranquility Base is a nighttime LP, seemingly reminiscent of 1970s cabaret clubs and Cold War-era casinos (obviously). The record no doubt shows Arctic Monkeys at their most artistic; the lack of choruses, littering of pop culture references and abstract, almost spoken word phrases from Turner cement Tranquility Base as a visionary work of art.
'American Sports' feels like organised chaos at its best; juxtaposition at its most creative, with so many layers overlapping that it begs a second and then a third listen. For a record full of progression (despite none of the songs exceeding the 6-minute mark), it is remarkable that the Monkeys have created such instantly recognisable tunes while still keeping in with the otherwordly concept of a lunar casino.
That's not to say it doesn't have its weaknesses. 'The Ultracheese' feels completely out of place, like a lonely ballad on the topic of nostalgia sitting awkwardly as the record's closer. It would surely otherwise be seen as a filler track, but placing it as the album's finale seems anticlimactic to say the least. Comparing the overall performance to the work of Bowie is practically cliché at this point, but it's necessary, considering that without the seminal 'Space Oddity', it's unlikely that Tranquility Base would even exist at all.
One can't help but think that if Tranquility Base was written by somebody else, it would receive universal praise for its cool and calm. Sure, the bizarre lyrics can indicate mismatched immaturity (especially when remarking on track 7, 'The World's First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip'), but this doesn't make the record feel unfocused or satirical at all. Concept albums perhaps lack believability in 2018; gone are the days of Pink Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or Bowie's Diamond Dogs, where outlandish ideas and musical revolution were held to such high regard.
In a time where lots of music fans want hit singles at the touch of a button, Tranquility Base can certainly make for a difficult listen, frustrating even. But that's not to say it won't be nostalgically praised later on, or that the album is somehow less positive because the change in direction has generated shrugs amongst thousands of fans. It is unlikely that dozens of pint-bearing 20-somethings will frolic around to 'One Point Perspective' at the Royal Albert Hall, but it's not unrealistic to imagine them mulling over it on the train ride home.