Arctic Monkeys fall asleep on lounge-focused ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’
I really want to praise the Arctic Monkeys for trying something new. It must take a lot of bravery to throw away your iconic sound and replace it with something as lifeless as the lounge-music stylings on “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.”
The Arctic Monkeys have been slowly whittling away at what I liked about them for a few years now.
Their debut record, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” was filled with an exciting, blistering sort of punk rock. The follow-up to that, “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” made them indie rock darlings.
But since then, I think they’ve been in a slow, downward trajectory. It’s almost like they wasted all of their energy on those first two records, and have just been sluggishly falling asleep in the subsequent decade.
On “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” they’ve finally conked out, falling into the uneasy slumber of a lush who’s had one too many.
And before we get too far into this, I want to be clear. I don’t think that all rock albums should be harder, nor am I faulting the Arctic Monkeys simply for shifting their sound.
The issue is that they’ve shifted to a sound that they’re just not that good at.
Throughout my time spent with “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” I couldn’t stop myself from consistently thinking that the group must have been spending a lot of time with David Bowie’s final record, “Blackstar.”
Bowie’s album is a stirring mix of lounge sounds, jazz and experimental rock, fraught with the existential dread of Bowie dealing with his own impending death. This Arctic Monkeys record makes a stab at many of the same sounds, but doesn’t pack nearly the same sort of emotion into it, saddling the album with snoozers of songs featuring some drab lyrics.
Let’s look at the title track, for example. Named for the actual spot on the moon where humans first landed, the hotel and casino could easily serve as a backdrop for something interesting.
Instead, though, lead singer Alex Turner seizes the opportunity to make a few vague references to the moon, and offers up one of the lamest choruses I’ve heard in a while:
“Good afternoon, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” he lazily croons. “Mark speaking, Please, tell me, how may I direct your call?”
And that’s basically it for the chorus of that song.
It feels like a lame attempt at shoehorning a concept into an album that doesn’t actually have one by introducing characters who don’t actually do anything.
The record as a whole is filled with these sorts of little ideas that don’t seem to signify anything outside of themselves.
“The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip” is an odd little song, featuring almost haunted-house style organs in the background, with Turner’s vocals sounding almost menacing as he chants “You push the button and we’ll do the rest” at the beginning of the track.
But then you consider the fact that the title of the song has virtually nothing to do with the song itself. Turner vaguely references the title, that’s been lifted from news headlines circulating last year announcing, well, the world’s first ever monster-truck front flip.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Turner said that he just had to name a song after the headline. And that’s exactly what it feels like he did: just name a random song after the headline because it sounded cool. There’s no direction for the idea.
In fact, I would say the entirety of “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” suffers from a constant lack of direction. Ideas are referenced, and then immediately tossed to the wayside.
Even the whole new lounge sound the band has taken on feels like it wasn’t justified at all. If you’re going to make a sudden shift to the sounds of yesteryear, you need to be able to prove you had a good reason to do it (see Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” for a better example).
The Arctic Monkeys didn’t seem to have a reason, good or otherwise. I’m only hoping that after the slumber of this record, they can wake up and have more fun again.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Album: ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Best Track: ‘She Looks Like Fun’ (only because it reminds me of the Beatles song, ‘I Want You/She’s So Heavy’)
Worst Track: ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’