Now that the Arctic Monkeys‘ sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is out, the reception is split between fascination for its very conspicuous self-correction and disenchantment over its departure from the bristling, riffy, lightspeed guitar-rock it’s known for.
TBH&C is the most self-consciously conceptual opus the band has ever attempted. It’s an exploration of self-awareness, isolation and detachment that is set in the moon. The album is essentially the mouthpiece of a washed-up rockstar who now has a full-time residency as a lounge singer and pianist on the lunar outpost that is the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. He’s a world-weary, hollow-eyed narrator who speaks in volumes of social concerns via satirical commentary. Make no mistake: There isn’t a single song like “Dancing Shoes” here. Every song here requires a committed plunged into the slowly unraveling luxe (and louche) world wherein the hotel & casino are situated. And as you take that plunge, here are things you need to know.
Arctic Monkeys 2.0
It almost seems like this is an entirely different band – gone are the late-night boozy shenanigans in pubs at Sheffield or the chronicles of the collar-popped greaser in Los Angeles clubs. The band has ascended into its next incarnation – a ‘mature’ – depending on which side of the fence/moon you are – piano-led, jazz-speckled sound, redolent of frontman Alex Turner‘s other band The Last Shadow Puppets. In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Turner revealed that he wrote the album on the piano, which he learnt to play as he was making it.
Hence, the album is either absorbingly hypnotic or immensely boring, depending on your musical preferences. This is the rough lay of the land:
Portents of a Very Likely Dystopian Future
A big part of Turner’s enduring appeal is his dashingly contemplative lyrical sensibility. This time around, he uses sci-fi tropes as a foil for the ills plaguing contemporary society on Earth at this very moment.
In “Science Fiction”, he draws parallels between the dystopian planet he resides in and the present-day, where the need for ‘connectivity’ has run amok and relationships are mediated by technology at ever-increasingly worrying extents: “Reflections in the silver screen of strange societies / Swamp monster with a hard-on for connectivity / The ascension of the C.R.E.A.M / Mass panic on a not too distant future colony” . This is also reflected in “Star Treatment”: “1984, 2019”, which references George Orwell’s canonical novel, 1984. In the lead single “Four Out of Five”, he rails against gentrification and class capitalism: “Since the exodus / It’s all setting gentrified / I put a taqueria on the roof / it was well reviewed”.
Social Media Woes
It’s now obvious that the Arctic Monkeys aren’t thirsty for likes or retweets. The listener gets the very palpable sense of rage that this milieu’s impulse to overshare and digitally self-propagate inspires in Turner. “Do you remember where it all went wrong? / Technological advances really bloody get me in the mood”, he seethes at one point.
On “She Looks Like Fun”, Turner takes even more conscious aim at our Insta-Grat needs: “Finally, I can share with you through cloudy skies / Every whimsical thought that enters my mind” and finally, ending the verse with, “There ain’t no limit to the length of the dickheads we can be”, which could be a reference to Twitter’s 280 characters limit, which doesn’t stand in the way of our constant updates. Later, on “Batphone”, he addresses technological disruption as a victim: “Have I told you all about the time that I got sucked into a hole / Through a handheld device?”.
A Global Existential Crisis
The album’s first line is: “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes / Now look at the mess you made me make”. That is a cosmological diagnosis of the world’s wasted potential. We’ve gotten ourselves as right mess – and like Turner on the moon, we’re wallowing in it.
Unlike David Bowie’s famed excursions into space, there’s no glamour here. Only a tinge of regret that stems from an overwhelming measure of loneliness, anger and melancholy. This is emo music at its most verbose, stylised and British.
The Future is a Mystery
You won’t be wrong in comparing the Monkeys’ trajectory here to Radiohead’s after The Bends. TBH&C is blasted the glass ceiling that contained the Monkeys’ swagger-punctuated chord-heavy stylings. Whatever happens next is anyone’s guess.
Check out the band’s recent live performance of “She Looks Like Fun” on The Late Late Show with James Corden below: