Arctic Monkeys' latest, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino: A Review
Updated: May 10, 2019
Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, Mike speaking, please tell me how may I direct your call?
You'll understand that reference once you get to the fourth track. Arctic Monkeys' latest record has received a more negative reception than positive due to the band's departure from their trademark sound of distorted guitars and crashing cymbals. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is piano-led, lounge pop record primarily influenced by David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg. Just because a record receives a bad wrap at first doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad record, it just means the artist wanted to expand their musical spectrum and try out a little something new, paint a picture with a different color. Arctic Monkeys' 2013 record, AM, was a worldwide phenomenon, shooting the band straight to the top of the charts, donning their black leather jackets and slicked back hair with defining hits, "Do I Wanna Know?," "R U Mine?," and "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?"
AM was a very simplistic guitar-driven record fully-loaded with classic riffs and catchy choruses, bringing the Sheffield, England four-piece to critical acclaim and sold out arenas around the world. NME, one of the most popular British music journalism websites declared AM as the number one album released in 2013 across all genres. So what do you do after a two year tour of sold out arenas and releasing an album that went to number one on sixteen different charts worldwide? The band couldn't write AM part 2, as an artist, you have to re-invent yourself, even if it means from writing about lyrical themes such as crawling back to you, wanting to be yours, and snapping out of it, to then writing about selling tacos on the moon, calling the martini police and a chorus that utters the words, "Good Morning, cheeseburger, snowboarding." Alex Turner did just that with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
Lacking inspiration and motivation to write songs with a guitar, Turner turned (pun intended) to his newly gifted Steinway piano as the main tool of composition for the band's next album. As described in the opening paragraph, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a lounge-pop piano driven record with elements of space rock, baroque and psychedelic pop. What's lounge pop, you ask? It's a lot less complex than anyone would think, it just means that it's a record best suited for lounging out and being completely relaxed while listening. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is most enjoyable, at least in my opinion late in the evening around an hour after the sunset with a glass of red wine in-hand, (my glass is currently to the left side of my laptop as I write this. No wonder this article sounds a little loopy!). It's a record that really doesn't make sense to be listened to at the beach or on a road trip with friends or in any social environment. While it may not make sense to some people about why a band would want to record a album only enjoyable in one particular setting, I can assure you that those records are what help fully encompass every single landscape of our feelings and emotions at any time of the day, any time of the year. Think about it, would you listen to Blink-182 in the rain or during the winter? Would you listen to Dark Side of the Moon on a sunny, day?
Without giving you the entire record in my words, I'm going to go over a few highlights and help familiarize you with what you're getting into and how to have the best listening experience possible. The record leads off with the track, "Star Treatment," Turner's first line of the track gives an ode to the band that made him want to pursue a career in music, "I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make." Absolutely brilliant way to say that all you ever wanted as a kid was to be in your favorite band, but then ended up composing eight, 8, (EIGHT!!!) albums between two bands (6 Arctic Monkeys, 2 The Last Shadow Puppets) that went number one on the U.K. charts. The song is mainly based around an electric organ riff that carries on throughout the entire track accompanied by Alex Turner's vocals ranging from the lowest of the highest of the high notes. "Star Treatment," like most songs on the record, segue straight into the next, so you don't exactly know when each song ends and begins.
"One Point Perspective," also is based around a piano riff with a kick drum/snare and bass riff as well as a pretty gnarly guitar solo. The song has a very fun, hoppy feel to it, it almost makes you want to walk around at night with a spring in your step, bouncing up and down.
"Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino," the title track, is a great, up-beat song, that makes absolutely no sense lyrically, and it's absolutely brilliant. While the song is great with it's multiple layers of clean guitars and electric keyboards, the music video is what makes it. The visuals of the music video gives the most accurate representation of the perfect landscape to which the record had strived for, inside a dark room at night with dimmed, colorful lights.
"Four Out Of Five," the leading single and without question the best song off the album. Much like the music video for the title track, "Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino," it perfectly represents the visual landscape of the album, most specifically the scenes where the band is playing inside the mansion foyer and when Alex Turner is walking throughout the corridors. The song is layered with keyboards, guitar riffs, beautiful harmonies & backing vocals and has creepy, horror-rock elements in the middle of the song, when there's then a dramatic shift in the tempo but then the song beautifully transcends into the the final chorus with the full band coming in which will result in you getting up from your seat and start dancing around the room without a care in the world. Take my word for it.
"She Looks Like Fun," is directly from the David Bowie playbook, opening with a dramatic and devastating chord sequence on the piano. The song focuses on the conception of virtual characters that we envision in our heads through the consumption of social media, scrolling through profiles thinking, "Hey, she looks like fun... I wonder what she's all about."
"The Ultracheese,"is a beautifully written, soft-spoken ballad and was the perfect way to close the record. An almost depressing, piano driven, jazzy number that slowly builds up as the song carries on, with low, monotone vocals to absolute howls at the microphone, back down to subtle, soft vocals. This is a song where I constantly stare out of my window whenever I hear it, looking out at everything around me far and wide, thinking about what I have and how much I truly value everyone and everything in my life.
While this record isn't AM in any way, shape or form, it's still a record that I'll always love dearly. It's actually the record that got me into Arctic Monkeys. I was working with my co workers one day and they were talking about how much they absolutely hated it and that it was unlike anything they've ever done. I then gave it a listen and wasn't crazy about it first, but I found myself always coming back to it, particularly around the night time. I just needed to figure out the proper setting of the record and feel it out a little before I truly came to appreciate it. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino isn't something that I listen to every single day, but when I do, I go listen to the entire record from start to finish without skipping a beat. Who would've thought that my co workers bitching and complaining would one day have such a positive output in my life? You never know what you may stumble upon and how you'll end up receiving it. Be patient, feel out the music and give it another shot, and you'll get it.