Arctic Monkeys graduated from leather and skinny jeans to smoking jackets and whiskey glasses.
“Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” – the Sheffield, England-based band’s sixth album – maintains gritty vocals fans have come to recognize and also introduces simple, yet more sophisticated instrumentals and introspective lyrics. While the album shows a gentler side of the punk rock band, its numbers tend to fall flat and feel bland instrumentally, leaving the work in the shadow of previous albums, such as “Humbug” and “AM.”
“Star Treatment” begins the album with retro piano and guitar riffs, giving the listener a taste of the album’s ’60s-inspired vibe. Lead singer Alex Turner starts the album with the lyrics, “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes,” referring to the rock band of the same name. The name-dropping is a peculiar way to start off the new album, but allows Turner to stray away from the macho, cocky front typically portrayed in earlier works.
Turner’s echoing voice does not perfectly mix with the instrumentals but rather takes on a spoken-word nature with some rising notes here and there. Additionally, the self-reflective lyrics, such as, “But golden boy’s in bad shape/ I found that out the hard way,” add variety to the band’s rambunctious lyrical content found in previous albums. While the number’s humbled approach showcases a more tender sound, the combination of simple instrumentals and ringing vocals make for a scattered number.
Following “Star Treatment” is the track “One Point Perspective,” which is reminiscent of a Lesley Gore – a ’60s American singer – tune. Like Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” the Arctic Monkeys song utilizes a repetitive, staccato track with different instruments, such as drums and mellow guitars, slowly joining Turner’s smooth vocals. The number retains the retro sound introduced on the first track but embodies the old-fashioned essence much better due to its cohesive, easy-to-follow melodies.
The album’s titular track, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” best exemplifies the band’s venture into slower, less flashy sounds of earlier songs, such as “Do I Wanna Know?” and “I Bet You Look Good on The Dancefloor.” Unlike in the band’s previous rock numbers, Turner does not cry out his lyrics over the blare of rocking guitar shreds but rather performs in a more laid-back manner. In a hushed tone, Turner sings, “Mama wants some answers/ Do you remember where it all went wrong?,” adding some softness to the band’s traditional edginess.
Arctic Monkeys continues to draw inspiration from mid-to-late-’60s singers throughout the album, especially on the song “Four Out Of Five.” With the nods of bass guitar under electric guitar twangs and a deep, staccato voice, the album’s sixth number is reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” and Eagles’ “Hotel California.” While the Arctic Monkeys have adopted classic sounds, its lyrics remain current. Turner sings, “I put a taqueria on the roof, it was well reviewed/ Four stars out of five/ And that’s unheard of.” His lyrics speak not only of the growing critique-centered culture but also of its unforgiving and hard-to-please nature.
On its ninth track, the band opens with the thundering piano and guitar riffs of mid-’60s rock – a la Bob Dylan’s 1965 “Ballad of a Thin Man.” “She Looks Like Fun” switches on and off from a hard-rocker sound to soft and tender melodies, showing the band’s instrumental variety and control. The number displays the musical prowess of the band’s members, including guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O’Malley, who trade off smooth notes for loud and reverberating strums within mere seconds.
Up to the ninth track in the album, the band showcased its strongest retro-inspired numbers, leaving the last numbers, such as “Batphone,” feeling repetitive and tired. Turner, with high falsettos and bellowing tones, sings desperately about technology over a riff of keyboard notes played in the minor key. However, the number sounds a little too similar to the mysterious-sounding eighth track, “Science Fiction,” which is full of twanging instrumental riffs, also in minor key.
The album’s closing number “The Ultracheese” is one of the work’s more ballad-like songs. The stripped-down track deviates the most from the band’s past discography and brings its latest album to a soft end. Turner sings, “But I haven’t stopped loving you once,” and gently vocalizes into silence.
With instances of self-reflection and gentle rocking, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” is clearly Arctic Monkey’s most adventurous work to date. The 11-track album allows listeners to appreciate the variety in the band’s musical abilities and sounds. However, in switching from its beloved edgy guitar shredding to gentler numbers inspired by retro rock classics, Arctic Monkeys returned to the music scene with a whimper rather than a howl.