The new Arctic Monkeys album of May 2018 has shocked many, and disappointed others. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino has elements of jazz, soul, The Last Shadow Puppets, Bowie, The Beach Boys, LA, and Sheffield – undeniably a strange combination.
The album opens with “Star Treatment”, a lengthy track focusing on somewhat stream of consciousness lyrics. The opening, “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/ Now look at the mess you made me make” is confessional, apologetic, honest, and hilarious. The honesty of this cynical sci-fi narrator establishes the tone of the album as otherworldly. The track lies somewhere between ethereal and futuristic. The standard AM writing method of jamming on guitars clearly didn’t work for the writing of this album:
We definitely had a great time, but it didn’t seem like that was the way to do [the new album], and I needed to find a way to trick myself into it.”
The alternative jazz-like riff and the basis of each track as surrounding the piano’s melody give the album an originality which is established in “Star Treatment”.
A personal favourite track of mine is “One Point Perspective”. The focus on rhythm and minor chord progressions, yet light-hearted jading of middle-aged men who ramble on about film and music, creates a sense of playfulness yet sourness. This track is very reminiscent of almost any track on the Puppets’ 2016 album, Everything You’ve Come to Expect.
“American Sports” and “Science Fiction” utilise a thick synth bass, affirming a new era for the band. Although the album is described as “not a concept album, “Science Fiction” confirms the alternate universe that each track and each character is set in. In this fictional “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”, each bridge and chorus seems to introduce a new character to the world.
This is affirmed in the layering of “Four Out of Five”, evident in the bizarre music video, too. This track is arrogant; harmonious in the layers of “take it easy for a little while” in a way that is reminiscent of Pet Sounds; and somewhere between pastiching commerciality and discordance. This discordance is continued in “Golden Trunks”, probably the most politically charged song off the album.
In “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip”, the lyric “you push the button and we’ll do the rest” is taken from an old Kodak commercial. Rather than critiquing this commerciality, consumerist promise, and a generation of social media, the track pays homage to inexplicability of this sci-fi world.
“She Looks Like Fun” is reminiscent of “Bad Habits” or even the older Puppets song “I Don’t Like You Anymore”. It is grungy but playful, a little dark, and a track that is made to perform. The performative quality of this song is opposite to that of “The Ultracheese”. “The Ultracheese”, in my mind, is easily partnered with “Sweet Dreams, TN”, from EYCTE. The album is not just a commentary on platonic relationships, romanticism, but more about accepting the death of something, allowing a phase and a version of yourself to pass. The imperfect cadence at the end of this track affirms the uncertainty.
This new album is a conscious move away from AM; it’s a necessary move away from the electric guitar, and maybe it’s a fatalistic departure from the indie-rock genre.
Of course, Four Stars out of Five.
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