On Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys completely reinvent their sound delivering their most dramatic album yet.
The Arctic Monkeys have been synonymous with alternative rock music for more than a decade. With a few classics under their belt the arctic monkeys released their most popular album yet, AM, in 2013. After securing a spot in the modern rock wheelhouse for the coming years Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys went on a five-year hiatus, before announcing Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.
On Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino Alex Turner warns of an Orwellian future on a moon colony. While the idea may seem farfetched, Turner’s lyrics have insight to our experiences today. Turner conveys these themes over very grand Bowie-influenced production. Turner’s inflection throughout the project is suave to say the least, eliciting a lounge vibe.
From the get go, Turner grabs the audience with his lyricism. The opening line on “Star Treatment”: “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” immediately draws the listener in to Turner’s world. Turner dives into his gripes with the notoriety he and the Arctic Monkeys have earned. The instrumentation, while very simple, is captivating. The piano lead and droning bass backing feel almost gimmicky, but this mood adds to Turner’s lyrics.
After the opening track Turner focuses his writing on the overall themes of the album. On “American Sports” Turner begins his expedition into his dystopian lunar universe. A particularly poignant line on this track is “My virtual reality mask is stuck on parliament brawl.” This is telling of the world we are living in today, with the emergence of VR threatening real life and parliament brawls, which are a real thing, representing the descent of politics. Turner sings all of this over an eerie synthesizer organ lead that is reminiscent of a horror film .
“Four out of Five” is another highlight of the album. The song’s lyrics read like an advertisement in Turner’s scientific future. Turner also uses one of his many literary references that inspired the album citing the information action ratio, a concept from Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman. The information action ratio refers to the idea that we have so much information at our fingertips, but because there is so much, it is often useless or used poorly. This track is probably the most similar to the arctic monkey’s previous music, but is still profoundly different. The band uses heavier guitar and drums than on the rest of the album and the chorus is by far one of the most catchy on the album.
With plenty of great lyricism about topics ranging from cell phone addiction on “Batphone”, to lost dreams on “One Point Perspective” (which has a wonderfully melancholy yet bouncy beat), to the danger of unfiltered communication on “She Looks Like Fun” the album consistently keeps the listener’s attention. But, it is not completely without flaw. The slow and skeletal production grows tedious at points and there is a very real lack of versatility on some tracks.
Also, some tracks are not as lyrically interesting as the others. For example, Golden Trunks is a song about the drama in politics taking precedence over real issues. While Turner’s points are not wrong, they are far from original. Golden Trunks also has one of the more forgettable instrumentals on the album.
But in spite of these setbacks, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is a solid piece of commentary on the current standing of the world in the information age. Turner consistently gives compelling performances of his somber lyrics. The production is lavish, though it is sometimes repetitive, and compliments Turner’s new vocal style well. The album also closes well on the “Ultracheese”, which serves a summary of all Tuner has said about relationships, technology, and politics on the album. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is a sharp turn from the Arctic Monkey’s template style, but this change is a refreshing take on a classic sound.
Highlights: Star Treatment, One Point Perspective, American Sports, Four out of Five, Science Fiction
Lowlights: Golden Trunks, The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Flip