We Need To Talk About ‘Tranquility Base Hotel’

Image: Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino artwork via Facebook.

Author: Melody Menu

When I first listened to the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Case Hotel And Casino, I didn’t take to it immediately. Yet at the same time, I didn’t entirely understand why it was being widely panned by critics and a great deal of fans, either. Later listens tended to elicit a chuckle or two at some wonderfully droll one-liners and, despite the dialled-down instrumentation, there was plenty left still to discover.

While Tranquility Base Hotel may have been better understood by a wider audience as an Alex Turner solo album, it is through the collective weight of each member that the album’s absurdist tendencies take shape. The album revolves around Turner from his vocals to a large portion of the instrumentation, so it’s fair to assume that the album is the result of Turner throwing his weight around, pinning down the other band members into dark, subdued corners. But what if this was a conscious choice?

There is little room for band members Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley, Matt Helders and The Last Shadow Puppets collaborator Loren Humphrey to move, however they still manage to conjure up intriguing guitar flourishes and faux lounge beats. In this way, tempered music coming from otherwise-talented musicians becomes a statement; a comment on the current state of quick, easy and accessible pop – and an example of a band with something new yet to say.

A concept album of sorts, set in the ‘not too distant future colony’ of the album’s title, Tranquility Base is made up of lunar lounge music; a soundtrack to a life of human excess in deep space. Across the album, the actual musicality takes the backburner in favour of scathing and darkly humorous commentary, which takes aim at the disaffected and nonsensical nature of modern life.

Songs like ‘One Point Perspective’ play with colloquialism and pop culture, mimicking an inability to focus on any one thing in the face of consumer technology and advertising, ultimately ending with ‘bear with me, man / I lost my train of thought.’ Social Media is also a strong point of contention on the album, as it further distracts and degrades modern society. Social media has bred a distinct lack of depth in the inhabitants of Tranquillity Base, where – as in our own world – ratings rule. As a taco bar opens on the roof of Tranquility Base, the advertising jingle ‘Four Out Of Five’ becomes a pointed commentary on gentrification and the unnecessary spread of information: ‘it was well reviewed / four stars out of five / and that’s unheard of’.

Nowhere is a lack of substance more obvious in all of its ‘grammable glory than the menacing ‘She Looks Like Fun’. The track condemns social media as nothing more than artificial whimsy, through intersecting lines of Instagram-worthy ideas such as ‘cheeseburger’ and ‘dogsitting’ alongside the demonic repetition of the song’s title. The distorted delivery of the title also assumes the questions: who are we really appealing to with our brunch pics and filtered selfies – what Internet trolls and shadowed figures are scrolling through our externalised identities, judging us? It’s not without humour, however, as Turner takes on the role of omnipotent narrator to reflect on the effects of social media: ‘no-one’s on the streets / we moved it all online, as of March’.

In lyrical content and musicality, the album can be seen as a grandiose, indulgent reflection of a ‘me’ culture, ultimately perpetuated by consumerism and rapidly developing technology taken to its logical extreme – a megalomanic moonbase hotel and casino.

Arctic Monkeys’ new album Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino is out now through Domino Record Co.

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