Arctic Monkeys return with a solar-eclipsed decopunk masterpiece.
In the five years that followed the raw and youthful aggression of their debut Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Now
(2006), the Arctic Monkey's pressed on to release another three albums in the form of the yet more relentless Favourite Worst Nightmare
(2007), the desert rock coated Humbug
(2009) and perhaps the most contemporary Suck It and See
(2011) in capturing something from everything that preceded it. AM
(2013) then seized this formula and amplified it at three times the magnitude to create one of the most definitive albums of the decade through uniquely combining R&B rhythms, stoner rock riffs and an ever more prevalent rockabilly version of Alex Turner who has been in waiting since the day Josh Homme planted a seed fresh from the Palm Desert sand within him. The years that have followed AM's success however, left fans soaking in the anticipation over what card the four-piece from Sheffield would play next. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
is that card, however calling it a radical departure from their previous grain, as so many critics, have described it so far, would be a somewhat contrived one to make when viewed in the actual context.
Whilst the rest of the band cannot be accused of sitting on their laurels, with Matt Helders accepting a place as Iggy Pop's drummer 2015's Post Pop Depression
tour for example, it is Alex who has been observed with the most intense intrigue during the hiatus; erupting upon the announcement of a new Last Shadow Puppets album. Everything You've Come to Expect
(2016) lived up to its billing insofar as the development of the frontman's rockabilly alter-ego was concerned, with regards to how it celebrates Alex's budding taste for diesel, wax and leather jackets, but very few would have made the prophecy that he would strive to come as close as to wearing the spirit of blue-eyed soul itself along with the figureheads of Elvis, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. One could consider this as a confirmation of the once quiet but artistically brash Northerner finally upping sticks and resetting his roots in Nashville to take a place alongside the other deep warbling voices of Southern state melancholia.
This is why, that in spite of the album's potent neo-noir abundance created and maintained by the murky dampened downtempo drum loops and the vintage organ waiting for its cue in the shadows as in 'Four Out Of Five', the term 'radical' should be denied to it. 'Tranquility Base' simply feels, on the first listen, like business as usual for Alex in his individual pursuit to see to his unceasing Mississippi itches as opposed to a collective effort by the band. Apart from 'One Point Perspective', perhaps the only track where Jamie Cook's renowned reverberated harmonic fillers can even be heard, the arrangements are built entirely around the expressionistically-triggered frontman to the extent that the band dynamic is unrecognisable and sometimes completely indistinguishable from the baroque and psychedelic dream pop moments of the Last Shadow Puppets. This is particularly the case with the album's closer, 'The Ultracheese' which would have everything going for it commercially if it were not released several decades after its time. Even so, it remains difficult not to appreciate the solid commitment to perpetuating this nightcap-in-a-wine-cellar theme throughout the course of the album's length. For this, it is worth giving mention to 'Star Treatment' which transmits the sensation of a lone melancholic soul floating endlessly in deep space like Black Sabbath's 'Planet Caravan', and 'Batphone' which like the former, triumphs through the fusion of Nick O'Malley's plump traveling bass line, the lunar-scoped piano and the subtle but salient sci-fi synthesis in evocating this sense of eclipse.
The decision to release the album without a promotional single is therefore justified in how it offers the listener the opportunity to fully indulge in its lush and tranquil soundscape without the isolationism of a single release, interrupting the cohesion. The result, is that one cannot help but immerse themselves in enjoying being sat in a smoky decopunk themed lounge with cigars, good whiskey and fine company with background ambience provided by an old cracking up twenties radio; almost like a utopian version of Bioshock. For achieving this prodigious and ethereal vision, Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino
deserves to be commended as extraordinary work of art, if not a left-field masterpiece, for doing what some would regard as the impossible in producing over forty minutes of compelling serenity. This may not be the Arctic Monkeys whom the masses have followed to the hills up to now, but perhaps this is because nobody knew who they were in the first place.
Photo Credit: Zackery Michael