Music Reviews
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

(Domino) Rating - 5/10

Being at the top of your game is such boring business. Just ask Arctic Monkeys, who once tanned in the California sun and adopted the city of Los Angeles as its source of inspiration for their mid-career peak. It somehow worked. AM, their 2013 release, positioned them as the biggest rock band on both sides of the continent. And who could blame them - a greased-up, slick Alex Turner - the band's Jim Morrison reincarnate - had shed his Sheffield-born suburban malaise to cast out his rock star fantasy.

Arctic Monkeys had become a walking cliché of Tinseltown sleaze, except that it's an ancient archetype that continues to sell arena seats. And the tunes were there - take R U Mine?, a worn-out example of blues-rock euphoria that, mind its ear-splitting guitar riff, is catchier than a California wildfire. AM was a bonafide success, cementing the cheeky monkeys as the new saviors - as if we haven't heard that one before - of dwindling, corporatized rock music.

You'd except Arctic Monkeys to upend the swinging backbeats of AM for a follow-up, take them all the way to 11. Instead, a Steinway piano came along to ruin all the fun. A present Turner received for his thirtieth birthday, the Steinway is fundamental to the breezy, coked-up atmosphere of their sixth album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Turner not only utilizes it as an occasional red herring, he practically wrote the entirety of the album on it. He's also not very good at playing the thing.

In what must've been a necessary shot of reinvention, Turner looks towards the retro-space-age cool of jazz lounge for a potential change in direction. Turner peaks early on Star Treatment, an imaginary six-minute daydream where he assumes the role of an aging rock star who makes ends meet somewhere outside of Earth. He plinks those piano notes like a workmanlike lounge lizard, as he cleverly foretells his eventual fate as a washed-up hack when maybe things had turned out differently had he modeled himself as one of "The Strokes." It's a humorous way for Turner to poke some fun at his own expense.

Except that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino quickly nosedives into sardonic nonsense, a drawn-out joke that emphasizes Turner's lifeless apathy with his everyday surroundings. On One Point Perspective, he rambles on with the stoicism of a conformist whose well of inspiration has dried up over a repeated piano motif that's even more basic than Grizzly Bear's Two Weeks. But when he goes about the perilousness of modern technology on the title track, you kind of wish he'd go back to writing about how much he wants to satiate his dick.

Turner has references aplenty throughout Tranquility, as he often falls on convenient rhyme schemes that can be interpreted as profound. Other times, they sound forcibly elaborate. On Science Fiction, he channels the ragged suave of a French crooner as he comes up with references like Wu-Tang Clan and quantitive easing - and mixes them poorly - later to excuse himself for sounding clever but in a "Sexy way where it's not obvious." When the references are more direct, like in the Pet Sounds meets R.E.M.-via-Reveal phase of Golden Trunks, he sounds more at ease with his allegorical musings: "The leader of the free world / they play it for him as he makes his way to the ring." But he somehow makes a political statement over what he says is a love song when there's nary the implication, which speaks volumes about the digressive poeticisms that limit his focus.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino will be written off as a daring diversion for the Arctic Monkeys, a bold career move that deliberately spells out commercial suicide. It's not the first time a band of this stature chooses to find their confidence by taking it slow. But neither is it too daring or too unhinged; in fact, sans the slower, more methodical tempos, many of the songs still fall under their common pairing of doo-wop chord progressions and piercing guitars. So much of your appreciation for Tranquility may depend on how much you can stomach Turner's interpretative dance. Which doesn't seem to matter, as the inspired lyrical contours he takes scream with this "nailed it" self-awareness. It's an effortless ennui that he models amongst the stars, and now he feels like one of them.