The month of May has been huge for Arctic Monkeys fans. The band began touring again, making a highly anticipated stop in Los Angeles, and on May 11, they dropped their sixth LP, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.’
Even after a five year hiatus, frontman Alex Turner proves he still knows how to play us. And we know our parts well. On stage, he is the conductor. The slyly shy man who stands on the corner of Los Feliz turns into a larger than life ego, nothing shy of stardom. His band equally as grandiose.
Their return to the stage is hardly unnoticed — fans and critics alike have guessed what the new album would sound like and how their it will manifest itself on stage via Turner, drummer Matt Helders, bassist Nick O’ Malley and guitarist Jamie Cook — but Arctic Monkeys act like they never let off.
From “Arabella,” an intergalactic love affair to “The View from The Afternoon” — the song that sets off their debut LP — Arctic Monkeys made it seem like commanding the crowd of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery was just another night out.
As for the four new songs on the set, fans received them with an inquisitive excitement. The album itself sparked much anticipation, and since it dropped it has had mixed reviews.
Sonically, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ is very much a Turner production. The 32-year-old musician has been the source of the band’s lyrics since its inception, and there are still elements in the music well known to fans including bass heavy rhythms, but for the first time, Turner wrote the majority of songs on piano and co-produced the album.
Thematically, it is from another planet. It’s as much a concept album as it is an abstract stream of consciousness. Long winded and with little to no hooks, it is a Sci-Fi space oddity serving as the metaphor for our collective departure from reality. In it, the Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is one of the many new establishments in space for people to frequent, Turner and his band the lounge act making “easy money.”
‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ paints a dystopian, yet strangely familiar world, one in which world leaders are like pro wrestlers and human connection has a hard time competing with social media and artificial intelligence.
Turner drops references to social media, virtual reality and space exploration in the near future. He also pokes fun at his own journey as a musician and a public figure
“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes, now look at the mess you’ve made me make” Turner croons as he opens the album with a half-formed musing.
Turner also notes in a BBC interview that he wanted the new album to be centered around a place, much like some of his favorite albums that feel like a destination to go and visit for a while.
The world Turner creates is a bustling, humdrum of a society where the scenery is as foreign and ever changing as a Hollywood set. Turner’s inspiration for the album is in part sparked by thought provoking cinema, but he has his own say on things, weaving intricately structured talking points and criticism hidden in the layers of a astronomical verbiage.
Songs such as “Golden Trunks” and “American Sports” allude to political and social criticism while others including “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip” and “Batphone” take aim at our ever-growing dependence for validation via social media and technology.
In “Four Out of Five,” Turner goes deeper, referencing concepts such as the information action ratio and gentrification. The music video creates an alter-ego for Turner, one that promotes a reimagined lunar getaway while the real Turner plays the roguish lounge act who doesn’t want to be part of his boss’s advertising.
With lyrics that veer off in tangents, slower instrumentals, more piano and stripped guitar and drums, this album is a risky step for Arctic Monkeys. Their fifth album, ‘AM’ was a huge commercial success, and to follow it with a concept-heavy LP is ambitious to say the least.
The album has already stirred confusion from some fans and critics, mostly for its lack of conventional structure, which is not much of a surprise. Much like Terrence Malick’s film ‘Knight of Cups,’ an experimental drama with a loose plot line, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ gives little insight into its direction. We can’t predict where it goes and why, and that is always tough for a listener or viewer. But, like Malick, Turner released his work regardless of fan or critic expectations, and that in itself is a valuable addition to any art form.
Arctic Monkeys are a band that has always thrived on change, and ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is no different. Lyrics that were once rooted in a small Yorkshire town, now float off into space, still able to find their way into our psyche. Turner the band evoke a curiosity in their listeners, a curiosity that will always prompt an audience eager to hear where they go next.
As for their live performance, that has been, and always will be, spectacular.