Five years since their last release, Arctic Monkeys are back and I do not know how to feel. Their new project Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino was officially released on May 11th, which you can find on your favorite streaming platforms, or buy on their website. It had been a long wait for fans and music aficionados alike, and it did not take long for the press and strongly opinionated people on social media to offer their mixed reactions. It seems only fair to add my voice to the conversation, and tell you all about the album as well as my thoughts on Alex Turner’s facial hair.
Spoiler alert: he looks like a pervy janitor from the seventies.
A little note about myself
I have been an Arctic Monkeys fan ever since my very first mp3 player. I’m not talking about the silver iPod; that came later. I had one of those tiny gadgets that looked like a USB stick from outer space, where the only options was to shuffle songs and a led screen would read the title of tracks that were – not so legally – acquired online. Simpler times. I was twelve years old, and my approximate B1 level of English did not allow me to understand much of Alex’s Sheffield accent, but boy did I jam to When The Sun Goes Down.
Only later did I understand that the song was about a prostitute. Still fun if you’d ask me. My relationship with the Monkeys was a quiet but steady one. As I walked through the valley of adolescence, combined with the voracious need to consume different genres of culture to define myself, my jumbled iTunes playlists would still find space for them. Sure, they might sit next to some obscure black metal artists like Burzum (we are not discussing this.), but they were still there. In 2013, the slow, dirty guitars of AM and Alex crooning as if he wanted you to step on his heart and/or rip off your clothes were the soundtrack to my first obsession and heartbreak. Boy, did it hurt. It sounded amazing, too.
All this insight into my life to illustrate that it was a long, tiresome wait. Not really knowing what to do with myself, I grew lazy with music and now the height of my musical introspection would be listening to the AS3 Remix of RuPaul’s KittyGirl (a jam if you were to ask me).
It was a long, tiresome wait
The first signs
One thing I find particularly fascinating during the age of social media is the meaning we attach to very simple actions such as a profile pic change. Not among us mere mortals, but when it comes to celebrities – we are so ready to jump into intricate theories and read a lot into possibly nothing. Funnily enough, those very tricks are now used to build hype around a potential new project. In a similar fashion, the Monkeys profile on Facebook changed cover and profile picture a few months ago to announce the name of the new project and a tour. A countdown started, and the wait began.
I woke up early that Friday morning and battled against my hatred for the Spotify interface to listen to my day ones. It was… underwhelming?
If AM 2 is what you were hoping for, prepare to be really, really disappointed. The band has talked about how this album was supposed to be an Alex solo project at the very beginning, and his production has definitely impacted the sound. Up to you to decide whether that is in a good or bad way. To me, Tranquillity Base is still hard to digest. The album has a vinyl feeling to it, and has definitely been inspired by a 1960’s polished sound that is almost reminiscent of an early Bowie.
We should praise Arctic Monkeys for daring to experiment
Just like other critics pointed out, we should praise Arctic Monkeys for daring to experiment rather than repeating a trite, successful formula. They dared to explore a new dimension of sound, but was it good enough? Should they get a gold star for trying? A for effort? I find it hard to see the soul in this project, or recognize it as a cohesive project. As someone wisely put it on Facebook, Tranquillity Base sounds like a collection of b-sides. A bunch of side tracks to add to singles, with a good sound, but not good enough to stand on their own. Something is missing, and to this day I am not able to tell you the name of a track or remember what they sound like. Was it too strong of a hype after five years of silence? Is it just a bad album? Only time will tell.
Cover: Dmitry Bayer