In many ways, it’s been one of the most anticipated albums of the year. The Arctic Monkeys have kept us waiting five years for new music since the huge success of AM, and then by only announcing this album a month in advance of its release, and furthermore choosing not to release a pre-emptive single, they had given the fans no clue of which direction their sound had taken.
Everyone was tense – from the AM generation hoping for more slick riffs and sexy bangers, to the old hardcore fans wishing for a reminiscent return to the gritty working-class roots of the Sheffield boys’ original sound – but come May 11th Arctic Monkeys surprised everyone, with the pure weirdness of Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino.
From the release of the track titles alone, we began to guess it may not be a very conventional album. Firstly, what was a Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino? ‘American Sports’ – has their prolonged time in the States further influenced their sound, a shift which disappointed many British indie guitar-music fans back around AM's release? What is ‘The Ultracheese’? And ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’? Really?!
We knew to expect something interesting and Tranquillity Base has really given us all that and more.
The once cheeky British lads have grown up into well-travelled, intelligent men. This album takes a lot of influence from past, with many 70's psychedelic sounds and ideas, whilst also seeming to be set in a hotel on the moon. It’s a concept of what would happen if your dad’s favourite rock and rollers were sent alone as pioneers to be the first and only beings living out in space, finding there’s not much to do up there but it’s still a very weird and interesting life.
‘Tranquillity’ is a key word here in this imagined world. The album definitely doesn’t ever pick up pace like the boys used to do when they were younger, with no individual tracks delivering belter choruses that the mosh pits will go mad for at festival performances, but this allows the band to make music that is a lot more mature and thought-provoking. It is exactly the collected yet complex sounds you’d expect to hear in a hotel lobby in zero-gravity.
Alex Turner has always been known for his ever more creative lyric writing, and no one could claim Tranquillity Base disappoints in that respect. Their eventual single, ‘Four Out of Five’, perfectly sets up the concept and the vibe of the whole album. Turner references “Old Grey Whistle Test lights”, located on a “Lunar surface on a Saturday night”, painting the picture of their 70's Space Age stay. I also personally can’t help but feel the line “Take it easy for a little while” sounds remarkably like Lou Reed’s “I watched it for a little while” in ‘Satellite of Love’ – precisely a 70's song set in space. The boys have gone back to discover new influences from the past, recreating the same sense of awe that the Earth felt when man first set foot on the moon. ‘Four Out of Five’s creeping bassline and the confident swagger in Turner’s voice is something recognisable from the band’s previous sound that can be found throughout this album, but that’s where the similarities end.
With the album being such a perfectly encapsulated creation it’s very difficult to pick out individual tracks to discuss on their own. They all deserve to be listened to together, in context, to understand what they each mean to the album. For example, tracks like ‘American Sports’ and ‘Science Fiction’ come from the darker corners of the hotel, of troubled nights lying awake, alone in the pitch black. The title track is a step out into the atmosphere, that first triumphant step onto the surface of the moon, out of your space vessel, taking a first look at your new home of Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino. ‘She Looks Like Fun’ is the band destroying the silence that echoes from wall to wall, a powerful explosion of sound to wake up the whole hotel. Album closer ‘The Ultracheese’ is an attempt to expel the loneliness of looking down at the tiny speck that is Earth, where all your loved ones still remain.
It’s the subversive artistry of this album that makes it so compelling – when AM gave them so much commercial success, they then had the bravery to make an unconventional album in its wake, and to truly push the boundaries of what’s expected of a band of this magnitude. The sheer guts of creating this album is something that’s rarely seen any more in popular music, which is why, despite how challenging it might be at first, Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino is definitely worth your time.