Album Review: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

No doubt you’ve already heard about this one. Your friends have told you it’s the worst record by an acclaimed band this side Chinese Democracy. The guy with the trendy facial hair at the corner coffee shop says it’s a masterpiece on par with Sgt. Pepper’s. The truth is…(appropriately understated drum roll please)…it’s fine.

Yes, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, for all the hype and furor surrounding it, is shockingly competent. All this general hullabaloo seems more directed at what Tranquility Base is not rather than what it is. It is not the commanding sequel to AM that we felt entitled to. It is not a magnificent showcase of the Arctic Monkeys rhythmic and melodic strengths. It is not the sea changing record that prerelease anticipation made it out to be.

So, what is Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino?

It’s a whimsical, conceptual, and highly lyrical exploration of interstellar lounge rock. It takes elements of the Monkey’s Suck It and See and AM and throws a huge dollop of David Bowie across the top. Likely owing to that last fact, Tranquility Base is largely the Alex Turner show. There were reports that the album was originally intended to be a solo record. We may never know the truth of the matter, but it’s easy to see where these rumors come from. There is very little space during the 40 min run time that isn’t taken up with Turner’s trademark British croon.

Moment to moment, this means that the record lives and dies on Turner’s lyricism and delivery. There’s certainly a ton of corniness to be found with lyrics like: “The world’s first ever monster truck front flip” and “cheeseburger, snowboarding.” But these stand alongside some of the most salient and political statements Turner has ever penned:

  • “In the daytime/Bendable figures with a fresh new pack of lies”
  • “This magical thinking feels as if it really might catch on”
  • “I lost the money, lost the keys/But I’m still handcuffed to the briefcase”
  • “By the time reality hits, the chimes of freedom fell to bits/The shining city on the fritz”
  • “…it was well reviewed/Four stars out of five/And that’s unheard of

It’s easy to be entertained when Turner is dropping insights like these, but when he lapses into absurdity, the faults of the record become starkly apparently. Most prominently, the Monkey’s titanic drummer Matt Helders is criminally underutilized. Even on the more restrained AM, Helders found room to cut loose and provided numerous inventive grooves. Here his is mostly relegated to keeping time.

Furthermore, Turner’s piano playing, while certainly notable for his relative lack of experience, is not showy enough to match the weirdness of the tunes themselves. On that note, there’s the songwriting itself. There’s little in terms of dynamics or instrumentation to differentiate one song from another. The result is, again, that the sole point of interest is Turner’s lyrics.

What we’re left with is an album that feels like a bridge to something potentially magnificent just as Humbug was a bridge to AM. Yet, it’s even harder now to tell what the payoff for this uneven offering will be. At least we got Turner’s acerbic thoughts on Donald Trump: “The leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.” My thoughts exactly?

arctic

 

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