So here we are in the second decade of the 21st century. The future, or at least that of yesteryear, is now. You’ve been lounging through cyberspace looking for a new hit of an antiquated drug. Once it was referred to as rock ‘n’ roll, but that stuff has been hard to come by for what seems an eternity. Imitations have been flooding the market with varying degrees of success, each year bringing with it a slightly different permutation disguised as a revolution.
Indie rock. New wave. Pop rock. Glam rock… at times it has been hard to score a hit. Yet here we are, having never lost faith, waiting patiently.
Arctic Monkeys have been a solid provider of rock since their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Sure, they’ve mixed it up a little bit on occasion but they’ve never lost sight of what is important. Which is obviously rock. And their fans, who more importantly, love rock.
Enter Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. The new Arctic Monkeys album was destined to save rock. Again. The band have a track record after all.
But something happened. Something unforeseen and terrible.
Enter Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino; the new Arctic Monkeys album that was destined to save rock. Again.
While he was apparently busy video calling God, or with another failed relationship, someone sneakily slipped a sliver of substance into Alex Turner’s cocktail. The poor frontman/songwriter must have been tricked and entirely helpless. He would never have consented to, much less masterminded, such an outrageous mutiny against the power from which he attained all of his personal influence and fame. He also wouldn’t dare betray the trust that the rock ‘n’roll faithful placed in him.
Yet here we are. The drums alternate between stilted hip-hop beats and odd swing inflections. The vocals slither around, playing with rhythm and rhyme as if Turner thinks he is a rapper. The big choruses that made AM such a crossover success have basically gone AWOL. And where the fuck are the guitars?
I will admit that the bass is pretty killer, doing a good job of providing groove, momentum and even melody at times. But it just isn’t right that the electric guitars seem to have been largely replaced by these twinkly, spaced-out synthesizer tones. It’s as if the band didn’t even spare a thought for the sizeable portion of their fan base that enjoy a little air guitar.
The lyrics are also decidedly not rock. I mean, he’s carrying on about technology and the trappings of fame and emotional isolation and weird nerd stuff like science fiction and space. Turner should know by now that rock music is about drugs, sex, partying and heartbreak.
I can stomach a little bit of this so called “art”, as long as I can crotch grab to it, but what the hell does “don’t you know an apparition is a cheap date?” even mean? It’s almost like he just finished mainlining whatever Bob Dylan was on when writing Highway 61 Revisted and now thinks he is both clever and funny; and while I’m not entirely sure what he is referencing most of the time I can assure you that he isn’t.
Besides who cares that I haven’t seen Blade Runner. No one liked that movie when it first came out anyways. Just like how people don’t like Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino right now. Take it from me, an established music critic, time is never kind to artists that take too many risks and muck around with their fan’s expectations. Do you think David Bowie, God rest his soul, got to where he did by pulling this kind of s… Wait. Hold on a second. I’ll be right back…
Ok. So this is how it is. I may have been a little premature in my condemnation of the new Arctic Monkeys album. After my second playthrough… of the first track and what preceded it… I think there might be something there. The music, while not as sexy or frenetic as past releases, does posses a charming combination of groove, swagger and mood.
It’s the perfect backdrop for Turner’s unusual rap/crooning hybrid delivery and the intriguingly opaque, yet wickedly clever lyrics that he expels. Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of storytelling or emotional catharsis to be found here. To be fair, sense has a habit of falling by the wayside too.
However, the mix of surreal imagery and wit, when combined with Turner’s undeniable talent for phrasing and language, makes for an engaging diatribe on modern life.
Arctic Monkeys have been with us now for over a decade. On Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino they show us that they are not prepared to rehash old ideas or survive on past glories. They have proven themselves capable of transformation, and in doing so, have suggested that they may be a great band rather than a band with some great albums.
Besides, if you are surprised or offended that a band whose debut album was titled Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not attempted a drastic change of direction, then you really mustn’t have been paying attention all that hard.