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.