Review: Arctic Monkeys Album – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
I’m an over thinker. I just want it out there that I’m aware of this fact before I go into an intense ramble about a flawed rating system and why this album review and any review at all in fact, is within itself – complete and utter bullshit.
We’re now 2 months in from the release of Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and spurred on mainly by their lack of inclusion in so many ‘Best of 2018 So Far’ lists being published by music blogs/sites (with some publications going as far as making comment that the album needs to be forgotten) I felt the need to clap back and explain (in lengthy detail – apologies!) why in this punter’s opinion, it is by far one of the best releases thus far.
Spoiler: I’m giving this album four out of five, (but the song ‘Four Out Of Five’ I’m giving five out of five). Confused? Well it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Let’s begin by looking at the rating system itself. Do we all agree that the scale doesn’t end at 5? Can there be a 6 out of 5? What exactly does the scale relate to? One’s first assumption would be a percentage, like 4/5 is 80%. Does that mean 80% of the album is good and 20% is shite?
Or maybe the grading relates to expectation. If so, does that mean that there is an infinite scale? If for example the Monkeys’ last LP AM received a rating of 5 out of 5 based on expectation and delivery, does that mean that hearing The Beatles for the first time could receive a rating of 468 out of 5?
If it isn’t an infinite scale, then 5 out of 5 equals absolute perfection and therefore we’d need to honestly question whether we have even heard a ‘5 out of 5’ album yet. Will we ever? Each and every song on such an album would have to have been created equally as brilliant and be perfect in their own right, so one track could not stand out as better than another. I’d say that although we feel as though some songs/albums come close to or approach perfection, we need to acknowledge the fact that the limit does not exist.
Still with me? Well my reasoning behind the dissection of the aforementioned rating system – at all – is because of:
a) the fact that the enjoyment of music/art is so very subjective and;
b) the extremely divided reviews surrounding Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino that have flooded in since it landed on 11th May, 2018.
The thread of comments on any of their Facebook posts pertaining to the album perfectly sum up the polarisation of how people are feeling: love it or hate it/get it or don’t get it.
Below is a perfect example. There is discussion around a lyric taken from the tenth track on the album titled ‘Batphone’ that reads:
“I launch my fragrance called ‘Integrity’
I sell the fact that I can’t be bought”
Now apparently Mitch Gibson here thinks that an 8-year-old could write better lyrics than that:
This is where it becomes all too apparent that Mitch and others like him are taking the lyrics at face value only and not looking any deeper at all – which is totally fine if this is how you consume music – but it does not stand to reason then, that Alex Turner is a mediocre lyricist nor that he is going to launch an aftershave (he totally should though). Unfortunately for one-dimensional Mitch however, the two lines that he chose to rag on form what is in actuality, a fucking brilliant lyric with complex thought behind it. Turner (or the character in the song) begins by selling ‘Integrity’ as a product. He markets this label/brand of ‘Integrity’ by advertising the fact/promoting the image that he cannot be bought (or bought off), ironically because he has integrity. It’s an ironic cycle and a clever one at that, which thankfully old mate Chris Real (I’m sure that’s his real name) defended concisely as shown. Throw in the fact that he used the word ‘launch’, which also manages to subconsciously adhere to the outer-space theme of the album.
The lyrics on the album in general are quite reflective of life on Earth today and what that looks like, despite (or perhaps because of) the overlying thematic concept. Take the song, ‘She Looks Like Fun’ as an example. You can literally visualise the subject female’s Instagram feed in your head, beginning perhaps with her profile pic depicting her sipping a nice tropical cocktail through a straw. I can already predict the hashtags: #vacay #fambam #nomnomnom #lifegoals #toughdayattheoffice. Let me add some hashtags to the lyrics so you can read them in the way to which you have no doubt become accustomed:
“She looks like fun. #goodmorning
She looks like fun. #cheeseburger
She looks like fun. #snowboarding
She looks like fun. #Bukowski
She looks like fun. #dogsitting
She looks like fun. #screwballing”
The song forms an overt commentary on social media and the ways in which people interact nowadays via these apps. People feel the need to document every movement and minute of their existence as well as fill our timelines with bullshit inspo posts – with the “Dance like no one’s watching” meme as a shining example. Turner has altered the lyric to read:
“Dance as if somebody’s watching, ‘cause they are”
The genius behind the concept of this line cannot be understated. The chick in the song has probably posted the ‘Dance like no one’s watching’ quote, shortly before filming, posting and shaming someone for their ‘terrible’ dancing at a music festival. Alex is perhaps warning people, if you’re going to dance (or do anything in public really), you’re likely being watched (and probably recorded also, speaking from his own experience here no doubt).
