The Arctic Monkeys Return and Miss the Mark with “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”

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Arctic Monkeys Tranquility

It has been five years since the Arctic Monkeys last released anything. The long-awaited, sixth album titled Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino launched fans into outer-space with an unorthodox vibe, Bowie-esque composition, and obscure central theme.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino threw fans for a loop. My waves of emotions went as followed:

  • Happy that the Arctic Monkeys are back from their three year hiatus.
  • Disappointed because although each album of theirs is different than the last, TBH&C doesn’t exactly satisfy it’s listeners.
  • Unsurprised given the evolution of lead-singer/songwriter Alex Turner.
  • Impressed with the central theme and style as a concept album.

The Arctic Monkeys, especially lead singer Alex Turner, have gone through a transformation since bursting onto the scene in 2006.

Their first two albums, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare were crowd-pleasing albums that led fans to believe rock & roll was back. Alex Turner was a bowl-cut, punk rock kid with a unique standout voice. Then came Humbug and Suck It and See, which brought out their darker, indie-rock sound. Humbug was the true turning point for the band in experimenting with newer sounds. Both albums received mixed, but mostly positive reviews. Turner, with longer hair, fit the mold of a rockstar on tour.

Lastly there was AM which is arguably the best Arctic Monkeys album. AM was mostly an alternative sounding album, but it had its anthem moments. From cover to cover, it was generally well received despite the change in sound. Turner then looked like a 1950s greaser with a clean, slicked haircut that propelled him into superstardom. His exuding confidence showed on AM and on tour in 2013.

Then came the hiatus.

From 2013 to 2016, the Arctic Monkeys paused production and touring. During this time, Alex Turner went onto touring and producing with Miles Kane from The Rascals, as the Last Shadow Puppets. The Last Shadow Puppets’ style is way different than the Arctic Monkeys; While the Arctic Monkeys left off as an indie, even alternative-rock band, the Last Shadow Puppets are an indie-pop duo that sounds lavish and promiscuous. I saw the Last Shadow Puppets on their Everything You’ve Come to Expect tour in 2016 at NYC’s Terminal 5 and I was surprised by the performance. Turner’s hair had grown to his shoulders, and his movements on stage were more “I’m a sex symbol” than “I’m a talented musician.”  The pivot was noticeable.

Given the trend of how Turner’s style was evolving, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was everything I came to expect. It’s a slow-paced, psychedelic album with synthesizers and a heavy use of keyboard, which is a first for the band. I know that sounds awfully hard to imagine, but listen to the album and you’ll now exactly what I mean.

The drastic change in style isn’t as satisfying as one would hope. You have to be in a certain type of mood or on some type of wave to really enjoy the album. As a whole, the album can lull and even bore you—like a watered down Tame Impala album with nods to David Bowie sprinkled throughout. And although Arctic Monkeys’ style has evolved through time, Turner’s echoey voice coupled with a grungy backdrop remained the same. There’s really only one song that could sound like it was on another album:

Despite it’s shortcomings, there are things I appreciate about TBH&C. Unlike any album the Arctic Monkey’s have produced, there is an actual theme to it. The setting is this futuristic, run hotel & casino and the singer is a washed up rockstar who complains about the many technological advances. For example, on “Star Treatment,” Turner criticizes binge-watching TV and in “She Looks like Fun,” he lists off things one would think or see scrolling through social media. Taking it one step further, some more underlying meanings include a bold line in “Golden Trunks”— “The leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.” Turner has never gone political in songwriting, but here we are in 2018, when there are more artists turning their attention to the White House than crop tops at Coachella.

All in all, I like it but I definitely do not love it. It’s simply not their best work, yet I can appreciate where the transformation has lead them. And while I’m underwhelmed with the work because of the long wait, I’m already anticipating their next move.

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