Five years after the critically successful AM, the Arctic Monkeys have finally dropped a new album. To say that this new album, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”, was different would be an understatement. Sometime during this five-year hiatus, Alex Turner has forsaken his guitar for a piano. But does this new set-up suit the band?
Right off the bat, you'll notice some significant differences in sound. Turner says, “It's got more chords. And space sh*t”. The songs are much slower than what you'd expect from an AM album. More than anything else, it sounds like 60s or 70s lounge pop/jazz. This promises much, right from the first line: “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, Now look at the mess you made me make” which draws you in and teases greatness. Unfortunately, the promising start fizzles out at the halfway mark. For a five-and-a-half-minute song, which is the first track of an album, it doesn't set very high standards.
This seems to be a recurring theme with this album, of starting strong and losing momentum in the middle. Which is a shame, because this album had real potential. Most of the songs struggle to bring the instruments together in harmony. When they do, Turner's vocals are a let-down. His voice cannot pull off falsettos to fit this type of music. Let's turn our attentions to his song-writing. People at a hotel and casino on the moon talk of things like science, technology, and religion in the setting of this very unique album. In typical AM fashion, the lyrics are winding and metaphorical. This time, however, they seem to drone on instead of being impactful. Turner's singing is more smug than soothing, and often on a different planet compared to the rest of the band.
It isn't all bad, however. The bass provides good rhythm, and some of the guitar riffs are big and bold with a crunchy tone. Besides this, there are also some masterpieces in the form of “Four Out of Five” and “The Ultracheese”. The former is the song featured in the teaser and is the most complete song of the album by far. The riff is groovy, the lyrics vaguely remind me of Hotel California, and the instruments feel like they are working together instead of trying to drown each other out. I can already hear the chants of “Four stars out of five” in packed arenas, 5/5.
“The Ultracheese” is, true to its name, very cheesy. And I loved every second of it. Laid back and letting the piano and Turner's vocals drive the unhurried pace, this perfectly fits the theme of nostalgia and days gone by. The tempo change and Pink Floyd-esque piano-guitar harmony at the 2:30 mark ensures the track and album end on a high note.
Overall, this album from the Sheffield boys felt more like an Alex Turner side project. Which, well, it is. He came up with the piano demos at first and then involved the band, who weren't entirely keen on this. Even then, I must give them credit for not being pegged down into one style or genre. Sadly, the experimentation didn't pay off this time and the album could neither live up to its potential or the Monkeys' lofty standards. Let's hope the band retain the positives from this one and five years down the line we'll have a more complete album.