When Arctic Monkeys dropped AM, in 2013, they had long departed from the Indie scene – because that’s what Arctic Monkeys could be classified as, at one point of time. Underground, and Indie Rock, a band that has moved on from spastic punk to doomed stoner rock to sparkling guitar pop. Songs like “Arabella” and “One For The Road” displayed the bands instrumental ability, while “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were powerful rock anthems that one could listen to on loop.
If you’ve followed the band, you will find that each album of theirs has consistently reflected a new sound. While Turner’s vocals are noticeable in a cacophony of chaos – such is his range, and control, the band has changed their sound from older hits like “505” or “Mardy Bum” to “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”. There’s something inspiring about that desire to leap in a new creative direction. It is, to date, one of the things that attracts me to more mainstream bands like Linkin Park and Coldplay – who experiment, albeit, sometimes unsuccessfully. It is likely that this is why fans were supremely excited about Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (TBH).
TBH has lived up to that minimal expectation of a brand new sound. And it is fascinating, to say the absolute least.
Tl;dr: Listen to the album in one sitting, preferable on loudspeakers at an ambient volume. While reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Manson”
Alex Turner was gifted an upright piano on his 30th Birthday. A Steinway Vertegrand. While fiddling around with the keys, he christened his studio the Lunar Surface, an homage to the conspiracy theory that says that Stanley Kubrick “directed” the moon landing on a soundstage somewhere in the United States of America. TBH, the album, is a direct reflection of this naming process. There are vintage harpsichord sounds interspersed with futuristic space-age synths, all acting as background to chopped, spliced vocal demos that sound like they’ve been attached to a Vocoder for days.
But the album’s not all that.
One moment you hear Turner croon, and the next, he’s charming you with his bravado and falsetto. What’s self-evident in the album is that live performances will no-longer see him do his iconic hip moves (there’s a Tumblr dedicated to them).
TBH is a grown-up version of AM. Mr. Turner takes lyrical creativity to absolute extremes, with what is, undoubtedly one of the best opening lines to a record:
“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make.”
‘Four Out of Five’ and ‘American Sports’ are two highlights of the album. 4/5 opens up with a riff akin to ‘Do I Wanna Know,’ a familiar tune to AM lovers. That, however, isn’t what makes it the “most likely to be a mainstream hit”. As an explanation of the lunar society the album seeks to establish, there’s a critique of how the world is unable to take a step back and enjoy the bigger picture in anything at all. You can spot references to 2001: A Space Odyssey through Turner’s use of Clavius, and the song evokes memories of “Leisure”, by William Henry Davies (What is this life, if full of care, We have no time to stop and stare)
On American Sports, you hear a moody piano and a moody organ combining to create arguably, the greatest “production” the Monkeys have put out. Aside from the tune, the lyrics and the instruments, nothing catches one off-guard. The song doesn’t stretch out, there are no sassy interludes, and as the shortest track on the record (at 2’38”), it is, by far, the sweetest.
As an adult version of AM, “Ultracheese” has the perfect ending with “But I haven’t stopped loving you once.”
In an interview, Turner references Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg, and Francois de Roubaix as influences on the album. Granted, you hear shades of these influences, especially of de Roubaix’s scoring. But for everything it does right, TBH feels like a left turn taken into a small alleyway – sometimes, thinking of Arctic Monkeys can make you miss the radio-ready hooks and the lyrics which could be screamed into a laptop’s microphone.
All in all, like what happened at Tranquility Base in 1969, the album’s just one giant leap.
Tejas Rao is a student of law at Gujarat National Law University.
Support Catharsis by way of donation. It helps us maintain our quality.