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Arctic Monkeys
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Luke Turner , May 11th, 2018 11:52

Do not adjust your sets - our Luke Turner is a big fan of the new LP by Alex Turner & co - here's why

Up until the point of its release, the most rewarding aspect to Arctic Monkeys' sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino had been the hilarious unveiling of their visual aesthetic, a misfired attempt at dandyism that merely resulted in them resembling a bunch of recently-divorced Basingstoke solicitors who like to meet for occasional nights of poker, cheap cigars and grouching. It fed my fear that the band might finally be at best a busted flush, lost in the gak-the-lads posturing most depressingly revealed in that boorish Spin interview with Alex Turner and his pal, bin man of the indie landfill Miles Kane, two years ago.

It's now five years since the release of the QOTSA and hip hop inspired AM, a gap that few groups have the luxury of taking these days. That, and all indications noted above, suggested that Arctic Monkeys were about to take the first ship to Planet Hubris, a place that, unlike nearly all of their predecessors or peers in the curious realm of fairly blokey indie rock, they've commendably avoided. Now based in Los Angeles, that capital of vapidity and excess that has a habit of warping English imaginations in unpleasant ways, they exist in some bizarre world where you might easily acquire the delusion that you're a modern-day Elton John, even if on a slightly lower budget - much of this record was inspired by Alex Turner being given a Steinway Vertegrand piano (they retail for upwards of eight grand) for his 30th birthday in 2016: “I arrived back off holiday and it was sitting there,” he's said; "The addition of the piano to this room was definitely a huge part of the making of this album, because that suddenly became the centre of it.” Thankfully, instead of bloated and arrogant wranglings with fame and fortune, this is a concise and clever record.

From the first moment it's abundantly clear that this is a very different Arctic Monkeys album from any that have gone before. It's present via the self-awareness in Alex Turner's opening lines of 'Star Treatment' - "I just wanted to be one of The Strokes / Now look at the mess you made me make / Hitchhiking with a monogrammed suitcase". Suddenly the tailoring on those photos makes a hell of a lot of a sense, the perfect visual foil to this wonderfully ridiculous and smooth lounge-influenced corker, with its tinkling refrains and rattling drums and falsetto backing vocals. "I went a little too wild in the 70s," he sings. Alex Turner is 32.

It sets the tone for a strange and hugely enjoyable album, as meticulously crafted and at times as outré as the architectural model of the fantasy leisure resort of the title pictured on the cover. Apparently Turner made this himself, cutting and shaping cardboard and covering a room with the debris, a pleasingly eccentric new example of a musician trying to cope with fame and ego via highly-focussed activity. Perhaps in building the elaborate structure, and writing the songs to soundtrack it, Turner constructed a destination to where he could ship some of his less pleasant tendencies.

Wondering if this is in part a form of celebritherapy or atonement for past bellendery aside, the mood set on 'Star Treatment' continues on second track 'One Point Perspective', which opens, "Dancing in my underpants / I'm gonna run for government / I'm gonna form a covers band". It's at that point that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino starts to make me think of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at their most performative, slitheringly masculine and daft, or a Grinderman who got off in a wipe-clean cocktail bar rather than a rock & roll dive. There's the same insouciance, craftiness, and leer. Lyrically too Turner's lyricism of batteries running low thanks to video calls with God, "Jesus in a day spa" and a "prophetic esplanade" is increasingly Cavean in feel. His wit is sharper than before, especially when it veers into #AccidentalPartridge territory: "Technological advances / Really bloody get me in the mood", he sings on the title track.

It's that song that nicely shows off James Ford's production as superb, dextrous and light. Piano, drums and a playful, more experimental sonic palette throughout make a fine bed for Turner's increasingly expressive vocals. He defies physics and common senses of perspective and lechery, warbling and hooting "kiss me underneath the moon's side booooOOOOOooooob", again on 'Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino'. Curiously, this song is just one of many moments on the album where it feels as if they've picked up the mantle, lyrical, vocal and musical, from their dearly-missed Domino labelmates Wild Beasts.

On 'Golden Trunks' (perhaps my favourite song title thus far in 2018), 'One Point Perspective' and 'Four Out Of Five' the pugnacious guitar of yore is still present, but gives flavour rather than dominates, like a good bit of fatty marbling in a premium steak. The latter track becomes a glorious, soaring pop ballad devoted to the gentrification of space and leaving user reviews of intergalactic upscale leisure emporia.

'She Looks Like Fun' and 'Batphone' hark back to territories previously covered by the band, puncturing the end of the record slightly, but the drunken end-night slow-jam of the aptly-named 'The Ultracheese' makes for a pleasing final flourish. This is by far and away the most charming, enjoyable and progressive album that the Arctic Monkeys have made and bodes well for a pretty interesting future, if only Turner could try and send the Last Shadow Puppets to the giant Punch & Judy Show in the sky. The Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino appears to be a place where it'd not be too bad to spend some time, even if I maintain that the dress code is preposterous.

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