Arctic Monkeys are, by this point, one of the longest lasting and most successful acts to come out of the garage rock revival that occurred in the early 2000’s. It goes without saying that the band has a massive fan base, and any release from them would be an affair to watch. It is also worth noting that the band has undergone relatively significant changes in sound over the course of their career. Anything You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was a raucous affair of short, pulse-pounding tunes with wordsmith Alex Turner coming up with endless ways to cleverly convey relatively straight-forward sentiment. The result is an album that feels like simple pleasures, but actually has some depth and intelligence to it. Fast-forward to AM, the band’s previous album, and we get a much different picture. Alex Turner’s lyricism has moved in a much more subdued direction, with the band embracing a blues-oriented style that more closely resembles rock and roll as it originally existed. The album was less complicated and had less depth, but this was replaced with an ease that managed to still be exciting, especially since no one was really moving in this direction. AM has proven to be possibly just as influential on the movement of commercial rock as anything the band has done.
From that, we have this, Arctic Monkey’s sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, an album so radically different from anything that the Arctic Monkeys have done that it is almost impossible to recognize the band anymore. In fact, the only recognizable part is Alex Turner’s voice. What we have here is essentially a concept album, and the concept at work appears to be making music for and about the titular hotel and casino, which happens to be on the moon. The result is lounge music for the space age, with all the requisite ethereal production and timbre, as well as a constant sense of chill. To their credit, I believe Arctic Monkeys have captured this mood precisely. Alex Turner’s voice sounds perfectly suited as the lounge singer, and the instrumentation of each song continuously keeps up the spaced-out vibe that was clearly the point.
Unfortunately, I believe the Arctic Monkeys have captured the mood so perfectly that they seem to have forgotten that they were making an album, which implies that they would have separate songs or distinct moments. Literally every song (and I do mean every song) on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino has the same tempo, the same intensity, and very nearly the same sound. Some songs have more lounge and some have more space, and some are more crisp while others are more psychedelic, but all of them end up largely blending into each other. I personally found it easy to lose track of where I was in the album if I did not pay close attention. Usually I like to go more into individual tracks, but here I do not really need to. All of the songs are essentially in the same boat, and while that boat is well-built, it is still just taking you in one direction.
This could be fine for its own purposes, since the musical qualities of the album are very good, song-by-song. The actual problem comes with how much the album is reaching for profound ideas and commentary in the lyrics. This means we have an album of music that sounds like it is meant to hang in the background, but with lyrics that we are being asked to pay close attention to and try to break down. Ultimately, these lyrics are obscure references to philosophical topics, Arctic Monkeys ruminating on fame (like we have not ever heard an artist do that before), and making sarcastic statements about the state of the world and society. However, with no musical grounding to make engaging in this with the Arctic Monkeys enticing. I cannot help but feel the album is weird cross between a boring lecture on a topic that a better teacher could make interesting, and a guy at a party holding a drink in his hand, watching everybody dance while he has a raised eyebrow and a smirk about how above it he is. I do not think Arctic Monkeys are either of these people, which makes it disappointing that it come across this way. If there is one thing Arctic Monkeys have never been, it is boring. If there is a second thing, it is inaccessible, but I am someone who like dreamy music and abstract ideas who did not feel like they got much from the album by the end.
That all being said, I want to make sure I reiterate that the album is not terrible, unlistenable, or unpleasant. I actually can see myself going back to this album and listening to it again, because it is pleasant enough to carry along in the background while I do other things. It might not be any more than this, but it is this. Honestly, though, they pulled off the concept and sounds so well that it makes me look forward to what they could do next with the lounge and space vibe they have established here. I just hope they bring in more solid grounding and exciting music, because the lack of either has made this album of well-written and well-intentioned music fall short of what it could have been.