On 2013’s AM, the Arctic Monkeys hit reboot and delivered the sexiest rock and roll of their career. The group embraced grooves, after show naughty antics and generally sounded reinvigorated. Their long awaited follow up Tranquility Base: Hotel + Casino travels in a different direction. While the band still pluck from their vast array of influences, including minimalist soul, late night lounge music and sultry lush production, the group has eliminated all of their rock and roll elements.
The album was written by main monkey, Alex Turner on his home piano in Los Angeles before being brought to the band as a whole. It was such a departure from their style that the group suggested it be released as a solo effort but Turner was adamant the band should tackle the tracks. The final result is a record that struts around like greasy space pop, slipping inside of absurd lyrics while owing a huge debt to David Bowie whose influence is everywhere. Each song has etchings of the Thin White Duke and like Bowie Tranquility Base: Hotel + Casino does succumb to style over substance at times but with an experiment this intriguing the style is the substance.
Opening with the lush “Star Treatment”, Turner is supported by a gorgeous bass line, around simple beats; all guitars are noticeably lacking. The confessional lyric about just wanting to be The Strokes, is a ruse, this is no diary entry as the stream of consciousness hip-hop light vocal style immediately takes over. The rest of the lyrics on the album are in the vein of rambling poetics as Turner remains front and center singing about putting “taquerias on the moon” (“Four Stars out of Five” which is the most Bowie of them all) and feeling “rougher than a disco lizard tongue along your cheek” (“Science Fiction”).
Certainly this is a mood record, but intriguingly one with no fixed mood, James Ford returns to produce continuing some of the late night wonder of AM minus the energy, even when Turner pounds the ivories, waiting by the “Batphone” as bandmates color tracks with a drum roll here, a digital sounding riff there. The bass is consistently warm throughout, highlighted on the title track and “One Point Perspective” which includes a pushed groove and increased instrumentation, even including one of those things called a guitar solo. It cuts with feedback brilliantly before digitally dripping into the aura filled “American Sports”. The buzzing “She Looks Like Fun” is one of the more overdone and least successful efforts as the freakout choruses don’t pair exceedingly well with the understated grooving verses.
While this album will certainly have longtime fans divided with it’s experimentation, Tranquility Base: Hotel + Casino contains Turners most passionate singing. He goes falsetto at times (“Golden Trunks”) and somehow feels his most honest, while remaining so far away, playing expertly with the sci-fi/robot themes. “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip” displays gorgeous backing vocal work, rolling along in Beatlesque fashion while the group goes full drama for the finale with “The Ultracheese” tying back in lyrically to the opener, examining Turner’s past with a touch of Father John Misty panache.
The final song on AM was Turner’s adaptation of John Cooper Clarke’s poetry “I Wanna Be Yours” which, at the time, felt like a tagged on coda/outlier for the disk. In retrospect the track pointed directly towards Tranquility Base: Hotel + Casino where the weirdness factor is amped to the moon and a sense of freedom is palpable even if the album is more art project than must listen. In this age of constantly shifting morals, perceptions, and Tweeted rants passing for ideas, the Arctic Monkeys have now become one of the few bands that must be checked out with each release, as nothing seems beyond their grasp at the moment.