Five years on from the release of AM (the best-selling vinyl of the decade), the Arctic Monkeys have presented their sixth record.
A lot was riding on this album.
Few people could have expected this album to take the turn it did, but by drawing inspiration from science fiction, it resulted in a conceptual album based on a fictional hotel set on the moon. The notorious quiffs and leather jackets of AM are long forgotten.
It’s a creatively bold step to make – and a giant leap for mankind in the current landscape of rock. Yet crucially, it’s also a smart move; instead of looking back to the 80s as other groups currently are, Arctic Monkeys have taken inspiration from the likes of Leonard Cohen and Dion, as well as an assortment of European noir crime films and Martin Scorsese’s 1978 hit The Last Waltz.
It takes a few listens to grow on you as it’s certainly more of a slow-burner than its predecessors. Whether it’ll induce the same cult appreciation that its forerunners have remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it’s a record at least for those who enjoying picking apart Turner’s lyrics and state of mind.
So, in an homage to Arctic Monkeys and their fans, Music Bloggery takes a closer look at Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino to see if each song can really hold its own on this much anticipated release.
1. Star Treatment (★★★★)
Opening with the rich piano bleakness previously heard on David Bowie’s Low, the first track on the album sees Turner nursing the dizzying hangover of someone rattled and let down by the idea of fame.
Preluding the album with a strong note, it wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack for BBC’s hit series Life on Mars, set against a pseudo-1970s backdrop.
2. One Point Perspective (★★★)
The stripped back instrumentals and the drums from Matt Helders on this second song certainly cement the album as unlike anything from the group, and is vocally delivered with the cynicism of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker on Different Class’ ‘I Spy’.
3. American Sports (★★★)
Speaking to Radio 1’s Annie Mac, Turner explained that until he received a piano in 2016, he “can’t remember having any ideas” for the album. On this piano led piece, he pokes fun at our current obsessions and habits and compares them to those of a dystopian future, where even religion has been reduced to ‘my weekly chat with God on video call’.
4. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (★★★★)
Mocking the emptiness of the world of technology and social media, the song launches the narrative to the fictional hotel on the moon over a layered instrumental backdrop with subtle bursts of futuristic electronic littered throughout until the end. Bowie’s Blackstar appears to have served as an inspiration for the album and is well woven into the title track especially.
5. Golden Trunks (★★★★)
Although the days of starry-eyed ballads such ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ are long gone, sharp guitar hooks open a number written in 2016 amidst the election of Donald Trump. Turner muses that “the leader of the free world/reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks” and packs a contemporary punch.
6. Four out of Five (★★★)
For fans hoping the record would follow in the musical footsteps of its predecessor, it instead serves as a development of the latest record from Turner’s side project with Miles Kane, The Last Shadow Puppets, emphasised particularly on the album’s halfway marker.
7. The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip (★★★)
Along with the bizarreness of the track title, the simplistic melody running throughout highlight the absurdity of our relationships with the devices so crucial to today’s world. One of the most puzzling tracks yet, it’s another social commentary about our infatuation with our phones and certainly provokes thoughts in the listener.
8. Science Fiction (★★★★)
“I want to make a simple point about peace and love/but in a sexy way where it’s not obvious”. Arguably however, this is what Arctic Monkeys frontman has been doing all along; masking his feelings with more poetic lyrics, it’s hardly surprising this album could have ended up as a solo record from him.
9. She Looks Like Fun (★★★)
With a title reminiscent of the cheekier Arctic Monkeys sonic known and loved on Favourite Worst Nightmare and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the track also features some nostalgia-evoking snippets of guitar solos, yet for some fans this could be one track too similar to the others and too bland this far in.
10. Batphone (★★★)
One of the more instrumentally theatrical pieces on the record, it’s a refreshing statement of Turner’s disdain with the age of social media and that “I’ll be by the Batphone if you need to get a hold”.
11. The Ultracheese (★★★★)
Despite ending the album on a reflective post-apocalyptic note, it sees the narrative ponder on his absence from technology and echoes the tone of Bowie’s ‘Five Years’. Each of the key instrumental components of the album have their own brief shining moment before the abrupt finish, but it remains one of the album’s best tracks, following in the footsteps of the group’s other bizarrely titled fan-favourites such as ‘Brianstorm’.
As with any group as chameleonic as Arctic Monkeys, it’s only natural that their signature will evolve and develop throughout their careers. As a fan of their previous works and as someone who (perhaps controversially) holds AM among my favourite albums, I think Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino will take a couple of plays for me to pass proper judgement. Undeniably, they’ve put the effort and time into writing and recording it, which arguably is one of the main criteria. As for the conclusion I currently draw – it aptly reflects one of the record’s own titles: four out of five.