Album Review: Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino

Much like their fellow indie icons MGMT, Arctic Monkeys had been away for a long time. Until this year, both bands hadn’t released an album since 2013 and their fans were getting decidedly restless. However, whilst MGMT used their latest album Little Dark Age to revive their synth-pop roots, Arctic Monkeys have returned with a completely new sound. Jettisoning any traces of the post-punk revival they were born out of, Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino leans heavily into space age lounge music. Alongside an aesthetic inspired by ’70s sci-fi and frontman Alex Turner sporting a beard, this a bold new direction for the band. Does it pay off?

Predictably, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino has been divisive. Rather than giving the fans what they want like MGMT, Arctic Monkeys have gone in a direction closer to Jack White’s latest release Boarding House Reach. Tranquility Base isn’t nearly as experimental as that album, but its noticeably keyboard-dominated sound is still a significant change. Especially after the polished and accessible guitar pop of 2013’s AM, this new album is jarringly unusual. The lack of huge choruses or attention-grabbing guitar riffs doesn’t help, either. For fans and non-fans alike, initial listens will likely be confusing, disappointing and underwhelming. As is the pattern with me and bands making weird albums, I think it’s their best effort yet.

I’ve always found the most enduring albums don’t stun instantly, but gradually reveal their genius until the record is embedded into your psyche.
– Nathan Brooks

The titular lunar leisure resort represents a fascinating vision of a gentrified outer space. Laid-back melodies and organ-soaked instrumentation concoct the vivid atmosphere of ’70s spacemen sipping cocktails in a smokey, black-and-white lounge. Tranquility Base frequently draws comparisons to the Beach Boys, particularly their 1971 prog pop album Surf’s Up. The title track strongly evokes Grandaddy’s Miner at the Dial-A-View, listening in on a call to the hotel’s helpline backed by futuristic synthesisers. Influence from David Bowie’s darker efforts (Aladdin Sane and Station to Station especially) can be heard too. Turner even recalls his own side project the Last Shadow Puppets on the soulful closing number The Ultracheese. If you can look past the scandalous lack of guitars, there’s a lot to appreciate.

Turner’s lyrics form an incisive critique of consumerism, encasing a blend of Jarvis Cocker’s wit and Father John Misty’s self-awareness in enigmatic imagery. “Everybody’s on a barge floating down the endless stream of great TV” and “I launched my fragrance called integrity. I sell the fact I can’t be bought” are just some of the quotable lines on offer. Four Out of Five is the sharpest track, chronicling Turner’s endeavour to open a taqueria on the moon and the rave reviews it receives. Crucially, Turner sidesteps pretentiousness with self-deprecation. On Star Treatment he confesses “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” and fears the album “may well end up just too clever for its own good” on Science Fiction. Turner never puts himself on a pedestal, recognising he’s as much a part of the problem as the rest of us.

I’m not going to be shocked if most people completely disagree. This is a deeply bizarre move for the band, as if they’re intentionally trying to shed the fans they gained on AM. In many ways, this album is highly reminiscent of Pulp’s This is Hardcore. It’s a surprisingly inaccessible left turn after a commercial smash hit that leaves a baffling first impression. However, I’ve always found the most enduring albums don’t stun instantly, but gradually reveal their genius until the record is embedded into your psyche. On Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, Arctic Monkeys have achieved just that.