A hitchhiker’s guide to earth

 

Tranquility Base

Photo credit: Alex Turner's official Instagram page

Warning: This is not the sort of album you’ll be getting drunk to at your favourite drinking hole or getting sweaty to at the hottest club. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is not here to entertain you but rather to warn you. What Arctic Monkeys have created is an album filled with shattered sci-fi fantasies, critique, introspection, regret, and acceptance from a hotel with a perfect view of a broken pale blue dot.

Turner is fed up, both with himself and with the world, and he’s getting serious. If Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker were to have a love child it would be Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. The album carries the same sense of brooding and regret with a hint of psychedelia that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to something out of Alabama Shakes’ catalogue. Set in a hotel on the spot where man walked on the moon for the first time, we are treated to an examination of the world as well as Turner’s views on where his life has taken him.

The album is set in a hotel that exists because of a mass exodus of planet Earth probably following a world-wide disaster of some sort, a theme that reinforces the sci-fi bent that flows throughout Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. From his position in the hotel Turner forces us to take a hard look at the state of the world. In his eyes it’s a world where politicians act more like entertainers who will bend and sway to public demand just for a few extra votes and where curated online profiles are more important than real-life personalities.

Turner is notoriously wary of social media and it doesn’t get more heavy-handed than this. ‘Smile like you’ve got a straw in something tropical’ he croons in She Looks Like Fun. a daring, intimidating song that describes a world where thoughts can be shared in the blink of an eye and where people will be validated for saying good morning and sharing photos of their cheeseburgers. But it isn’t that easy. In this song ‘There’s no limit to the length of the dickheads we can be’ as anyone can say what they want. A song that is simultaneously comforting and destructive.

Then there are the ways in which social media and technology gently take control of people’s lives. The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip opens with the line ‘You push the button and we’ll do the rest’ with a melody that sounds like it came out of a circus from the wrong side of town. It’s a song about how people willingly give their personal data to social media corporations and allow themselves to be distracted by sex and stories of monster trucks doing front flips. All of which, according to Turner, are designed to distract the general populace from what’s really happening.

American Sports creates a landscape in which the truth exists on a spectrum where it can never be false. ‘They took the truth and made it fluid’ and that can only be accepted. Turner compares the political system to sports as he speaks of ‘a montage of latest ancient ruins soundtracked by a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing”‘ as he frantically tries to say that protest is futile.

‘I sell the fact that I can’t be bought.’ A line that wants to be heard in Batphone attempts to highlight the hypocrisy that is rife in a world where creating a brand is the only way to survive. Even individualists, people who don’t want to fit in or sell out have to conform if they want to stay relevant. Four Out of Five takes a more satirical view of contemporary advertising by dressing up as an advertisement for the Tranquility Base Hotel. ‘Advertise in imaginative ways, start your free trial today’ pokes fun at the lack of originality in a world that is dependent on creativity and originality.

But the Tranquility Base Hotel is not as spectacular as its view of Earth. In this fictitious space all of the issues that have been lamented throughout the album have hitched a ride to the lunar lap of luxury which is rated four out of five stars, by the way. Technology has replaced all that was previously considered sacred as Jesus fills out an information form in the day spa and Turner personally has a weekly video chat with God. Gentrification grips the hotel as an old, washed up rock star makes easy money as a lounge singer in the bar as he dreams of the life he wishes he had and Turner wants answers to where it all went wrong as the music around him brings his inner turmoil to life.

But this album is not all about social media and politics. Star Treatment welcomes us into the album by showing us how Turner ‘just wanted to be one of the Strokes’ but lost his way in the pursuit of success. He feels that fame and success have corrupted him as he looks back on the dreams that he had when he embarked on his musical journey. ‘It’s the star treatment’ he says. A fickle sun that sets on artists faster than it does on the equator. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is rounded off by The Ultracheese. A memorial to the friends that he made and lost along the way, whose pictures still hang on his walls. It’s a song about regret, loss, and acceptance as he decides that at the end of it all his one true love is and will always be music.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a step away from what fans of Arctic Monkeys expect. It’s dark, brooding, and introspective and the lyrics are the focal point. It isn’t background music and it would be disrespectful to form a full opinion of it after just one listen. It’s a thematically diverse album that forces us to look at ourselves by taking us away from ourselves and that makes it immediately deserving of respect.

 

 

 

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Same sound – Different band

the-longshot

Photo credit: The Longshot official Instagram page

The build-up leading to The Longshot’s debut album Love Is For Losers was brief but intriguing. After a few weeks of secretive social media activity followed by a few ambiguous Instagram posts, Billie Joe Armstrong’s new project surprised everyone with an album that seems shiny from a distance. After some promise in the opening tracks the album is fleshed out by monotony and then rounded off by a partial cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s Goodbye To Romance. 

