Release date: May 11, 2018
With their first studio release in five years — following 2013’s AM — Arctic Monkeys divulge from their more traditional rock sound into a psychedelic fever dream seemingly influenced by David Bowie, The Beatles, The Eagles, and Beat Happening, with the poetic underpinnings of Bob Dylan and the crooning of Roy Orbison.
Arctic Monkeys released Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino without any promotional singles because the band wanted it to be taken as a whole, which is a risk for multiple reasons: it’s harder to draw in new fans without singles; within the new digital landscape of music, the entire concept of “albums” is sure to soon fall by the wayside; but, most of all, because there’s no anchor for the album. One of the biggest challenges in creating an album is weaving a thematic thread throughout all of the songs without making them sound the same, and especially without a single for people to grab onto, that risk increases tenfold.
And most of the tracks on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino do sound the same, but instead of feeling trite, Arctic Monkeys manages to weave a seamless tapestry of sound. The tracks themselves don’t have the 2-3 seconds of silence between them, as is customary on most albums as a sort of palette cleanser, which makes the 11-track, 40 minute album listen as much more of an experience than a compilation. This album has great “character development;” you start at the beginning in one place, and you end up in a different place at the end due to small changes throughout, instead of a big, jarring climax.
It’s hard to stay present listening to Tranquility because the songs are so trippy they just beg your brain to take you on a ride, but the Monkeys pull you back in at key points with lines like “what do you mean you haven’t seen Blade Runner?” (“Star Treatment”), “it’s all getting gentrified” (“Four out of Five”), perhaps my favorite, “dancing in my underpants / I’m gonna run for government” (“One Point Perspective”), and “kiss me underneath the moon’s side boob,” from the title track.
“Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” itself is reminiscent of “Hotel California” without being copy-cat. Obviously there’s a parallel in the name, but the whole vibe of the track is eerie and, although I’ve never seen it, what I assume would be similar to the feeling you get when watching Shawshank Redemption. Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys frontman, croons: “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino / Mark speaking / please tell me; how may I direct your call?” There’s a kind of pleading in Turner’s voice that makes him sound like he’s trapped in this world and “can check out but never leave.”
The real genius of this album, though, is the instrumentation. Tranquility works because of its layers. The 40 minute experience seems much longer because there’s so much to decode and listen for, not because it’s boring, AKA the trap that so much current pop music falls into. With each listen, there’s a new drum fill to hear, a new base line to notice, a new piece to uncover. Soft and sweet but deep and full, Tranquility proves that the “album”is still very much alive and well.