ARCTIC MOON KEYS
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:17 June 2022
The Guardian observed that it "strips out the rock". Rolling Stone magazine called it "a weird lounge music detour". The Irish Times predicted that fans of the multi-million selling AM "will be left scratching their heads". Vulture pondered the irony of abandoning "the thing that (brought) international success" as a strategy for moving forwards. Welcome to the hermetically sealed, retro-future world of the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
Angst is out and ennui is in. Songwriter Alex Turner is the jaded lounge lizard propped up by a night club piano. The persona is so different from the guitar-band frontman of yesteryear that the album really is like visiting another planet… in this case, the moon. Here you can check into the Tranquility Base hotel and fritter away the hours at the in-house casino, blotting out the mess we’ve made of the planet below. As the night wears on and the cocktail count mounts like gambling losses, make sure you don’t confuse your moon room-key with the gambling chips.
Having set this scene, it’s worth noting that this isn’t Turner and Arctic Monkeys trying to do Burt Bacharach. It’s just that the power channelled here is not that of amped up guitars and assault drums as per the previous album; it's more the power to evade Earth’s gravity and the inexorable pull of what has gone before. This is done with sly references to debased popular culture and the corrupting nature of fame. In "Batphone" Turner wryly boasts, I launch my fragrance called "Integrity", I sell the fact that I can’t be bought. Yet there is insecurity, too. Opening song "Star Treatment" begins with an astonishing disclosure… I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, Turner sings. Later in the same song the irony kicks in: I’m a big name in deep space.
Given it is set on a celestial body totally without air, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino has loads of atmosphere. Musically there are neat arrangements (often featuring piano) and tight harmonies. The rest of the band is present but muted, complaisantly serving a supporting role. Murph and the Magitones might well have been the model, but there are differences. These lyrics are well crafted and the playing is understated but spirited. The fatigue is affected, the malaise theatrical rather than oppressive. No "Quando Quando Quando" here.
As a kind of louche homage to the colour and excess of the early Seventies, Tranquility delivers. The title track and "Four Out Of Five" were released as singles and although neither set the charts alight, the album comfortably reached the #1 position in the UK, Australia and several European countries.
Since the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino in May 2018 there has been no new studio album, just the live set released in 2020. Which begs the question, where will Alex Turner and the band travel next? Will they return to Earth or head further into the solar system? Watch this space.
© Bruce Jenkins, June 2022