It’s been five years since Arctic Monkeys last dropped an album – the iconic ‘AM’. Now, they’re finally back, but ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ isn’t the record anyone was expecting.
Released: 11th May 2018
Everything is subjective. While we may strive for an simplistic ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sticky label to attach to everything we see, from culture to politics, at the end of the day beauty remains in the eye of the beholder. In the case of Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, it’s a truth even more relevant than usual.
For well over a decade now, the Sheffield sensations have managed to walk a tightrope between critical acclaim and populist satisfaction. Matching clever lyrics with a generous supply of bangers, they played to base instinct and a higher calling in the same, retromaniac slip and slide. A timeline of their singles to date does a good job of reflecting the best of post-millennial British indie, always a touch smarter than their peers. On ‘Tranquility Base…’, they’ve only brought half of that championship winning game.
The lyrical flair is in full flow. Indeed, at times Alex Turner has never been in finer form. From the painfully self-aware opening jibe (“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes”), to ‘One Point Perspective’’s ludicrous “dancing in my underpants”, the wordplay often drifts into a stream of consciousness that’s sharper and more cutting than seems strictly fair. It’s the delivery that will split opinion.
Put simply, ‘Tranquility Base’ has few, if any, of those stadium uniting moments. It’s a record with – in the traditional sense – no singles at all. Eleven tracks of the expected underlying high quality, not one of them creates the pulse raising adrenaline of a ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ or ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’. There’s not even a ‘Crying Lightning’. The closest thing – ‘Four Out Of Five’ – is basically a TripAdvisor ad put to music. The rules are very different.
It’s no surprise that ‘Tranquility Base…’ could have, in another life, been an Alex Turner solo album. There’s no doubt it’s a record succeeding on its own terms. Its swirling, South Yorkshire Lando Calrissian vibe is as deliberate as it is confidently delivered. To criticise a record for being great at what it means to be seems almost churlish, and yet that lack of a single playlist friendly gem sticks in the mind – as if planet indie’s mightiest heroes are making a point of refusing to use their most powerful weapon.
When once sense is dulled, though, the others strengthen. At one point, we find Turner taking the role of Mark, receptionist at the titular resort, hooting like a spooked owl about sideboob. The rock ‘n’ roll teddy boy is replaced with a piano plonking lobby lothario. A concept album about working in space age hospitality might not have been what we expected from five years of post ‘AM’ build-up, but it’s what we’re getting.
What one makes of Arctic Monkeys’ evolution is all about perspective. Undoubtedly an album of quality and depth, it takes repeated listens to not hang on for that one earworm moment. In the traditional sense, we’d call ‘Tranquility Base…’ a grower. Arctic Monkeys’ biggest gamble to date, if they flourish on their moon base resort or not is subjective. Just like everything else. Stephen Ackroyd