words fae ross malcolm (@RossM98)
Well, who could have guessed it? The Sheffield four piece have always surprised their fan base with every album they bring out, from the raw alt-rock of ‘Whatever People say I am’ to the light shoegaze vibes from ‘Suck It and See’. However, Tranquillity Base has divided listeners more than any other release prior to it.
After receiving several awards and accolades from previous works, headlining Glastonbury twice and playing at the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, it seemed that ambition lay in the studio more than anything else for the Arctic Monkeys. The result of this ambition and their five-year hiatus? A journey to a cosmic hotel based on the surface of the moon.
The first three opening tracks; ‘Star Treatment’, ‘One Point Perspective’ and ‘American Sports’ are absolutely mesmerising. Sleek strings and intriguing lyrics accompany Turner’s jazzy vocal performance well. James Ford really shows off with the production in the first quarter of the album as it was clear from the get-go that he wasn’t afraid to experiment. Ford perfectly captured the cosmic sound with a mixture of tape delays and wet reverbs to give that distant feeling. ‘One Point Perspective’ and ‘American Sports’ further deepen Turner’s ‘train of thought’, whilst the title track lays out his creative space. The rest of the band dabble in dreamy keyboards and softer drum beats for Matt Helders, as his harmonies are put to the test in this challenging attempt at a 70s trip.
‘Four out of Five’ is the closest you’re going to get to previous Arctic Monkeys material, with thumping drums and low-end end bassline that takes a nod towards ‘Old Yellow Bricks’ from the bands second album. The record takes a heavy influence from Bowie, which can be most seen in this track through Turner’s sporadic vocals. Alex’s satire in his lyrics appear with his tongue-and-cheek sales pitch for the hotel central to the theme. ‘Four out of Five’ seems to be the only song on the record that would translate well onto the live stage, with the other tracks being too intricate to sound like anything other than a mess.
Tracks like ‘Golden Trunks’ and ‘The Batphone’ seem a bit lazy and predictable if anything, with dotted percussion and keys in an attempt to seem intelligent and intricate but are actually just too clever for their own good. Closing track ‘The Ultracheese’ still has that hint of an Arctic Monkeys ballad like ‘No.1 Party Anthem’ with another Bowie twist.
Tranquillity Base is not for the casual listener. It requires effort and attention – you need to chase the lyrics and explore them. It took a lot of balls to release this album, because it wasn’t going to be to everyone’s taste but that’s what separates the good and the great: the great make music that doesn’t initially make sense and which refuses to pander to the needs of fans – they forge unexpected and original directions. Popular music needed a shake up, a shock to the system, and this record is exactly that.