There are at the most only a hand full of occasions in a lifetime when you discover an artist whose music leaves an unerasable impression on your personality. It was those reckless years of fluorescent adolescence when Arctic Monkeys where the main inspiration for the right sneakers, pick-up lines, and how late-night tales should end. It has been precisely 12 years and five albums since I have been confident of how I look on the dancefloor. After a longer silence since the release of their US breakthrough album AM, Arctic Monkeys are back with their boldest move yet. Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino is a boundary breaking musical expedition that takes far beyond and even curves the horizon line where Arctic Monkeys last left us.
The highly anticipated seventh album came with very little information on how it could sound. Only shortly before the release Jamie Cook (guitarist) teased that the album could have been an Alex Turner solo record, and that it would definitely not be guitar heavy. Musically, the band maintains a consistent stylistic line. Couple of guitar-driven monkeys-type pop-rock tracks would feel like leftovers from AM and obvious fan service. The band rather decided to keep a conceptual approach. No singles were released beforehand the full album was out. You do not have to listen the album for long to understand the reasoning behind such move.
Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino must be seen as one whole story. The first track Star Treatment immediately lets you know that you are in for a surprise. It starts with arguably one of the best opening lines of any album – I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/Now look at the mess you made me make. Turner is obviously engaging in a conversation with himself about the ominous side of fame, which is a recurring theme of the album. Star Treatment sets very fast the general mood and story line of the album.
The decision to make a record that might as well be a soundtrack for a Stanley Kubrick’s movie, is most likely the reason that has polarised the entire fan base. Musically, the album it maintains a bohemian lounge bar ambience without any major standouts. However, the messy and unorthodox interplay between the piano, well underrated bass lines, and guitar riffs that are more of a hidden gems, keep a constant state of intrigue. There are little or hardly any clearly structured verse-to-chorus progressions, but it is precisely that sort of stepping out of boundaries that makes the feeling of the creatively most unrestricted Arctic Monkeys work to date.
Lyrically, Alex Turner has created a character that obviously has evolved from his personal struggles with fame and modern society. Turner, in a rather intimate tone, has described the current society’s obsession with modern technology and social networks – Still got pictures of friends on the wall/ I suppose we aren’t really friends anymore (from Ultracheese). It also has a recurring political theme that was not often reflected in earlier Arctic Monkeys material The leader of the free world /Reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks/ He’s got himself a theme tune/They play it for him as he makes his way to the ring (from Golden Trunks).
Both lyrically and musically, Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino is the most divisive album by Arctic Monkeys yet. It definitely takes time to grow on the listener’s ear, but once it does you are in for a treat that might as well be served at a 70’s jazzy LA lounge bar. While for some the treat is sweet and nostalgic, for others it feels overdone and out of date. Nevertheless, respect should be paid where it is due – stepping away from gradually developed style that earned the band a global cult status, to explore new possibilities is a courageous move. However, it doesn’t stop questioning where the Arctic Monkeys will go from here. Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino might go into history as the Arctic Monkey’s OK Computer. The decision not to release it as Turner’s solo effort, will benefit the band in the long run, because it destroys the genre frame they were put in and opens endless new opportunities how to develop further musically. Until then we can put our sneakers and pick up lines aside, and, for a while, change into tweed blazer and engage in deeply meaningful political conversations – I want to make a simple point about peace and love/ But in a sexy way where it’s not obvious/ Highlight dangers and send out hidden messages (from Science Fiction).