Evan Balikos/Contributing Writer
Arctic Monkeys return to music after being under the radar for five years with an unexpected approach to their sound. Their latest release has been likened to lounge pop: a genre of easy-listening music that matches the promoted themes of relaxing and hypnotic that the band had cryptically advertised.
In addition to this musical left-turn, Arctic Monkeys had decided to not release any singles or drop any music videos; they clearly wanted listeners to go in with no expectations. Although the album was met with mixed reviews, it is important to remember that mixed reviews aren’t necessarily congruent with bad albums. However, even with a proper approach to criticism, this album does not take the cake.
The album revs its engine and takes off at five miles per hour, and it never goes any higher than that. 60s and 70s influenced rhythm sections—stained with balladeer piano keys and layers of streaking synths—are the prime elements in all the instrumentals, paired with Alex Turner’s sufficient smart-guy crooning.
Gone away is the glossy digital layering from their last project “AM,” and buried in the ground are the raucous punky outbursts of older entries like “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” and “Favourite Worst Nightmare.” There’s plenty of space for Turner’s head-turning witticisms though, only this time we can’t turn our heads away. The lyrics become vital to understanding just what it is Alex is talking about (if it’s even worth understanding).
“Do you remember where it all went wrong? / Technological advances really bloody get me in the mood.” Turner sings on the title track in combative poeticism, reflecting abstract political dismay with his known side of sensuality
Listeners will make their mind up about this album quickly. Though this may be the band’s intention, it’s purely problematic that the concept Turner has for the album is the 1969 site for the first moon landing paired with dystopian capitalists overtaking society. That is a screwball idea and not necessarily one that sells itself so easily, as several songs like “American Sports” and “Science Fiction” will fight to hammer in his points. Yet, albums that thrive on the idea of “dystopian dance parties” aren’t anything new; last year’s Gorillaz album “Humanz” is a good example, and Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy” glues itself together with ideas of armageddon and lunacy in the age of Trump.
“Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” indulges into the fantasy with sounds coming from the room of a drugged-out loner reveling in the cynicism of a world at war, and never really looking out the window for longer than a second. He instead looks at his phone and records his thoughts on “The First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip.”
“You push the button and we’ll do the rest/ The exotic sound of data storage,” he sings hypnotically while a whimsical organ instrumental backs him.
It’s disappointing to hear this 32-year-old heartthrob sound like an old guy yelling at a cloud. I became eminently tired of these repetitious chord progressions, and the only padding left for me was Turner’s wall of pretentious lyricism.
But words aside, he is doing everything in his power to transport the listener into his methodical mind, whether it is recalling “Sgt. Pepper”-influenced melodies for songs about characters or using a whirly “monster movie synth” to insulate his fictional atmosphere.
However, his smugness and penchant for being bizarre is too much to take seriously on “Four Out of Five.”
“I put a taqueria on the roof/ it was well reviewed/ Four stars out of five,” he boasts on the five-minute track, reflecting on the acclaim for the band’s last album, “AM.”
Turner hates three things on this album: modern society, modern technology and himself. “Star Treatment” sees him disparaging his old personas, thrusting all accountability on his fans for making him this way.
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/ Now look at the mess you made me make,” he name-drops on the track, harkening back to the humble beginnings of early 2000’s indie rock.
It’s bratty jabs like these, which are splattered all over the album, that convince me Turner was looking to anger and confuse fans that liked the last album, or possibly everything after “Humbug—” their period of musical transition that simultaneously isolated and brought in fans. And they achieved it, there is quite possibly no correlation between the two albums, and fans are looking at this sixth entry as either a thrilling change-up or a hovering disappointment.
Nonetheless in 2018, Arctic Monkeys have delivered to us “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” and I am anything but calm as I try to digest the not-so-subtle Trumpisms lying on the surface of “Golden Trunks.”
I’ll be honest, this album may be the band’s first failure. It is divisive in its lyrics, sound and theme, and I am unsure if I want to go back for a third listen. There will be fans of it, but possibly only those who understand the album as a stoic spectator would, never as the detective Turner hopes for.
My biggest problem with the project is how boring it is, how quickly it can become background music if you lost focus on Turner’s vocals. The rhythm is constantly rocking back and forth, with Turner fighting to feed us multisyllabic words and awkward transitions into five minutes, more or less.
Only time will tell if this album will be a viable addition to the Monkeys’ discography and keep them situated as one of the most popular rock bands in the world, or if it will isolate them from the rest of the Earth.
Photo retreieved from the Arctic Monkeys Facebook page.