Album Review: Arctic Monkeys – ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’
In the years since the Arctic Monkeys‘ last album, 2013’s AM, their home nation has left the EU, the US has elected a celebrity as President, and frontman Alex Turner has grown a heinous goatee while taking up MMA. No, seriously. If you had asked the Sheffeldians 12 years ago which of these was least likely, they most certainly would have picked the latter.
Turner’s evolution may, however, offer the best insight into the evolution of the band as a whole; shifting from a no-nonsense, post-punk rocker to a suave, turtle-neck-toting crooner. Gone are the days of the thrashing guitars, the head-banging, and the in-your-face vocals. Now is the time of smooth bass lines, serenading vocals, and tweed. Lots of tweed.
Their latest effort, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (TBHC), is yet another testament to their development, and is the latest instalment in an anthology already boasting three Brit awards for Album Of The Year.
TBHC, like all of the Monkey’s previous efforts, is distinctively their own work. Once Turner’s Sheffield drawl utters “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes”, you certainly couldn’t mistake them for another band. That’s not to say that the sound is what fans expected. Far from it, in fact.
Matt Helders’ erratic percussion in ‘Star Treatment’, matched by the plucky piano in ‘One Point Perspective’, clearly define the departure, with such instruments never seen before in their collection of hits.
Vocals appear to be something of ad-lib, reminiscent of a jazz trumpeter performing a cadenza, drawing out selected syllables before speeding through others. It is clear that the pieces were composed in Turner’s head and on his piano before supporting instruments were added for depth.
In a 2013 interview with BBC’s Newsnight, Turner prognosticated that “we’re about to step out onto the lunar surface”, in what may have been the clearest indicator of the band’s intended direction following AM. This idea comes to fruition in the fourth and eighth tracks, the titular ‘Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino’ and ‘Science Fiction’ respectively, as the layering of sound with synthesizers creates a cosmic atmosphere in which the band is lost in space, serenading planets.
If fans were hoping for something reminiscent of AM, their best hope comes in ‘Four Out Of Five’, as Nicholas O’Malley and Jamie Cook’s bass and rhythm guitars create dense, thick riffs to lay beneath Turner’s crooning.
Final track ‘The Ultracheese’ is as melodic as it gets, with a distinct chorus more reminiscent of Turner’s work with Miles Kane in The Last Shadow Puppets than anything the Arctic Monkeys have ever produced.
Thanks to its surprising sound and left-field production, TBHC is the Arctic Monkeys’ own Magical Mystery Tour, in which we journey through the depths of Turner’s deepest thoughts.
While some may be turned off by this new direction, the Monkeys have earned an experimental passion project given the sheer work-rate devoted to their previous five albums. As George Clooney says of his films, “five for them, and one for me”. This could very well be their one.
Seemingly, the band cannot please everyone, with this record set to divide fans even more. TBHC is nothing like we’ve seen before, and would be an intriguing send-off should we never see the four-piece again.