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Arctic Monkeys’ 'Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino' is a Cosmic but Vintage Departure

4 Stars

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Album Cover
Five years after the release of their critically acclaimed and commercially successful album "AM," the Arctic Monkeys are back with a new album—one that is a far cry from the thumping bass of "AM" or even the high energy rock and roll of "Suck It and See" (2011). "Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino" boasts vintage sounds, pianos galore, and Alex Turner's sexy, dark drawl. It is an entirely different world for this English rock band from Sheffield, who first rose to prominence in 2006 with their debut rock album "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not." Surprisingly, the sound of this album closely mirrors that of lead singer Alex Turner's collaboration with Miles Kane, "Everything You've Come to Expect" (2016). Though this is a departure from what the Arctic Monkeys have done in the past, this new album is a refreshing and much more experimental step for them—though perhaps not as sleek and put together as "AM.”

While some of their older albums like "Humbug" (2009) seem to lack consistency in style, "Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino" in some ways feels more cohesive—perhaps even a bit too much so as each record bleeds into the other, with no way of knowing when each song ends and when the next begins. Overall, the whole work sounds almost like one extended, languid track. Each features a heavy amount of piano and a smoldering space rock sound that is reminiscent of spaceships, the 1970s, and California deserts. This strange amalgamation works quite well as a steadily flowing drowsy cocktail held together by Alex Turner's stunning stream-of-consciousness vocals.

His voice features more prominently here than on any other Arctic Monkeys record, such that it sometimes comes off as more of a solo work than a collaboration. Bassist Nick O'Malley and drummer Matt Helders get much less attention, but do what is necessary to carry each song through. Having said that, guitarist Jamie Cook does get a few guitar solos peppered across, including a particularly vivid one on the strenuous political track "Golden Trunks." The rest of the band also helps Turner create the album's lonely, eerie mood through falsetto background singing. For the most part, this pared-down style is almost necessary as it allows listeners to concentrate on the wonderfully bizarre fusion of the cosmos and vintage LA vibes which are no less spirited then their past records.

Turner has penned much more opaque lyrics for this work than in any others. Gone are Sheffield pubs and sweaty nightclubs. These songs touch on everything from politics (like in "Golden Trunks") to fame (like with "Star Treatment.") More than anything, there is a large focus on sci-fi ("Science Fiction" and "Four Out of Five") and technology ("Batphone" and "The World's First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip.") The lyrics largely don't follow any logic and, more often than not, they trip on their own muddled metaphors and allusions, but Turner is the first to acknowledge this lack of cohesion: "Bear with me, man, I lost my train of thought." Turner also expresses his derision towards the growing use of cellphones as on "Batphone" when he croons: "Have I told you all about the time that I got sucked into a hole / Through a handheld device?" The lyrics of many of the records feature incredibly tongue-in-cheek phrases ("The exotic sound of data storage / Nothing like it, first thing in the morning") and images ("Jesus in the day spa, filling out the information form") that call to mind the candor and dourness of their earliest works, but for the most part these wild, imagistic phrases serve to mark the band's change and progression. This is not an album about falling in love or painting portraits of hometown characters, nor is it a critique of our modern day habits either. The lyrics are much too unrooted to do such topics full justice, but they speak to this world nonetheless, and explore the conceptual idea of time in a fascinating way.

While fans of "AM" will not necessarily fall over for this psychedelic style and even older fans will continue to miss the old, aggressive guitars, "Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino" is a strong and remarkable work. It might take a few listens to get into its noir-esque groove, but it is easy to slip into its cracks and find yourself marveling at its strange lyrics and jazzy style. The Arctic Monkeys should be delighted that they have created an album that is definitely equal to if not more than "Four Out of Five."

—Staff writer Aline G. Damas can be reached at aline.damas@thecrimson.com.

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