Sheffield Icons aim for the stars in ambitious new album, but fall short somewhere in the clouds.
In an era where the popularity and quality of guitar music have rapidly declined, Arctic Monkeys have remained a shining light in their ascent to worldwide acclaim. However, it has been an agonizing five year wait since their last album AM (2013), a project that completed their evolution from fresh-faced boyish upstarts to fully fledged stadium rock stars.
New album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino arrives in a cloud of curiosity, with the band deciding to not issue any singles in the lead up to the release. It was certainly a risk, but it is a risk that embodies what this release is all about.
Straight off the bat, opening track ‘Star Treatment’ sets the tone for the album with a piano led melody, accompanied by a groove-infused bassline provided by Nick O’Malley. While rather understated compared to previous openers, it’s a song that infuses a swagger previously found on tracks such as ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ and ‘I Wanna Be Yours’.
Alex Turner once again flexes his muscles as a lyrical maverick with opening line “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes.” It’s a line that’s part of what is his Magnum Opus in lyricism, as he balances between effortlessly cool and laugh out loud hilarious with relative ease. Turner’s lyrics have always been a stand out feature, but, while his lyrical content may have evolved from singing about banging tunes and DJ sets, the quality has only increased, culminating in Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.
‘Star Treatment’ flows nicely into the next tracks ‘One Point Perspective’ and ‘American Sports’, and it’s clear to see that instrumentally things are very different this time around. Guitar is relegated to the background with the majority of songs being led by the piano; an incredibly bold move from a band who have such an established sound. While Turner’s piano often works on tracks such as ‘Golden Trunks’ and ‘Batphone’, it is telling that the album’s best song in ‘Four Out of Five’ is a rare guitar-led number.
After the first twenty minutes, some of the album’s issues start to show themselves. Most strikingly it seems to stay at the same pace, with little variation between the songs. This leads to the middle of the album amalgamating into one rather repetitive lump—testing the patience of a listener who is looking for something a bit different to what they have already heard.
Drummer Matt Helders has put in man of the match performances in all of the band’s previous output, however he seems to be rather confined in his work this time around. The album desperately misses his innovative beats and rhythms that he has so consistently produced throughout his career.
Arctic Monkeys wear their influences on their sleeve throughout, and you can see a clear attempt at reproducing the grandeur which artists like David Bowie and the Velvet Underground produced throughout their careers.
While you can only applaud the risk that such an established band took in order to achieve this goal, the album lacks the compelling instrumentation and atmospheric production that is needed to reach that status. The quote “Bowie B-Side” has been bandied about to describe this effort, and, while it may be a little crude, it is hard to argue against it.
Check out Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino here: