After much hype, pre-orders, and the building excitement of recent months, this week’s release of the new Arctic Monkeys album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was met with the kind of post-anticipatory fury normally reserved for mums who promise pizza for tea and then whip out a frozen Dr Oetker instead of belling Dominos. Heads fell off, and as you can imagine, I was very much here for it.
It’s cruel of me, I know, to find amusement in other people’s suffering – especially after so many fans put their faith in an album without any pre released singles – and I have to admit it’s never going to be my favourite album, but the Schadenfreude was a bonus track for me and made listening all the more enjoyable.
Opener Star Treatment was bound to ruffle feathers. If this was a hip hop album this would be an interlude. It’s the kind of thing a rapper would stick on an album for fun after messing around in the studio. Rather than an interlude though, it’s a full length Arctic Monkeys track which mixes lounge music with an after hours gaff sesh with zero fucks given.
What the fans seem to have wanted – the young fans, the sometimes fans, the fans who want to sing the songs at 3am when they can’t get a taxi home, or throw plastic pints of piss in crowds – was Whatever People Say I Am for this generation. They wanted AM all over again. They wanted Humbug but not too much Humbug. They wanted Alex Turner before the quiff, before his voice went a bit weird (*cough* You’re not from New York City you’re from…Sheffield *cough*). They wanted noisy drums and anthemic hooks and so much more guitar – not synths and Los Angeles and the kind of tracks you reckon you could rival on the bon tempi setting of a Casio keyboard if you absorbed enough narcotics. They wanted less concept, less ambition, less of the band suiting themselves.
In the melee that ensued on the morning of the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino it was hard to establish if anyone even knew what they really wanted. But whatever that was, it doesn’t seem to be what they got. What they got was Turner and co. peacocking in their own musical mirror and pleasing themselves. Which, let’s face it, is the whole point of being in a band.
Throughout the album there’s slow burners but there’s no bangers. It’s not just tempo or arrangement; it’s also the lyrics. We started out on this Arctic Monkeys journey with the relatable northern wit of the noughties and now we’re left with an at times unintelligible drawl which sounds like he’s trying to come up a really strong password (looking at you She Looks Like Fun).
Final track Ultra Cheese makes you realise if you haven’t by now, that you really should’ve seen this coming. Part Cornerstone part Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill or Who’s Sorry Now by Connie Francis, and at any rate all very Last Shadow Puppets, it seems a natural extrapolation when you think about it.
Fans’ initial disappointment which has been pouring forth on social media only belies their tunnel vision, because it’s no surprise at all that the album was going this way. Look at the albums, look at Turner’s solo stuff with Miles Kane and on the Submarine soundtrack. It only seems right to expect a concept album.
I do get it: how a band can change into something almost unrecognisable. Especially if they’ve punctuated your life with their music. It seems lazy to use the Beatles and their Indian foray as an example but I never promised to be anything other than lazy so here we are. I even sometimes think it’s better for a band to implode than to turn into something you no longer love. Maybe they’ll turn into something different but beautiful (New Order) or remain pickled in perfect aspic (The Smiths). But it’s over ten years since the Arctic Monkeys debut, five since their last, and like it or not, their raison d’être is not to churn out newer versions of the same gear. Maybe you don’t like the way they’ve grown up. Or maybe it’s just that you haven’t.
My overall verdict is that it’s at worst: a grower; at best: it’s a giant leap for the band and naysayers are merely baying at the moon. Extra points for how much it’s wound everybody up,
Stand out tracks for me: Four Out of Five, One Pont Perspective and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino