Following on from AM, an album that seemed to rise and disappear in cycles over the past however many years and an album I’m not hugely fond of any more, Tranquility Base Casino + Hotel doesn’t quite sound like an Arctic Monkeys album. It doesn’t quite make sense as an Arctic Monkeys album. It sounds as though it should be the latest Last Shadow Puppets record. That minor point doesn’t stop it from being an impressive record.
The album has utterly no bangers, it’s more of a slow burn series of poetry jams with restrained instrumentation. It doesn’t grip you immediately, but it rewards repeated listens. There is a lot to listen to, each individual instrument is masterfully directed towards the tracks’ ends, and it’s particularly refreshing that there aren’t so many chunking guitars. Instead, they are applied when necessary and offer a little colour. The Bass is where the action is. Real standout stuff.
‘Golden Trunks’ sounds like a James Bond theme, and that’s probably intentional given the name also sounds like a terrible entry in the James Bond franchise. ‘Golden Trunks’ is a great track, it is short and sweet, with a guitar intro that implies the bombast of Arctic Monkeys tracks passed, but does so without the almighty crash of the entire band turned up to 11.
‘The First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ is a great name for a track.
A significant feature of the album is the fact that entire dictionaries are funnelled into the lyrics, and the vocal delivery is more loose and freeform than on any other Arctic Monkeys album. The vocals are certainly a highlight, both backing and lead. They twist around science fiction-themed lyrics and what sound at times something like Alex Turner playing a free association word game with himself.
‘Four out of Five’ is another high point of the album with its hooky chorus melody, it’s basically begging for a music video with slow motion Alex Turner breaking things in a baroque palace to be juxtaposed against it.
The album does falter in some places with the similarity of tracks, though in some ways it is as much the mark of how unified and coherent the album is. The looseness of the vocals and lyrics may also work against the album for some listeners who may prefer more vocal definition to keep the tracks grounded.
It took me a while to figure out what exactly Tranquility Base sounds like.
It’s Pet Sounds, Station to Station, and Marquee Moon. It retains the melodic beauty of Pet Sounds, but projects it from under a veil of darkness, almost sterility. Tranquility Base sounds like a film soundtrack, it doesn’t sound organic. In much the same way Station to Station sounds like music about love written by a robot who had no way of knowing love, Tranquility Base sounds as if it comes from the other side of a screen, or a window, or just around the corner. The atmosphere of the album lurches out of a graveyard like the Cadillac in the title track of Television’s Marquee Moon.
It’s marvellous. Tranquility Base is a bold move away from the tried and trued rock and roll of AM, and ultimately a very rewarding move towards a more engaging composition style and a more interesting listen than anything the band has released.