If someone declares themselves an Arctic Monkeys fan, there’s a decent chance that their interaction with the group was restricted to hearing “Do I Wanna Know?” on the radio in early 2014. However, for those that have been following the British alt/indie band since Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not, the group’s newest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, certainly came as a shock.
The Arctic Monkey’s have developed a massive fan base in both the United States and the UK, even climbing the international billboards with songs like “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When Your High?” from their 2013 album A.M. The band reached its current prestige through writing songs that are sonically appealing to someone naïve to the alt/indie genre, yet still enjoyed/appreciated by self-proclaimed music aficionados. The group has harnessed the power of an acoustic guitar accompanied by substantial reverb to tug at the heartstrings, as heard in “Only Ones Who Know,” while also writing bright sounding riffs to compliment Alex Turner’s playful lyrical analysis of the British youth. The band of Brits have made themselves the face of the alternative genre due to their ability to produce quality music while maintaining their style and sound. However, their newest album has thrown caution to the wind, breaking from the usual manner of an Arctic Monkey’s album, and leaving many of their followers and alt/indie enthusiasts confused, yet intrigued.
Upon first listening to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, I found myself continuously checking my phone to confirm that this was, in fact, an Arctic Monkey’s album. The first track on the record is “Star Treatment,” a song which I imagine being heard in some sort of extraterrestrial jazz club. It begins with a lighthearted piano riff, accompanied by an unusual percussion sequence. The listener soon hears Turner’s voice chime in with an accusatory tone, citing that “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make.” The opening vocals of the album make it clear that this musical work is going to take the listener down a different auditory path.
The entire album puts off an otherworldly vibe as if the group had recorded this in a Martian studio. Each song is almost entirely directed by a relatively simple piano lead and echoing percussion. The album lacks an instrumental complexity, which is not necessarily uncharacteristic of the Arctic Monkeys, as they often compose their songs using bright, pleasing major chords and scales. However, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino does contain a technological element to its sound, which the Arctic Monkeys employed minimally in A.M., though has not been a prevalent feature of their work in the past. For instance, in “Science Fiction,” a featured track on the new album, the sonic background contains technologically added sounds which seem borrowed from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In retrospect, the music of the album is certainly experimental. Almost a new age, Bowie sound. However, the lyrics are where the album flourishes. Upon the first listen, it may not be completely evident, but the album seems to almost tell a story; one of the future, new technologies, and a guess as to where society may be headed. The music compliments perfectly such a tale. Though it may not be an album that will be considered timeless due to captivating sounds, it can certainly be appreciated for its artistic prowess, and ability to match a story to the correct style of music. Overall, it’s certainly an album I recommend listening to, though keep in mind its purpose.
Review by Reeves Abbott