9 July 2018

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino


I think that regular readers of this blog might say I can be prone to what some might call “knee-jerk” reactions.  Some would also say it takes me an eternity to post anything, but that is down work life/blog life/real life balance.  But sometimes it’s best to take a step away from something you want to talk about, to let it breathe and expand in your mind.  I decided to do this with Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino.  The latest Arctic Monkeys record has been controversial to say the least, the critics and fans have been having a field day with it, loving and hating it in equal measure.  To be honest, the last time I saw a reaction like this was when Morbid Angel released Illud Divinum Insanus.  It has been that hostile in place, but it’s also been interesting to be outside the debate.

Cards on the table time - apart from a few songs, I’ve never been the biggest follower of the Sheffield lads.  They’ve always been a band that seems to be name-dropped by everyone and have the odd good tune.  But I’ve never thought of them as the saviours of rock ‘n’ roll, they just always been filed under “decent, if unimaginative” in my mind.  But you cannot say that they’ve played it by the book on Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. If anything, the book is on fire and now it's anyone's guess at their next move.
 
For Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, they have pretty much-flipped styles and went lounge.  The noise indie kids of old are gone, in its place is a Las Vegas lounge and a few martinis on the side.  The first time I heard it, I thought it might be a joke album, a fake release to throw people off the scent of their new record.  But sure enough, upon checking it on various streaming platforms, they’ve gone and done it.

Firstly, I applaud this ballsy move.  No matter what I think of this record, good or bad, I love it when this happens.  When a major artist is ready to do something that sends them into the left field of their own sound, that's a joy to witness.  The nerves required for this sort of thing or gigantic, you can easily fuck everything up that you’ve worked for, so bravo for that.  Secondly, to release this sort of album in the age of clone pop, where sounding similar to the heard is a safe way to fame is difficult to get right.  One slip, you're done.  Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino has a lot of things going against it from the beginning.

Musically, the jazz lounge indie sound is passable, even interesting in places.  Take “Four out of Five”, it’s so stylistic that the ghost of Bowie is wondering how to add it to his next album.  “American Sport” is an example of a song which suits this style.  It oozes sophistication, finesse and style to the nth degree.

But this is not all fun and games, sometimes it feels very heavy fisted.  “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip” sounds hammy as hell, the title track sounds as if singer Alex Turner is going to fall over his words at any given moment, “She Looks Like Fun” sounds forced and unnatural in places.  These might be growing pains if this is the permanent direction for the band, but they are being played on a grand stage, so they come under the microscope with greater clarity.  At times, Mr Turner seems to want to add a thousand words when a few words would have sufficed.  This leads to a feeling of overkill in places, as if the idea has been over thought and it feels a little jaded because of this.

Musically as well, I am prepared to admit the style of this album is not something I would reach for in the first instance, and this album has not changed that opinion.  I’ve not been so big on songs that sound like they could only be used in a Lounge or a Femme Fatale film, one that is in grainy black & white.  I don’t hate it, to be honest, it’s the most interesting record that the Arctic Monkeys have ever released.  It’s so many people talking, trying to say they either hate it or they were always a lounge fan.  At the end of the day, the album has gained a reaction and that's the endgame really.  But I still must give props for the Arctic Monkeys having the balls to releasing this record.  That is one hell of a thing to do and I respect them more for it, let's see if they have the courage to follow their conviction on their next record.

6 out of ten – Now, I see where you were going, but it's not quite there.

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