Like a retro-futuristic piano-crooner, a replicant Tom Waits, the 11 songs on Arctic Monkeys’ latest album are as modern as they are vintage. As innovative as they are evocative.
They bring to mind the vintage images of the world-weary jazz singer – drink balanced beside the ivories, dusty spotlight, barely lit nightclub. And juxtapose them against new, modernist pictures: hip-hop grooves, distorted electric guitars. Refracting the classic through the current’s prism.
The ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,’ gracefully opens its glass doors with Star Treatment. Classy and suave, melancholic and reflective, it ruminates on celebrity over shimmering piano chords and a muted guitar riff. Vocalist Alex Turner sings “but golden boy’s in bad shape” with all the intimacy of the original crooners like Sinatra. As if the ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ is his private getaway. And we are generously permitted entry.
On Four Out Of Five, drummer Matt Helders holds the fort with an unwavering beat while the melodies bleed into each other á la Jacques Brel. Where instead of defined boundaries between verses and choruses, each section flows seamlessly into the next. Creating the illusion of constant, ever-changing motion or one long section of music. As opposed to the traditional, well-defined verse-chorus-bridge-repeat.
Elsewhere, the steady pulse of rap is freed from accepted notions of on/offbeats and emphasis. Batphone’s descending 8-bit synthesiser line throws the listener off-balance, a jagged cut across the groove. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,’ is rhythmically disorientating, a far cry from their previous album ‘AM’s’ Black Sabbath-inspired grooves. And light-years from the garage rock back-beat that made their name.
But the wit of Turner’s lyrics is present and accounted for: “…I’m gonna run for government, I’m gonna form a covers band and all,” he croons over One Point Perspective’s understated piano riff. And on following track American Sports he sings “lost the money, lost the keys, but I’m still handcuffed to the briefcase.” But now the humour is tinged with the surreal wryness of deadpan comics like Dylan Moran or the writings of Richard Brautigan. Tuner has reworked his lyrics into a new shape. Still made of the same materials – the heavy Sheffield accent, wit – but upgraded with neo-psychedelic imagery. A broadening of the band’s horizons.
As Arctic Monkeys continue to defy all expectations and dodge categorisation’s butterfly-pin, they introduce new streams of thinking into the popular consciousness. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,’ releases age-old influences into the new wild: French chanson, Tom Waits-esque atmosphere, a crooner’s intimacy. Turner has crafted eleven songs that stand apart from even his own singularity. A curveball-album that hits the bullseye.