Album Review: Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino by Arctic Monkeys
Very Good, Based on 18 Critics
Pitchfork - 81 Based on rating 8.1/10
Alex Turner wrote Arctic Monkeys' sixth album in Los Angeles on an upright piano in his spare room. As it took shape, he christened his makeshift studio the Lunar Surface, after the theory that Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo moon landing on a soundstage. When Turner assembled his bandmates, they were alarmed to find he'd applied this concept literally: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a song suite documenting a futuristic moon colony and the exodus that spawned it, told by an assortment of unreliable narrators who can sometimes barely string a sentence together.
Five years after the hugely successful AM and the hiatus that followed, Sheffield, UK's Arctic Monkeys are serving up perhaps their least commercial record to date, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. It's a 40-minute venture themed around the idea of a futuristic holiday space base (that's a cardboard structure of imagined architecture on the cover), with singer/songwriter Alex Turner guiding you along in various roles: crooner, captain and crew.
Admittedly, this 11-song experience can feel rather overwhelming, and potentially not what one is expecting. It is theatrical.
New Musical Express (NME) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
In July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. The journey had started four days earlier in Florida, and culminated with the two astronauts landing at a prearranged site Armstrong named 'Tranquility Base'. You know the rest: they planted a flag, bounced around a little and Armstrong gave that quote about a making a "giant leap for mankind".
Arctic Monkeys tell the punchline after they have told the joke
Alex Turner has always been a fantastic lyricist when he put in the effort. More than that, like a young ornery Morrissey, he can do the delicate balancing act of being both funny and heart-rending in the same sentence, each emotion informing rather than cancelling out the other. His white-hot wit put Arctic Monkeys on the map in the first place, and in today's sci-fi spins on the crushing grind of showbiz we can still hear echoes of the vitriol in "Fake Tales of San Francisco".
If you haven't noticed, Arctic Monkeys have come a long way since the nightclub queue-jumping high-jinks of their debut album, Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, 12 years ago. Alex Turner and Matt Helders now live in LA, and are unabashed about their love of the continent's indulgences - but this has not been accepted by a lot of their early fanbase. Their first two albums were so entrenched in British teenagehood, that when they turned into Yankees with the Josh Homme-assisted third album Humbug, it threw their audience for a loop - some of whom never caught hold of them ever again.
It was inevitable that Alex Turner would incorporate the loungey swagger of his busman's holiday the Last Shadow Puppets into his main gig of the Arctic Monkeys, yet the soft louche touch of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino comes as something of a shock. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the fact that Turner was a mere 32 years old when he unleashed Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino onto the world, a young age that seems older because Arctic Monkeys released their debut when he was just 19. Throughout Tranquility Base, Turner comes across as if he were much, much older than his actual age, cocking an eyebrow to a potential paramour who has the audacity to have never seen Blade Runner, and reminiscing about the '70s -- a decade he never saw.
Back in 2008 Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and a pre-Blood Orange Dev Hynes formed a one-night-only covers band, knocking-out early-Noughties indie dancefloor hits by The Von Bondies, The Vines, Interpol, The Walkmen and The Strokes; a joyous tribute to the clattery garage racket and sticky floored basement clubs that inspired both to form bands. It's possible that that gig, and the era that inspired it, has been playing on Turner's mind lately. After all, his celeb-schmoozing LA life couldn't be further from the young man shaking his floppy fringe in a Sheffield bar to 'Last Night' and 'Hotel Yorba' while dreaming of indie-rock stardom.
Dystopia meets creature comforts on Arctic Monkeys's sci-fi-themed Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a concept album that eschews the heavy guitar hooks and deep grooves of 2013's AM for downtempo, jazz-inflected music. Though the Sheffield quartet's sixth album indulges in the trappings of its outer-space setting, touching on a hazy narrative of a mass “exodus” to lunar colonies and referring to Earth in the past tense, singer and lyricist Alex Turner's overriding thematic concern is the paradoxical nature of humanity's relationship with technological progress—specifically how, regardless of where we live, technology both connects and isolates us, and how the accoutrements of modern convenience have increasingly turned life into a “spectator sport. ” For the first time, Turner has written an album's worth of material on the piano rather than guitar, resulting in 11 meandering, largely chorus-less songs on which he assumes the guise of a lounge lizard prone to boasting about the “warp-speed chic” of a gentrified lunar society.
