Paul Draper of Mansun described their album Attack of the Grey Lantern as half a concept album, or A Con Album. The sixth offering from The Artic Monkeys has been described by Alex Turner as a concept album of sorts but this is definitely no con. The Sheffield quartet have always dared to be bold and go somewhere different. Eleven years ago when they released Favorite Worst Nightmare the follow up to to their hugely successful debut album, there were many that were disappointed to not to be receiving more of the same.
It’s not a record that’s full of catchy choruses, great guitar riffs and hooky melodies but its one that in future will be marked as a milestone in The Artic Monkeys’ creative development and a stepping stone to whatever comes next. Although still only 21 at the time, Favorite Worst Nightmare was a statement of intent that Turner and Co. were going to push themselves to new places.
Same story again with their third album, the Josh Homme produced Humbug and by the time Suck it and See arrived, we knew to always expect something different. It may not always be your thing, but you can never say its not a drive to reach new heights musically and lyrically. Mike Williams wrote in the NME at the time, that without wandering into the desert with Homme to record Humbug, there would have been no AM. Which was released to universal critical acclaim.
That’s the feeling I get from Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. It’s not a record that’s full of catchy choruses, great guitar riffs and hooky melodies but its one that in future will be marked as a milestone in The Artic Monkeys’ creative development and a stepping stone to whatever comes next. Turner’s crooning on this record, set to the pianos, harpsichords and synths are in fact very reminiscent of the Walker Brother’s Nite Flights album. Coincidentally one that is credited for paving the way for Scott Walkers lauded Climate of the Hunter.
Telling the story of a futuristic Moon Colony on the site of the Apollo landing, by an array of dark, strung out narrators, Tranquility’s lyrics deal with the modern conditions of consumerism, gentrification and environmental destruction relayed to you by half drunk lounge singer. Despite the Artic Monkeys now being a truly global band and Turner residing in Los Angeles, he still manages to weave his Yorkshire vernacular into his writing.
Star Treatment opens the album with the fantastic line “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” and sets the cosmic lounge scene that continues into One Point Perspective with its single note piano key, almost like a lounge John Cale on the Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. American Sports and Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino have the avant garde feel of a Jean Claude Desmarty produced Serge Gainsbourg, behind Turner’s sometime falsetto vocal. Incidentally the vocals on this record were mostly kept from the original demos that he recorded at home.
The 70’s fuzz kicks in for Golden Trunks and there are no prizes for guessing who is the target of these lyrics about ‘the leader of the free world’. Four Stars out of Five is the first (and maybe only?) single from the album. Singing about the Taqueria situated on the roof of the moon base called Information Action Ratio. The name of which is lifted from Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death. The Information Action Ratio refers to having so much information at our fingertips, we simply don’t know what to do with it. The melody having more than a touch of Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love about it.
One of my favorite song titles, not just of this album but ever, The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip returns to the 70’s harpsichord avant garde sound. Song within a song Science Fiction has more of a funk feel about it but almost drifts into a Ray Manzarek Spanish Caravan sound in places. She Looks Like Fundeals with the modern complexities of social media representations but really wouldn’t sound out of place on The Who’s A Quick One, While He’s Away album. Batphone’s pounding piano opener slows down as we head towards to the record’s close Ultracheese. A ballad style return to the song within a song concept, lamenting the loss of the spontaneity of friendship that existed in an analogue age.
Although many won’t be smitten at first listen with this offering, its one that has grown immensely on me after only a few rotations. I’m firm that this futuristic Sci-Fi Album with a retro feel will be on many people’s rotation for years to come and regarded as a milestone in the genesis of Turner and Co to the (bigger) behemoths they will become