Arctic Monkeys: The disappointment-fuelled return of Sheffield’s finest
Boasting seven Brit awards, three Grammy nominations and two Glasto headline slots, Arctic Monkeys have accumulated a pretty impressive CV over the years. Following the huge success of ‘AM’ (2013), their latest release ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ has been hotly awaited. If poncey lyrics and shoddy attempts at hazy pop fusions floats your indie-rockin’ boat, you may not be wildly disappointed. Otherwise, the album offers 40 minutes of your life you will never be getting back.
The change in style seems like a step in the wrong direction, mainly because we’ve all seen what the band are capable of.
The band’s sixth album has proved to be deeply divisive, showcasing a substantial change in artistic direction. The album is hazier than some of their previous, rowdier records, but this was to some extent teased in ‘AM’ (think ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ and ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’). For a successful band so far into their musical career, some form of change is inevitable. Fair dos that they’ve tried to something a bit different. Whilst some may praise it as an intelligent and intriguing album, others may complain that is merely pretentious.
‘AM’ offered an ideal balance of heavy and hazy, blending the band’s rousing bangers with sultry light-rock. Sadly, their latest album does not get the musical balance right. The change in style seems like a step in the wrong direction, mainly because we’ve all seen what the band are capable of.
To focus on the positives, the album succeeds in creating a spacey, hazy feel. The opening lyric, “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes”, showcases Alex Turner’s lyrical nuances. Frontman Turner wrote the album at an upright piano in Los Angeles, and in the opening track ‘Star Treatment’, the absence of guitar-heavy content indicates this. The lyrics are undeniably striking, with Turner’s dreamy voice often romanticising everyday normalities (“What do you mean you’ve never seen Blade Runner?”). Turner as a lyricist has a talent for making the menial sound poetic. However, what is most disappointing about this album is the lack of musical stimulation as well as underwhelming lyrics.
The opening of ‘One Point Perspective’, for example, showcases a piano repeatedly chugging out the same chord, sounding more like Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ than the Bowie-esque rock fusion they were most likely striving for. The opening line ‘Dancing in my underpants/ I’m gonna run for government’, offers more strange and somewhat baffling lyrics. Although a pretentious metaphor is probably embedded somewhere between the lines, Turner’s lyricism is questionable on several occasions, seen also through many of the track’s bizarre names (‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’, ‘Batphone’ and ‘The Ultracheese’).
That said, there are glimmers of hope, including the sultry guitar solo in ‘One Point Perspective’ and the use of smoky backing vocals in ‘Golden Trunks’, nuances which hark back to the band’s earlier guitar-heavy writing. The track ‘American Sports’ attempts to transport listeners to a land far, far away by combining light psychedelic synths with space-themed lyrics (“So when you gaze at planet earth from outer space”). However, the track soon turns into an intergalactic Bowie tribute gone awry, lacking musical coherence with a clumsy chord progression and an absence of rhythmic momentum. Similarly, ‘The Ultracheese’ seems pretty self-explanatory, showcasing little more than a basic and unbearably cheesy chord progression.
The boys seem lightyears away from the excitement of their earlier music
The album’s best shot at a single can be seen through the track ‘Four Out Of Five’. You may even find yourself bopping your head along to this slow groove, playing to the band’s strengths such as the use of dreamy backing vocals and distortion guitars. This sense of collective gives weight to Turner’s otherwise warbling voice, feeling less like a one-man show.
This moody and introspective album is best enjoyed if you pretend you’ve never heard an Arctic Monkey’s song before. But of course you have, and that is exactly what makes it so heartbreakingly disappointing. The boys seem lightyears away from the excitement of their earlier music. If you were expecting crowd-rousing bangers, expect to be fiercely disappointed. Better luck next time, boys.