Who the f*** are Arctic Monkeys? Only, the biggest name in British alternative music and after a five year hiatus they’re back and certainly making an impression. Twelve years on from their first album, the Sheffield quartet has released their sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. And let me say, whatever people say this album is, that’s what it’s not. Much like their first album, this tells a story, but not one of a night out in Sheffield but one of a Hotel & Casino Jazz Lounge on the moon.
Man first landed on the moon in 1969 on a spot named ‘tranquility base’, and this is certainly one giant leap for Arctic Monkeys with a futuristic sound we’ve never heard the likes of before. Their first song ‘Star Treatment’ can be summed up in one line: ‘what do you mean you’ve never seen blade runner?’ as we’re jetted forward to 2049, sat listening to casino lounge jazz. The delay on Alex Turner’s iconic vocals creates an echo throughout the song giving the impression of the vast emptiness of space. It feels almost otherworldly, certainly for a band with such a signature rock vibe.
“The drums are used sparingly and guitar riffs are few and far between”
‘One Point Perspective’ and ‘American Sports’ sound more like they should be on a David Bowie album, they’re driven by a piano melody supported by strings. The drums are used sparingly and guitar riffs are few and far between. Both lean heavily on Turner’s lyrics engaging in religion and politics. ‘Golden Trunks’ continues along the political theme, with the cutting chorus ‘the leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks’. I don’t think that needs any explaining.
The title track ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’,the most synth heavy song on the album and ‘Science Fiction sound like they were written for a Ridley Scott or Guillermo Del Toro Sci-Fi thriller, with just a hint of Black Mirror, discussing dark futures. In contrast ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ is about as stupid as the name suggests.
“It’s clever and just a little bit arrogant”
‘Four Out Of Five’ is possibly the only redeeming part of the album. It’s the most self-aware song. The lyrics seem to respond to their previous album, AM, with the lyrics ‘it was well reviewed, four stars out of five’. We finally hear a recognisable bassline, but just when you start to get excited, it returns to the psychedelic Bowie-esque sound of the rest of the album. The lyrics continue to engage with their own sense of self as a band, asking us to ‘take it easy for a little while’ presumably in reference to their five year break and it also expresses the unfamiliarity of their new music. It’s clever and just a little bit arrogant.
While ‘She Looks Like Fun’ finally includes some guitar, that’s all I have to say about it. It’s just white noise in the midst of the album. While ‘Batphone’ has distant glimmers of Humbug, it doesn’t land. ‘Ultracheese’ is a classic jazz ballad for its big final ballad. I actually quite like this song. It’s uncomplicated, it doesn’t try to be clever or otherworldly, it’s just a classic ode to the 40s and 50s Sinatra classics.
“They’ve certainly made a mess of this one.”
This album was clearly made in Turner’s pursuit of artistry, but unfortunately it can be summed up by the album’s very first line: ‘I just wanted to be one of the Strokes, now look at the mess you’ve made me make’. We know that the Arctic Monkeys don’t make two albums the same, but after getting it so right with AM, they’ve certainly made a mess of this one.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and AM are two of my favourite albums of all time, so after five years waiting I can’t explain how disappointed I am. I understand why they didn’t release any singles; the album has been largely described as divisive, and while I acknowledge the merits of its bravery sadly I am not a fan. I don’t see a single song on the album going down as one of their greats. It seems the Arctic Monkeys left orbit and they can stay there until they bring us something worth listening to.
My verdict: Save your money and buy AM instead.
Image Courtesy of Arctic Monkeys Facebook Page