Why does anyone still care about the Arctic Monkeys? That question alone is probably enough to ignite some volatile discussion; after all, they’ve become the poster boys of British indie music, and their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is frequently heralded as a modern classic, and rightly so. But looking at everything the band have done in a vacuum, the diminishing returns are blatant, only somewhat picked up by 2013’s AM. They’re a band who, now, are virtually unrecognisable, no longer the embodiment of dulled, northern youth that saw so many gravitate towards them, and instead, the Americanised, leather-clad vehicle for Alex Turner’s all-encompassing, Jared Leto-esque ego. And that’s definitely soured the Arctic Monkeys, now firmly in the mould of capital-A artistes that they seem extremely reluctant to leave. Just look at Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, an album that early buzz already suggests is the band’s most divisive release to date, and with no singles prior to its release, it’s indicative of a band with either the greatest of faith of how much this will resonate, or safe in the knowledge that their fanbase will lap it up regardless.
But really, no one should be that surprised about what we got, as Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is exactly what you’d expect an Arctic Monkeys album to sound like in 2018 – supremely polished with a smoother, less rocky influence built on even further, and seeing Turner slowly phase out the band dynamic to have the spotlight all to himself. It’s here that the comparisons to Jared Leto become more than superficial as, in all but a name, this is an Alex Turner solo album, the spiritual successor to Submarine that so many have touted it as. But where America fell apart thanks to Leto’s complete aversion to detail in favour of showering himself in his own messianic rankings, Tranquility Base… does so for the exact opposite reasons, with Turner as the awkward, aloof lounge singer at the titular establishment who can let his stream-of-consciousness ramblings free because no one is paying attention.
That’s what heralds he first of Tranquility Base…’s big problems, that being the writing. For as much as Turner’s lyrics have always had a sense of smarminess about them in that they know how smart and quick-witted they are, here becomes indicative of a writer drunk on the sphere of his own cult of personality, stringing together images and non-sequiturs in lumpen tapestries that desperately try and eke out whatever modicum of depth they can, no matter how much of a lost cause that may be. Sure, metaphors surrounding politics on Golden Trunks and obsessions with technology on Batphone connect somewhat, but when it’s continuously padded out with meandering references to space and science fiction with little to no tissue between any of it, the album fails in disguising how much of a self-important slog it actually is. It’s a miracle that Four Out Of Five actually features something that can be described as a chorus, given the lack of structure here beyond cycling, highfalutin lines you’d expect seeping from the mouth of an overly-pretentious poetry student. And at the centre of this is Turner himself, unable to even feign interest in his glazed, spaced-out croon as he goes on about “The rise of the machines” on Science Fiction, and being kissed “underneath the moon’s side-boob” on the title track, all while trying to prop up his lounge-lizard veneer that gets less believable by the minute.
But what’s likely to be the very final straw is what the Arctic Monkeys have done with the instrumentation, tossing aside the rougher, bluesy tones that made AM the return to form that it was for listless, colourless lounge-jazz supposed inspired by David Bowie, but only without any of the spectacle or verve. And yes, it’s clear and well-arranged and that’s all well and good, but there’s nothing here that could pass for anything beyond background music at best; even when She Looks Like Fun threatens to go into a scuzzy, brassy take on The Beatles at their most grandiose, it still diverts back to a middling slog within seconds. It never changes or evolves either; the same piano and basslines feel copied and pasted between every single song, sway and waltzing away like the Muzak this album clearly wants to be, with anything close to form thanks to a guitar is relegated to the background. It can sound pretty in the right mood, especially given the clarity of the instrumentation that is really well-produced and mixed, but it’s a chore to get through otherwise with little to no payoff at the end.
So let’s reiterate the initial question – why does anyone still care about the Arctic Monkeys? It’s even more baffling now, particularly when this is essentially confirmation that they’ve got no good ideas left, and everything that is there only comes through thanks to name recognition. And this was a big one too, one with expectations behind it that was supposed to be some grand event, and instead what’s transpired is a vanity project that’s even too anonymous to fit in with the best of them. As much as the echo chamber will and already have completed the feedback loop with regards to this album’s quality, it’s just not worth looking into this from a band who are capable of so much more. To paraphrase one of their own lyrics, the album’s fucking wank and you won’t have a nice time.
For fans of: The Last Shadow Puppets, White Lies, Travis
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ by Arctic Monkeys is out now on Domino Recordings.