Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino – in retrospect

By Finn Ewing

Arctic Monkeys’ most recent album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is very different to the rest of their material. Think of Arctic Monkeys as a cheeseboard. This cheeseboard consists mostly of cheddar; the cheddar being representative of their work up till now. Alone, this cheddar cheeseboard is good – great, even – and a major hit with customers and critics alike. However, imagine a large lump of exotic Brie has just been added to the cheeseboard. Now, Brie has a rather strong and distinctive taste, which some love and others can’t stand. Me myself? I love Brie but hated Tranquility Base upon its release.

My love for Arctic Monkeys stems way back, even before I discovered my love for alt-rock and indie. As a young child, my father would often play great hits from the Monkeys’ debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I subconsciously developed a fondness for the band and their intoxicating, singalong anthems. I didn’t have the slightest idea what this band were even named.

As I began to mature, my musical taste did too and I slowly, but eventually, grew out of my The Script and Ed Sheeran phase. I began to watch more television, leading to my discovery of the Arctic Monkeys hit ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ via The Inbetweeners, as well as the entirety of their 2013 record, AM, through the show Peaky Blinders, which provided a backdrop that was nothing short of just plain cool. Finally, I fully immersed myself myself in their back catalogue and began to label myself a fan. Little did I know, I would have to wait another three years for their next album – only to be immensely disappointed.

Now, hate and disappointment are two very strong words, so I must highlight one song,  ‘Four Out of Five’. This is the only track that is reminiscent of  previous work, with the everlasting strumming from bassist Nick O’Malley existing as an eerily similar throwback to the strong presence he held on AM – a record that the mass populace wish so much to see a sequel to. It was a smart move to release this song as the album’s first single. Unfortunately, it turned out to be nothing more than a false silver lining in the red-headed stepchild that is Tranquility Base.

Prior to the album’s release, I found myself thoroughly excited, especially upon the reveal of the song titles, particularly ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’, which, although a mouthful, had me fully captivated upon my first listen. It seemed the album would retain much of the band’s signature quirk. As it turns out, I was not wrong; some lyrics from Turner such as, “Kiss me under the moon’s sideboob,” serve as a constant reminder just who it is we are listening to. However, I was deeply saddened to discover that the only parts of this album that keep hold of the band’s identity are in fact the quirkiness itself.

It seemed it was out with the old festival-ready anthems and in with the new, glossy piano. In the process, the band lost all that made them special: the catchy choruses and quaking guitar riffs. Where Turner’s lyrics are usually playful yet meaningful takes on a variety of subject matters such as love, society and music itself, this time the lyrics were playful yet random groanings and ramblings of a madman. The guitars were replaced by keys. This proved too slow and boring, in my opinion.

I state this is merely my opinion due to the amount of positive response the group has received for the record. This has included the likes of NME reviewing the album four stars out of five, which I still can’t decide is a genuine ranking or exists for irony’s sake.

However, it is now that I must return to my description of Tranquility Base as a slice of Brie. As a fan of the band’s usual cheddar cheeseboard, you feel a certain obligation to persevere with the Brie until its succulent taste slowly melts into your comfortable palette of musical taste. I personally unearthed this when I purchased the vinyl format of the record for my birthday and so forced myself to give it another chance. This resulted in a strange and tangy aftertaste, which I eventually discovered could only be cured through further consumption. This then lead to a sliver of appreciation that slowly grew more and more with each listen.

That being said, I still to this day struggle to enjoy listening to any song that isn’t ‘Four Out Of Five’. The album – as far as I’m concerned – provides a nice chilled-out backdrop to daily activities but it is not an album that I would listen to outside of the comfort of my own home with my trusty, crackling record player by my side.

I was worried before seeing the group live on one of their many O2 Arena dates in September about how the band were going to perform. However, this again managed to send my appreciation for the album to a new peak due to the fact the Monkeys retained their familiar presence and swagger, as well as Turner displaying his expansive vocal range in full force through tunes such as ‘Star Treatment’ and the title track, effortlessly easing out notes that I had never realised the husky frontman from that band my dad used to listen to could possibly reach.

It was on 13th September 2018, a Thursday night, that my final opinion of Tranquility Base had been formed. Maybe the record isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but you can’t deny the size of Arctic Monkeys’ balls to throw such a curveball and still come out on top.

I only hope that they return to their roots sooner rather than later, though.

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