Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

What we’ve come to expect from the Arctic Monkeys is to expect the unexpected. Five years ago saw the release of AM, which showcased a more suave, more mature side to the Sheffield quartet, dominated by thumping basslines and effortless funk; a bit of a diversion from the punkier, festival-ready hits of days gone by. Although, with everything that’s happened between then and now, five years ago may seem more like five-0 years ago, and in that time, Alex Turner was at the piano, cooped up in LA, writing Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. And remember, kids, expect the unexpected.

The sixth album is both Turner’s most direct and also most metaphorical track list to date. Tranquillity Base is the name of the spot in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. And this isn’t where the sci-fi theming terminates. Every song is mutedly futuristic, dystopian almost. None of the tracks meet the electricity of, say, Old Yellow Bricks and the like, which may bore some long-time fans, and many of the choruses are practically non-existent, let alone shoutable at festivals. It almost feels like a cold, crashing reality. Gone are the days of perhaps a more care-free, instrumentally-audacious Arctic Monkeys; we are now confronted with an offering that is quietly political, more aware and outwardly gloomy. Some of their older material is reflected in this album – such as the reverbing bass and lyrics that sometimes have seemingly been drunkenly strung together – but the way the band have translated these elements for their new music just adds to the underlying tragedy Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino puts forward. Turner and Co are now just waffling, intoxicated people stuck in a blue new setting.

The album is immensely immersive; not one to necessarily just have in the background. Star Treatment starts the album with a Bowie-like presence, slow and swaying, with the opening lyrics “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” putting the pessimistic and straight-to-the-point feel of the album in motion. The Bowie-ness is also cyclical, with album closer The Ultracheese sounding like it could be an Alex Turner cover of a never-before-heard Bowie song. Arctic Monkeys are more themselves on Four Out Of Five, with a riff that could have been plucked from AM, and while all the newness of Tranquillity Base is exciting and pretty good, Four Out Of Five is an asset to the album, probably because it does feel like the most close-to-home and comfortable.

The uneasiness of the rest of the album is potentially what makes it so oddly fascinating. Batphone’s slightly-off riffs and the creepy organ-fx-snyths that underscore the titular track…it kind of make it feel like a movie score, and perhaps that’s why it sets the imagination ablaze. If you close your eyes listening this album, you could genuinely be at this new hotel, and I imagine it to be dark and mysterious, and everyone there is wearing a fedora. The subtlety of each track – especially considering the band’s past songs – just makes it all feel a bit odd, but not unattractive.

Golden Trunks shimmers with reverberation but is darkened by political fear. American Sports is one of the albums’ most instrumentally-strong pieces, perhaps on par with Science Fiction, which includes a simply gorgeous blend of textures. And if you’ve been thinking “no this album isn’t for me at all”, wait for the abrasive crescendo and cheeky (yet somewhat depressing) lyrics of She Looks Like Fun, you might just change your mind.

While this new direction is indeed wildly different, even for the kings of unpredictability, it is no less entertaining than their past work, especially after giving it a really good couple of listens. However, it does beat its predecessors in its intrinsic themes, lyrics and inventive ideas. Whether its “Artic Monkeys” enough is up to you.

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino: 8/10

Ellie Chivers

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