By: Sun Noor
It’s been nearly five years since the release of Arctic Monkeys’ critically acclaimed, smooth and swaggering fifth studio album, AM. Today the English indie rock outfit make their return with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and it is definitely not everything that you’ve come to expect.
Picture yourself on the having an exceptional evening on the Las Vegas strip at any given casino on a Saturday night. Now picture that prophetic esplanade on the tranquility base of the moon. To top things all off, visualize Arctic Monkeys playing two shows on four nights each week. That certainly creates quite the distorted image but also somewhat of an alluring underworld. Well luckily that sums the visual component of this nuanced record.
The band undoubtedly strived to reach new heights, taking this album to a direction further from their roots. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is not a guitar-driven and layered record with heavy drumming and never-ending quotable love songs meaning the new batch of songs are not characterized by their guitar riffs or drumming but with subtle synths and heavy bass lines. This leaves more room of vocals to be the most prominent component, which is a pleasant change. Interestingly, the songs are sung at various registers instead of the usual baritone. In fact, front man Alex Turner indicates that he opted for piano instead of guitar during the early stages of the record’s creative process. The fact that they’ve altered their sound over the years shows a sense of growth and maturity, which is common among all bands when it comes to their 5-6th records. Nevertheless, that did not stick with most fans, especially the ones who considered their earlier works to be their best. I’ll admit to being one of the people who weren’t entirely sure of what they thought about their new sound. However, the more I kept spinning it, the more I became intrigued. Besides, one thing that people must take into consideration is that music shouldn’t be restrictive. For the most part, that is the result of shifting focus on genres as opposed to making room for something new, developing and strengthening your sound. There is no formula required for writing an impeccable record and certain stylistic and sonic aspects do not determine an album’s worth. In most cases, artist do not create elaborate blue prints, listing elements or even concepts they are eager to incorporate into records because that is contrived and will only result in an awkward sounding album.
It appears as though the record takes on a more darker and cinematic route, which is quite similar to some of the songs on AM such as “Fireside,” as well as “You’re so Dark” which is a b-side to “One for the Road.” The synths and keys are very reminiscent of most tracks found on the latest The Last Shadow Puppets’ latest record. During that five year gap, Turner worked on two other records during the five year gap; Alexandra Savior’s Belladonna of Sadness and Everything you’ve Come to Expect (TLSP). What connects both works to this one is the fact that they were written/recorded in isolation on Turner’s Tascam 388 and baby grand. He also mentioned being heavily influenced by several film scores (mostly French) and even film making itself, relating it to songwriting. In terms of his lyrics, the majority of the tracks contain cheeky references from film and pop culture (as well as the nonchalant Strokes name drop). Eventually, the stylistic facets of French cinematography inspired the concept behind Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
There exists somewhat of a similarity in terms of Turner’s lyrics in this record compared to their debut Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not. Each track consists of descriptions that are heavily detailed bringing somewhat of a nostalgia to the previous album. For instance, songs such as the opening track “Star Treatment” and “Four out of Five,” which features Cameron Avery are reminiscent of “Red Light Indicates Doors are Secured” or “From Ritz to Rubble” which were some of my favorites as they recount stories derived from observations back in Sheffield. That probably explains the reason Turner describes the tracks as eleven short stories.
In the end, Turner’s ability to resort to other instruments/ methods of going about starting a record and including some of his passions outside of music into him music is rather refreshing. Sometimes it takes something so far-fetched for one to gain a new sense of appreciation for a band they’ve always loved. I believe that if the band decided to repeat the process of AM, the outcome would be a mere regurgitation. How unpleasant does that sound? This album has been crafted in such a brilliant manner, given that its direction could not have been anticipated with the first track. If you listen carefully to the last few seconds of “Star Treatment,” you could literally hear something that sounds similar to a spaceship blasting off into space. The title track also has plenty of spacey-psychedelic sounds, giving life to this make-belief residency. I’m definitely looking forward to having this album become the soundtrack to my dancing-in-my-underpants on Saturday night sessions. Evidently, this record is very promising and proves that Arctic Monkeys aren’t just another indie-rock band archetype.
Click here to download/stream Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and check out the band’s upcoming tour dates.