If nothing else, the new Arctic Monkeys album lives up to its name. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino travels either through space or time, or probably both, to host us in something of a 1970s, space-age, Bowie-like resort of the utterly chillest quality. The band switches up its usual rock style to create the kind of tranquil that ebbs and flows with dramatic fair.
Tranquility Base Hotel does depart from an expected guitar-heavy sound, but it still carries the distinct AM vocals we’ve come to know and love. (I always thought Alex Turner sort of sounded like Wakko Warner). (And I totally mean that as a compliment).
The album opens richly with the swaying and jazzy “Star Treatment,” a song that sets the tone for the album in sound and lyric. “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes” are the first words sung on the album, and I’m not sure who the “Martini Police” are but I know the Arctic Monkeys are always down to tell a cool story. A little later, “Golden Trunks” confuses itself for a 1950s oldie gone tragic, slowed and falling apart into itself.
By the time “Four out of Five” arrives, I started to wonder if the Arctic Monkeys were shooting for some epic sort of Queen-like rock opera. I could even imagine the accompanying scene: Lead vocalist Alex Turner lurks around a dark city alley lined with brick walls and filling with prop smoke. He’s wearing a raincoat with a popped collar because, I don’t know, that seems to fit the dragging 1980s tone of the song. It all feels very sinister. You wonder what lies in the shadows he dodges while scurrying home. So what is in the shadows? Coffee shops and book stores that have gentrified a once-meaningful neighborhood. It’s truly terrifying. The song utilizes bouncy orchestra overload and elements of creep to advertise what I believe is the Tranquility Base Hotel’s Yelp star-rating. ★★★★☆
And not that I thought I was wrong (it’s pretty obvious) but I skimmed an article while digesting the record and confirmed the whole space and/or time travel vibes. Turner said of the album:
“I think it started with the idea of science fiction and how the worlds that are often created in it, the idea of space travel or time travel or whatever it might be, is quite often, by my estimations, used to put out there an idea about the world we’re living in.”
Musically, most of the album moves in slow motion and will leave you suspended there, too. And if you’re a fan of showtunes and ballads waning on a dragging record player, I promise you won’t resent the Arctic Monkeys for departing from their their usually-funkier “post-punk retro rock” sound (or whatever) that’s given them radio success. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino may spend some time trying to be something bigger than it really is, but its valiant attempt makes it a gift for the eager fever-dream-explorers.