A dramatic shift in style doesn't compromise Alex Turner's unquestionable genius, despite what much of the criticism will lead you to believe.
Finally the wait is over, the world’s biggest indie band have returned in the most divisive manner imaginable. Alex Turner’s solo project turned Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album is arguably one of the most anticipated in years after the band’s four year hiatus, but since its release opinion has been split wider than the gap between Georgia May Jagger’s front teeth.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino already had fans nervously gritting their teeth with the announcement of a multitude of questionable song titles, including ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ and the particularly disconcerting ‘The Ultracheese’. By the time it was reported that the album would also be a piano-driven and virtually guitarless conceptual experiment drawn mires of Alex Turner’s drug-warped mind, people already started to doubt the genius of the wittiest lyricist of the 21st century. It is possible to say that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the manifest of many Arctic Monkeys’ fans’ worst fears, with the severe change of direction and sound, however this criticism is one that stems from a willing reluctance to appreciate artistic change and evolution, and erroneously identifying the album as an abandonment of sanctimonious sentimentality. Whilst necking pints and puffing on a fag in a hazy smoking area has turned into swirling a Montoya Cabernet in a chandelier-lit hotel lobby, it’s futile to expect the band to peruse over bust-ups in Sheffield and grizzly nightlife romance with all four members firmly in their 30s.
Albeit a self-indulgent amalgamation of pretentious musings, the album is a continuation of Alex Turner’s lifelong affair with the written word. Lyrically, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is as opulent as ever, opening the album with the lyrics “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes/ Now look at the mess you made me make”. Taking influence from their L.A. residency on ‘American Sports’, Turner is politically poignant as he growls through the line “Breaking news: they take the truth and make it fluid”. As an album, listening in full from start to finish is an immersive experience perfectly tailored to a relaxed lounge bar audience, discrediting the baying fair-weather fans who expect a multitude of seething rock singles to litter the current streaming manipulated music scene. Yet, in this maturity is a persistent nostalgia, that Turner himself has admitted harks back to the band’s debut Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not. On ‘Four Out Of Five’ the aesthetically suave hook is reminiscent of a more adolescent Arctic Monkeys, with Turner crooning “The only time that we stop laughing is to breathe or steal a kiss”, a thematically pugnacious endeavour whilst maintaining the ballad-like piano basis that laments so effortlessly throughout the full forty minute album. They couldn’t be further from the muscly bite of their typical indie sound, especially on the muffled vocals and ethereal beat of ‘Science Fiction’, but the broad Sheffield twang is unmistakable. Finishing on ‘The Ultracheese’, Arctic Monkeys have found themselves another perfect album closer. A vast transformation from ‘A Certain Romance’ or ‘505’, ‘The Ultracheese’ is an oxymoron of grandeur and sorrow in a waltz-like ballad that is arguably the album’s climax.
Ultimately the band have taken a sonic shift that is undoubtedly a risk, but they have done so with an expertise and sophistication that makes Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino another modern classic.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is available now via Domino Records