By Greg Kennelty, June 15, 2018
Front to Back Album Review: Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
- Released: May 11, 2018
- Label: Domino
- Producers: James Ford, Alex Turner
2.5 Play Buttons
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the Arctic Monkeys' first studio effort in five years. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was originally slated as the debut solo album of frontman and multi-instrumentalist Alex Turner, who recently told NME that he enjoys his bandmates' company too much to have left them behind. "On this project I was really unsure about what I was doing. Then, when Jamie [guitarist Jamie Cook] came out to LA to join me and we worked on stuff together, through his encouragement suddenly I felt completely different. Him getting excited about it, like the way I remember him getting excited about some idea in his bedroom in his mum’s house when we were 16... I still get that buzz out of his reaction."
It’s easy to see why Turner was considering the release to be his own solo work. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is entirely unlike the earworm punk rock tracks and hook-laden alt-pop songs found on Arctic Monkeys’ previous efforts. The album is largely devoid of any aggression or bite, instead settling into a sound that evokes David Bowie and the easygoing lounge sounds of Richard Cheese. Turner tells Pitchfork the album is conceptual, having the band play a fictional version of themselves as the lounge house band for a hotel on the now-colonized moon. (Tranquility Base was the name of the landing zone for Apollo 11 in 1969). The result, however, leaves a lot to be desired musically.
Within the first minute of the opener Star Treatment, you’re introduced to a lot of the instrumentation you’ll hear on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino – electric piano, soft jazz organ, Mellotron-esque string patches, gently played drums, muted basses, and muffled background vocals padding Turner’s echoing lead voice. For six minutes Arctic Monkeys provide the relaxing retro background noise to their hypothetical space hotel with no discernable choruses or standout melodies. That sonic trend continues throughout the album with slight variations, such as the jazzy swing of Batphone and almost-gritty lounge rock ballad Four Stars Out Of Five, but by and large Turner and company stay the course.
Where Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino succeeds is its engaging and quirky lyrics. Turner laments the made-up documentary Singsong Around the Money Tree is "this stunning documentary that no one else unfortunately saw" on One Point Perspective, while The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip is quite literally about what the title implies. On the topics of modern society, on Batphone Turner talks about his fake and aptly-named fragrance Integrity that can't be purchased and on the title track loudly proclaims "technological advances really bloody get me in the mood." The music on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino might not catch your ear, but Turner's lyrical stories are sure to keep you paying attention.
Ford and Turner absolutely nailed the production of what they were musically trying to accomplish. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sounds like it should be playing out of a huge Seeburg jukebox in the corner of a futuristic post-modern 1950s era lounge – people walk by in space suits, drinks are served in martini glasses, and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sonically seeps out of the wooden console like syrup.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is meant to be cinematic, but without the visuals the album is essentially musical wallpaper. You won’t struggle to get through the album, but you’ll struggle to remember quite a lot of it once it’s over.