So here we are. Five years after the slicked back hair and leather clad riffs of AM, Arctic Monkeys are back with a new record, the oddly-titled Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. The project that started out as a solo project for frontman Alex Turner now incorporates the entire band— something equally as perplexing as it is ill-fitting. It's worth stating that, before we get any further into this, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a good album.
To download, click "Share" and right-click the download icon | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS The Lowdown: Five years after the R&B torch songs of AM brought Arctic Monkeys their first American platinum record, Alex Turner and the band return for a record that refuses its predecessors’ easy charms (and obvious hooks) for a meandering collection of weirdo piano ballads set in a hotel on the moon (yes, really). The Good: Alex Turner’s always been a crack lyricist, and he takes these skills to a new, satire-rich level as the record’s lounge-y, silver-tongued narrator. In addition to giving us the best opening line of the decade (“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes/ Now look at the mess you made me make”), Turner’s unexpected dive into the world of social commentary (highlighted best on tracks like “Four Out of Five” and “American Sports”) also pairs well with the record’s hazy arrangements, which make ample use of the frontman’s 30th birthday gift: an old-fashioned Steinway Vertegrand.
Now then, mardy bum. It’s fair to say that they’ll be more than a few people ‘with the face on’ once they hear Arctic Monkeys‘ sixth album. It’s been over a decade since their debut, and while it would have been pretty easy to build a career on singing about Hendersons Relish and nights out at the Leadmill, this is a band who has always taken the road less easily navigated.
Back in 2006, shortly after the release of their game-changing debut, a bunch of Sheffield whippersnappers asked ‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?’. The answer, it was already clear, was that they were the most vital bunch of smart, eloquent indie upstarts of their generation. By 2009 and the advent of third album ‘Humbug’, the response had shifted slightly; having hitched a ride to the desert, the quartet were a more mature proposition, straddling the gap between boyish energy and manly swagger and assuredly entering phase two.
Being at the top of your game is such boring business. Just ask Arctic Monkeys, who once tanned in the California sun and adopted the city of Los Angeles as its source of inspiration for their mid-career peak. It somehow worked. AM, their 2013 release, positioned them as the biggest rock band on both sides of the continent.
Sadly, that feeling doesn't last very long. Five years in the making, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is an over-wrought attempt by Turner to express the cognitive dissonance that has shadowed Arctic Monkeys ' inexplicable U-turn from student union lad overlords to unwitting self-parodists. Ultimately, the message - however meant - gets lost in the music.
On the cover of Arctic Monkeys' sixth record — their first in five years — rests a futuristic architectural model, built from cardboard cut-out, atop a '60s Revox tape recorder. It's an intriguing image, one that Alex Turner says owes something to Stanley Kubrick's Overlook Hotel and something more to mid-century expressionists Eero Saarinen and John Lautner, whose work he consulted while experimenting across months with various shapes. The frontman's objective? To make tangible the structure at the heart of his eccentric vision for "Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino," which draws the first half of its title from the lunar landing site where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first touched down almost 50 years ago.
Up until the point of its release, the most rewarding aspect to Arctic Monkeys' sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino had been the hilarious unveiling of their visual aesthetic, a misfired attempt at dandyism that merely resulted in them resembling a bunch of recently-divorced Basingstoke solicitors who like to meet for occasional nights of poker, cheap cigars and grouching. It fed my fear that the band might finally be at best a busted flush, lost in the gak-the-lads posturing most depressingly revealed in that boorish Spin interview with Alex Turner and his pal, bin man of the indie landfill Miles Kane, two years ago. It's now five years since the release of the QOTSA and hip hop inspired AM, a gap that few groups have the luxury of taking these days.
"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," were the words of Neil Armstrong as he became the first human to touch down on the Moon. The Arctic Monkeys' highly anticipated comeback album takes inspiration from that same Apollo 11 expedition, as Alex Turner dreams up a lunar resort named 'Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino' on, as he puts it, a gentrified Clavius.
Shelving stadium-ready indie rock in favour of a sparkling vintage cosmic voyage, this record marks the Monkeys' first step into a surrealist universe, away from the trademarkedly down-to-earth drunken and lust-fuelled tales we're all so familiar with.
Have you ever heard of the band Starflyer 59? They were a 1990’s My Bloody Valentine disciple turned independent New Order esque band in the 00’s. They are still going strong after 25 years (check out 2003’s Old and 1994’s Gold). In 2001 they made a record almost no one heard called Leave Here A Stranger. From a rock band it was a curious album, taking cues from Pet Sounds left and right, but not melodically in any real way.