The Last Time opens the album up with a real kick. There’s no build up. No warning. Just a sucker punch into the ears before Billie Joe’s trademark voice delivers vocals in a truly pop-punk fashion. They’re catchy and digestible with a predictable rhyme-scheme which means that all you have to do is sit back, relax, and get taken back to a time of juvenile heartbreak and self-pitying. The verses are accented with a fun clap-beat while the chorus is filled out with a 50s style echo giving the song a happy-go-lucky feel. Leading us out of the chorus is a guitar solo that feels a bit tired and maybe even a little drunk, as if it’s trying to keep up with the backing track that’s being provided for it, a sense of confusion that is carried on through the bridge. After that it fades into obscurity as the verses and chorus are recycled in the same order.

In the third track Chasing A Ghost we hear Billie Joe take a step back and have a chuckle at being a man of his age and still being a punk rocker. This is a song about being an elder statesman in a game that, historically, has been dominated by angsty, rebellious youths. It could be seen as an aural interpretation of Ordinary World, the comedy-drama starring The Longshot frontman. Musically, the song takes a slightly different path to its predecessors as it slows down a bit and allows for more dynamics which allows the listener to take a peek into Billie Joe’s mind. Underneath the fun and the satire we see a man who is struggling to accept that the life of a punk rocker isn’t his life anymore. The break after the bridge threatens to keep flying along but then wisely slows down into a nice little guitar driven breather before jumping back into the mayhem.

The title track of an album is supposed to be a landmark. If all else fails, that should be the one track that saves it. Unfortunately Love Is For Losers is quite the opposite. The first impression is that this is Green Day if they took a green day before recording the song. It’s sluggish and, quite frankly, lazy. Almost as if the band sees the song as a filler track more than anything else. The chorus gives a tired nod to Waiting, from Green Day’s album Warning as it steals the chord progression and melody line and tries to make it its own. Lyrically the song is juvenile and makes you wonder if they were really written by Billie Joe as he tries to fill the shoes of someone embittered by love.

After Cult Hero picks up the tempo again and tells the world how Billie Joe feels like an outcast that wants to be a cult leader we’re hit with the frenetic Kill Your Friends, an angsty acceptance of death. This is the closest to a complete reincarnation of Green Day on the album as Billie Joe’s phrasing hints at something familiar and his lyrics shine a light of nostalgia on the ears of the emo generation. After the first chorus, though, it loses its sheen and becomes more like a band playing at a quiet bar in the middle of nowhere, complete with a very basic guitar solo. One’s ears might perk up at the end of the bridge as there’s an interesting little movement but after that it reverts back to the same monotony as before.

After a few more forgettable songs the album reaches its curtain call. Goodbye To Romance is a nice change of pace, if a little too late, and a mature ending to the album. While this is a cover of an Ozzy Osbourne song, the first verse was written by Billie Joe and is an honest look at the man. The rest of the song is maturely handled and has a Longshot spin on it while still staying true to the original version. For the first time it seems that all the musicians are listening to each other instead of trying to force a high energy punk sound and finally a song with movement and emotion is created. The nostalgia is there. The sadness is there and it is the perfect way to end an album about moving on.

Overall The Longshot’s first offering isn’t worth the fuss that has been made about it. A mostly monotonous trip down nostalgia lane that sounds more like a beer filled jam session between a bunch of dads than an album that is supposed to signify a new step in the careers of Billie Joe and company. While there were some good moments, namely Goodbye To Romance, as a whole the album fades into oblivion the same way that background music becomes white noise at a fancy cocktail party.

All that Love Is For Losers achieves is making the listener wonder why Billie Joe started a whole new band if all they are is an attempted re-creation of Green Day. 

America: A review

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Photo credit: Thirty Seconds To Mars Youtube Channel

After five years of something resembling anticipation Thirty Seconds To Mars dropped the next installment on their journey to obscurity. America, a concept album that tries to celebrate the idea that hope will overcome adversity, almost makes one give up all hope that this band will one day be the band they were before. With this installment they took the obvious step that comes after their experimentation in Love Lust Faith + Dreams. A catastrophe that was foretold in the travesty that is the lead single, Walk On Water.

