‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’: Cinematic, Bowie-esque, futuristic space jazz

'Come on in, the water's lovely'

After a four-years hiatus, Arctic Monkeys made their comeback with Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino Friday, May 11, arguably one of their most linear albums to date.  Named after the landing site of Neil Armstrong, the album tells the story of the fictional hotel and casino on the moon, a strange reinvention of the Monkeys’ rock and roll roots.   

The first line of the opening track, “Star Treatment,” goes, “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make,” referencing another band prominent in the indie rock scene around the time of Arctic Monkeys’ debut.  The track is a testimony of a fallen star who just wanted success but soon learned the hard way that “here ain’t no place for dolls like you and me.” The opening does an amazing job at drawing the listener in, beginning the story of Tranquility Base and its inhabitants.

Alex Turner, lead singer and guitarist of Arctic Monkeys, has come a long way from the noisy garage rock of their number 1 “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” back in 2005, trading the white Stratocaster for a piano in a spare room.  In an interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1, Turner said, “I can’t remember having any ideas before the piano arrived in my spare room where I have a little studio at home.”

The first Arctic Monkeys album to be almost completely written on piano, Tranquility Base is a space voyage mixed with the sounds of David Bowie, The Beatles, as well as Turner’s band with artist Miles Kane, The Last Shadow Puppets.

Tranquility Base has a cinematic aesthetic, both sonically and lyrically with the constant theme of space and technology. The glorious falsettos of Turner combined with distorted guitars and simple drumming creates an indescribable feeling of everlasting relief and weightlessness.

Echoes of David Bowie’s career are heard throughout the track “Science Fiction,” showing the influence the genre had on Turner’s writing of the album.  The track adds a creepier feel to the space odyssey, especially in the lyric, “I feel rougher than a disco lizard tongue along your cheek,” reminiscent of the infamous xenomorph of the Alien series.   

The Beatles-esque, Abbey Road-type track titled “Four Out of Five” is somewhat of a loose review of the hotel and casino, “I put a taqueria on the roof/it was well reviewed, four stars out of five and that’s unheard of.”  Turner takes the persona of the owner of the hotel and casino, talking about the environment the fictional building lies, the moon’s Clavius Crater, and the buildup of new places and the gentrification of others.  

With peculiar titles such as “Batphone,” “The Ultracheese” and “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip,” one can only wonder how they would sound.  All three songs dress to impress even the weakest music fan, drawing them in with a title and leaves them wanting more. To understand the title, one must first listen to the lyrics.  “Batphone” and “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip” focus on technology, while “The Ultracheese” is based on the track being somewhat of a cheesy love song, therefore making it “The Ultracheese.”

Turner shows a growing obsession with technology though lyrics such as, “Can I please have my money back?  My virtual reality mask is stuck on ‘Parliament Brawl’,” (“American Sports”) and “You push the button and we’ll do the rest, the exotic sound of data storage nothing like it, first thing in the morning,”  (“The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip”).  The album expresses the world’s increasing dependency on technological advances for everyday life, as well as where it could take humanity in the future.  Turner primarily discusses the consequences of depending on something so addictive.

Tranquility Base is riddled with references to technology and space travel, predominantly in the track “Batphone,” with the lyrics “I want an interesting synonym to describe this thing that you say we’re all grandfathered in I’ll use the search engine,” and “Have I told you all about the time that I got sucked into a hole through a handheld device?”  In this instance, Turner seems to sing about the availability of technology, as well as the addictive nature of said tech. The entirety of Tranquility Base opens the listener’s eyes on the topic of technology and how much someone should depend on it.  

The final track, “The Ultracheese,” is a beautiful blues-jazz mixture like something you’d hear from the live band in a pub. The music paints the picture of a song-writer who’s lost his friends and a significant other, sounding very personal to Turner himself.  One can only guess who the song is for, whether it be his latest flame, model Taylor Bagley, or a past lover.

“The Ultracheese” ends with lyrics “Oh the dawn won’t stop weighing a tonne, I’ve done some things that I shouldn’t have done but I haven’t stopped loving you once,” followed by a final ooo from Turner, wrapping up the space voyage begun in Star Treatment.  The end is abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying, leaving the listener waiting for a final guitar riff or piano note. Whether or not the band was intentionally leaving the album open-ended, it does appear to be a message to fans that they aren’t done with music just yet.  After more plays, the quiet and sudden end gives the aesthetic of being in the sound-ridden vacuum of space; “In space, no one can hear you scream,” but in this case, no one can hear you sing.

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is a large jump from 2013’s AM, even for a band whose sound evolves from album to album.  Despite the change in style, such as the more linear progression of the album and the new stance Turner has taken writing songs for the piano, Tranquility Base is a refreshing new release from a band that hasn’t published anything in five years.  With such an original, interesting reinvention, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is the perfect purchase for any casual music fan.

Have you heard the album yet? What did you think?

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