Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino review – 'It’s got more chords. And space shit'
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Let’s be honest: if you hadn’t pegged Alex Turner as one of the finest songwriters of his generation when Arctic Monkeys’ first album was released, you were in denial. Even at the tender age of 20, Turner’s talent as a wordsmith was undeniable, rendering the glut of soundalikes that came in their wake as cheap, inferior imitations.
Indeed, as the band twisted, turned, ducked and dived through various incarnations and styles over the years – from the indiepop whimsy of Favourite Worst Nightmare to the bristling desert rock growl of Humbug and the confirmation of their sublime prowess that was 2013’s AM, one thing that remained consistent amidst the musical changes was Turner’s lyric sheet.
For their sixth album, that same lyric sheet is more oblique than ever before – and that’s not the only change worth noting. Fans expecting a sequel to the snappy, 5-million-selling AM (their most commercially successful release to date) will be left scratching their heads after the first listen of this album – and perhaps even after the second and third, too.
Guitars take a backseat to the Steinway piano that was gifted to the frontman for his 30th birthday, and most songs – largely written and demoed in his home studio, which became known as the “Lunar Surface” – are built around the instrument, giving the whole record a loungey, laidback feel. As he put it himself: “It’s got more chords. And space shit.”
The shift in dynamic is immediately notable; while these aren’t exactly Bacharach/David-style compositions, Star Treatment’s 1970s vibe teeters close to schmaltz, while closer The Ultracheese sounds like a ballad that’ll be crooned in a cabaret club on Blackpool Pier in 50 years’ time.
Still, if the general vibe seems initially somewhat underwhelming, further listens reveal the subtleties of these songs; the spacey effects and dramatic flourishes of American Sports; the fuzzy riff and snaky harmonies of Golden Trunks; Matt Helders’s almost jazzy drumming on Science Fiction; the sci-fi rumble of the title track and the rollicking glam riffage of She Looks Like Fun, one of the liveliest songs on the album.
And yes, it goes without saying that Turner still has a way with words – even if most of these songs read more like esoteric short stories than ever before. Still, with opening lines like “Jesus in the day spa, filling out the information form” and “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/ Now look at the mess you’ve made me make”, and throwaway lyrics elsewhere of the calibre of “I feel rougher than a disco lizard tongue along your cheek” strewn elsewhere, it’s hard not to be drawn in – even to songs that wryly joke about the gentrification of space (Four Out of Five).
Having made Los Angeles his home for the past six years, there are also subtle nods to the US without getting too political; American Sports references “battleground states” and the era of fake news, while Golden Trunks is somewhat less obscure, as he croons: “The leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks”. Turner is not yet above poking fun at himself, either, with lines like “I’m so full of shite, I need to spend less time stood around in bars waffling on to strangers all about martial arts and how much I respect them” sounding like he never left Sheffield.
It may not be the album that fans were expecting, true – but it is another fascinating chapter in the history of a band that continues to intrigue with every release.