Arctic Monkeys // Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Pinning down the overall sound of Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, is near impossible. It’s that different from what has come before. It’s that varied from track to track.
From sun-kissed Americana to solemn orchestral movements, fuzzy jazz, slick lounge music and echoes of Baroque, French and chamber pop, there is a Scott Walker or Van Dyke Parks arthouse quality oozing through this record that is almost unfathomable to process as the sound of a bunch of lads from north Sheffield.
While only the distance of time truly allows for such bold statements, Pet Sounds does not seem a ridiculous comparison. Lap steel, baritone guitar, dolceola, farfisa, rotary timpani – instrumentation that should have no place on the record of a contemporary act of Arctic Monkey’s popularity, yet it glides so effortlessly, thanks in part to long-time collaborator and friend James Ford’s crisp approach to production. Of course, Last Shadow Puppets comparisons are unavoidable, even apt, but Tranquility Base is a warmer, more complex affair than either of Turner’s side project full-lengths.
This is perhaps best illustrated by opening number, ‘Star Treatment’, a late-night whiskey and cigar reflection on influence, ambition and the interstellar. It’s atmospheric, filmic and perhaps as close to epic as the band have ventured, yet humble and grounded in a way the leather jacket and sunglasses combo doesn’t always emit.
‘American Sports’ splices spiteful and deliberate vocal delivery reminiscent of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with an airy falsetto, while Nick O’Malley’s prominent wandering bassline and a frantic guitar break are the familiar sprinklings that serve as reminders that this is indeed Arctic Monkeys. ‘Golden Trunks’ too conjures AM’s dark and stormy riffing, but casually introduces a subdued freshness.
Preposterous, clumsy, almost thuggish track titles like ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ and ‘The Ultracheese’ are no reflection on the work, musically or lyrically. The latter in particular is deeply profound, with the stunningly simple and romantic line, “I’ve done some things that I shouldn’t have done / But I haven’t stopped loving you once.”
Of course, Tranquility Base wouldn’t be a Monkeys album without Turner’s slightly absurd poetic musings. Try “I put a taqueria on the moon / It got rave reviews” (‘Four Out Of Five’), or “Jesus in the day spa filling out the information form / Mama got her hair done, just popping out to sing a protest song” (‘Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino’).
While Tranquillity Base will never cast the same spell over the British music fan that Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not did over 12 years ago, that’s not to say it’s undeserving of similar praise. In the process it will inevitably alienate a certain section of the fanbase, including some of those who hung on for Favourite Worst Nightmare’s unexpected transition into the Queens of the Stone Age-shaped Humbug, yet it will cement Arctic Monkeys’ place as true innovators, rather than just chart toppers. Hello again, Beach Boys.
While musically album number six could not be further from the band’s near-legendary debut, in a suitably more abstract way this is, as Whatever People Say remains for many, a metaphor for how life should be lived: contradictorily, unpredictably and with a certain, beautiful romance.
Jordan Lee Smith