Writer: Kyle Wheelock
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m a diehard Arctic Monkeys fan. Truth be told, I’ve only listened to AM (2013) and Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), and I love both of those albums for similar reasons. Favourite Worst Nightmare is fast, it’s loud, kind of rough around the edges, but still really great. And then there’s AM, a blend of psych rock, hard rock, and, according to Alex Turner himself, Dr. Dre beats. It was more of a mixed bag as far as sound and styles go when compared to Favourite Worst Nightmare, it still had the driving tracks that I loved, but also some downtempo cuts that gave the album more variety and ultimately more replayability.
Now, enter Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, A slower, jazzier departure from those two albums. So far, it’s been dubbed as lounge pop and space pop, both of which are genres I was initially unfamiliar with but after looking into them both, I can see why those descriptors were attached to this record. The songs are a lot softer than anything else I’ve heard from the band, there’s a lot less guitar riffs, but the songs as a whole feel lavish and full.
The percussion throughout this thing stays within the song, drummer Matt Helders doesn’t try to do too much, just what’s needed to set the mood, which is incredibly important here. TBH&C has a loose concept incorporated into it, one that tells a sci-fi story of a sleazy resort on the moon, home to high rollers that would fit right in with the Rat Pack back in the 1960s. Or, that’s what Turner wants to go for at least, the actual execution is another one of those situations where I can’t tell if it’s genius or just half-assed. The space resort lounge idea sounds cool in theory and I definitely could envision it while listening to this album, but the lyrics don’t always fully commit to this concept. Sure, the album can be clever and even a little funny at times, but some of the ideas come off as scatterbrained and undeveloped, and I’m not sure if these ramblings are exactly that, or if there’s another layer to them that I’m just not getting.
But let’s just assume that Turner is really off his rocker here and the lyrics are just nonsense. If that’s the case, I’m still willing to give the album a pass simply because it really captures the feel of lounge music beautifully. I mentioned earlier that I could envision the concept in my head while I listened, and I still stand by that regardless of the quality the lyrics. I used to shuffle through Rat Pack albums during my high school years, and I really got a feel for the environment that those guys operated in. A room full of booze, suits, and socializing, a place everyone (generally) comes to have a good time while a well dressed singer performs in the background. If I lost you back there I’m sorry, but the scene had to be laid out.
This is all to say, I get the whole lounge music aesthetic, and I appreciate it for what it is. TBH&C may not be the most sound project lyrically, but I’m willing to give it a pass because the instrumentation here is beautiful and different than anything I’ve heard from them before. The way Turner plays with his voice on all 11 tracks here, from a low octave tone that sounds like a Barry White impression, to higher pitched falsettos and weird little inflections, the band as a whole is definitely experimenting with sounds here, resulting in an almost cinematic collection of odd tracks that showcase a real growth in the band. After repeated listens, TBH&C really feels like a bunch of well put together, downtempo pieces made to accompany the artsy ramblings of a drunken hotel guest, the meaning of which is either profound or nonsense (that’s the part I haven’t been able to figure out yet still).
However, depending on who you are, the final product will vary immensely. Yes, art is subjective and we all know that, but something about this record here is incredibly polarizing. Publications for the most part either think it’s genius, or it’s incredibly underwhelming, and there isn’t too much middleground between these opinions. Not one song on here really feels like a radio hit single to me, whereas AM started with three such tracks, and maybe that’s what might rub listeners the wrong way. This album is definitely different in almost every way, but different (at least to me) doesn’t inherently mean bad; personally I like the album so far, but I’m not super in love with it. But maybe that’ll change, maybe in a few months TBH&C will be my favorite album of the year, it really is too early to tell. With all that being said, I’d definitely suggest you don’t write this album off as either genius or garbage immediately, it took Arctic Monkeys five years to give us this project, so placing it in either column after just under a week feels like a disservice, especially when the final product is something so out of leftfield like this.
Tl;DR: It’s pretty good, weird, but still pretty good.