Walk On Water, an attempted concept in itself, is supposed to be a call to arms of sorts. A sermon delivered by Jared Leto calling people to unite and fight against the issues facing them, both personal and societal. The result, however, is an auto-tuned snooze-fest with lyrics that could have been written by a ten year old with an advanced vocabulary. Its structure is also completely uninteresting and sounds like a James Patterson-esque formula that was created by a bunch of unimaginative ghost writers; a device that appears in almost every song on the album. A far cry from the complexity of From Yesterday or Edge Of The Earth, the lyrics have been beaten into tortured, cliche catch-phrases that, while being catchy, seem to carry no weight. They are given no assistance by the lackluster backing track that’s been provided for Leto’s ego.

After skipping Dangerous Nighta puerile attempt at a dark pop track, the listener is not so gently escorted into a sort of liminal space where Leto’s true emo self tries to make peace with this strange new sound it’s been set to. Rescue Me kicks off with the forgettable line ‘Whatever you do don’t play my canyon’ after which Leto goes on to sing about being the king of pain and having demons in his mind with a voice so thinned out by auto-tune that it sounds like a cup of tea that hasn’t been left to steep for long enough. Rescue Me closes out with Leto half plaintively asking to be rescued, sounding like someone who’s very comfortable with their life the way it is but feels they need to fit in with the general trend of wanting something better.

That leads into One Track Mind, an appropriate title, which has a decent enough intro that is ruined by A$AP Rocky’s indecipherable opening line. Don’t bother trying to decipher it as the actual line is too horrendous to repeat. Thirty seconds in and you’d be forgiven for wanting to go and watch paint dry as there really isn’t anything engaging enough to keep one interested. The music (what little of it there is) becomes white noise and Leto has never sounded more bored. Then there’s Leto’s delivery of the chorus. His disinterest in the song becomes evident when he noticeably starts dropping sounds from the words leaving what sounds like someone who should have been sent home from the bar three hours ago trying to string the simplest of sentences together… And then there’s A$AP Rocky’s cameo rap. At first it starts of decently enough, checking the usual boxes of success and sex but that doesn’t last long as it starts disintegrating faster than any ceasefire ever. What we’re left with is a cesspool of murdered grammar and contrived attempts at trying to fit shameless promotion of Mars into a rap that lost its way.

But all is not completely lost. The next track, Monolith, is a brooding instrumental piece that takes one back to the This Is War era. Without Leto there the musical side of the band is given a chance to really take flight and it takes on a cinematic, battle scene sort of quality. The only drawback is that the intensity that builds from fairly early on doesn’t go anywhere and plateaus for most of the song until the end where it gets a little kick which then resolves into a starkly contrasting fade out. It’s a song that comes with the potential to be something epic but isn’t given the opportunity to explore it. It’s almost like it builds up and then waits for so long that when it is finally set free it doesn’t have the energy to do anything but curl up and go to sleep.

Two songs later and fans of This Is War are given a nice reminder of better days with a little French intro that automatically reminds on of Night Of The Hunter. Dawn Will Rise is one of the better songs on the album, even if the auto-tune is a bit shaky. With the accompaniment of a brooding, heavy backing track Leto gives us a glimpse into what potentially drove the band’s new sound: a need to stay relevant. Ideological debates aside, this is possibly the most intimate he’s willing to get with his audience. Not the strongest song he’s written, lyrically, he says what he needs to say and says it in a way that you know exactly what the subtext it.

Then comes a shock to the system as well as a pleasant surprise for listeners who prefer the purer, more instrumental side of Thirty Seconds To Mars as the first thuds of muted acoustic strings float into ear-holes that have been subjected to, for the most part, a sad attempt at a pop album. Remedy reminds us that Jared Leto still knows how to write a decent song and has no reason to rely on auto-tune as much as he does. Compared to the rest of the album his use of melody here is remarkable as he shows off his range and proves that he knows how to slide into falsetto, unlike in Great Wide Open where he tries to use falsetto and ends up sounding like a fourteen year old in the grips of puberty. Remedy is a mature take on self-love and self-affirmation. A song that encourages people who feel stigmatised to really own who they are and express themselves in the way they want to. For a moment you take a step back and remember that while this band has fallen a long way from the heights of A Beautiful Lie, they do still have moments of musical craftsmanship.

America closes out with Rider, a militaristic, borderline ego-maniacal ode that sounds like a warning letter written by a controlling husband reminding his family that they need him more than he needs them. It’s melancholic edge gives it enough life to not be a downer but still ends things off with a hint of discomfort. It’s return to the same formula as a lot of the other tracks is a let down as the second half of the album outshines the first. There was a chance to really end it off well, but for whatever reason, the band felt it necessary to end the album as dully as they started it.

All in all America is a funeral march for a band that was once a powerhouse but has since become a self-parody as they search to adapt and conform. Perhaps there is some artistic value in the fact that it’s as confusing and nonsensical as its namesake.