He delivers brilliance again with the line:
“Finally, I can share with you through cloudy skies
Every whimsical thought that enters my mind”
From the part about “cloudy skies” alone you can draw so many meanings. Here are a few that spring to my mind:
- iCloud/online storage (obviously)
- Big Brother/satellites watching us (yet we DEMAND privacy despite posting every inane moment of our lives and a lot of personal info/locations publicly online)
- A metaphor for depression or hardship
- A filter applied to a photograph
- It’s a stretch but your devices are able to be hacked and record your actions without your knowledge. (All I know is that if Mark Zuckerberg has tape on his laptop’s camera and microphone, then we all probably should).
The song also touches on keyboard warriors and the online bullying/abuse/shit-fight that occurs in any online group or on many posts; often from people who would generally not be confident enough to say these things in person:
“Finally, there’s a place where you can wag your tongue
Baby, but why can’t we all just get along?”
Continuing with the metaphorical technology/space theme in the song, ‘Batphone’, he mentions that he was once sucked into a hole through a handheld device. I’m sure we can all relate at this point, having watched video after video on YouTube into the early hours of the morning on many occasions. It was probably after being sucked into this black hole through his phone that he stumbled upon ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ (PS: what a song title!), about which he jokingly mentions to Zane Lowe that, “we’re like living in a world where we’re flipping monster trucks forwards now.”
Oh and tell me ‘The Ultracheese’ isn’t the most heart-achingly beautiful love song you’ve ever heard. I dare you to not cry and swoon simultaneously at the poetry that is the end of this song. My God.
Four Out of Five
So this track requires its own heading because it’s just that fucking great. The song almost serves as a warning for humanity while playing out simultaneously as an advertisement for the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino; which is according to the song, conveniently located on the moon (apparently it’s an easy flight). What’s great about this song is that it’s both futuristic in its predictions but at the same time we’re basically stuck exactly as we are now. I feel that the lyrics in this song are almost depressing, in that there was some form of exodus from Earth – possibly as a reaction to climate change or any of the reasons that our planet is fast on its way to uninhabitability – and yet we’ve begun building hotels and casinos with taquerias and night clubs within them on the moon, to be gentrified by the wealthy no doubt, seemingly having learnt nothing; and we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. In fact, ‘The Information Action Ratio’ is the name of the taqueria itself and it aptly describes the exact scenario that ‘happened’ to Earth and appears to be repeating itself again here on the moon. Would this taqueria be utilising sustainable, ethically sourced products? Humans have a lot and are continuing through research to accumulate a lot of information (about say, I dunno, the use of fossil fuels, plastics, vaccinations, over-fishing, any god damned thing) but the ratio of action being taken to mitigate the effects of these issues on the planet is extremely small; and with the Trumps of the world in power (wearing their ‘Golden Trunks’) we could even be regressing in this regard (see: the US withdrawing from the Paris agreement or any of Trump’s tweets pertaining to climate change – or anything at all – covfefe anyone?).
But my absolute favourite lines of the song take place at The Information Action Ratio taqueria and consist of the utterly beautiful, poetic line of:
“The only time that we stop laughing is to breathe or steal a kiss”
Followed directly by the ‘douche trying to act cool with his connections’ line that is just so far removed from the line preceding it:
“I can get you on the list for all the clubs”
It just doesn’t get better.
I believe this song (and the album too) follows on nicely from AM, specifically ‘Arabella’ who, as you’ll recall, was made from outer space and wore a silver Barbarella swimsuit – perhaps while she was on or at the Lunar surface on a Saturday night? And maybe ‘Star Treatment’ could follow on from ‘Arabella’, with the light from the sunset that was behind her now taking forever to get to her eyes, and he’s now haunting that little lady from the back seat. Or maybe – and keep in mind that this is also highly likely – I’ve read way too much into it.
Again delving way too deep into thought, I’ve noticed that there is an interesting parallel that could be drawn between the musical/career trajectory of Arctic Monkeys and that of The Strokes – the band Turner claims he at one time wished he was a part of, in the massively discussed opening lyric of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino from ‘Star Treatment’:
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes”
Curiously, it was The Strokes’ third album titled, First Impressions of Earth that divided fans and critics in a similar way that TBH&C is doing now. The Strokes have certainly fallen a long way since their descent back down to Earth and Turner & co are now arguably the biggest stars in alternative rock. So perhaps Turner is now thanking his lucky stars that he was a Monkey instead.
But could this progressive album see the band suffer the same fate? Only time will tell. In Turner’s own words from ‘Science Fiction’:
“But I’ve a feeling that the whole thing
may well just end up too clever for its own good”
Maybe Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino did end up too clever for its own good. It is definitely not an album of bangers like AM was, nor does it sound like any of the releases that preceded AM. But why should it? If you want to listen to the same thing, those classic albums are all still available! Alex Turner and Arctic Monkeys have moved past it; they’re now “gazing skyward”. I believe that Reddit user ‘petrovien’ has addressed it perfectly to be honest:
Well thanks for sticking with me through that.
TL;DR: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is different but good, in this chump’s opinion.
Let me know what you thought of the album or any of my rambling, incoherent thoughts via the socials.