'Iconic British band dramatically changes sound in shift away from guitar rock.’ No, I’m not 18 years late with my review of Kid A.
It’s the new piano-driven Arctic Monkeys record, and it’s been dividing the opinions of fans since its release last Friday. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino isn’t just different for Arctic Monkeys, it’s different for albums in general: the band didn’t release any singles leading up to the album’s release. They built an architectural model for the album cover. They wrote an album about a hotel on the moon. As a long-time fan of the band, I can’t recall ever being so excited for an album to be released. I embraced the fact I wasn’t going to be able to hear any of the songs before the album came out. Clearly the band wanted it to be heard, to be experienced, all at once. So I placed my pre-order and I marked my calendar.
I tried to avoid reading reviews before I’d made my own mind up, but it was hard to escape angry comments from fans who were expecting more stadium-sized rock songs. On my first listen, I felt the same way. As an album, it’s not immediately brilliant. I found myself lost, unable to keep track of where the songs were heading. Some of them don’t follow that typical verse-chorus-verse style that lets you sing along halfway through the first listen. And where are the guitar riffs? The cymbal crashes? If, like lead singer Alex Turner says, this album represents a physical place, I felt like I had woken up there with a hangover. Still, I had to admit, ‘Four Out of Five’ was pretty catchy. And ‘Star Treatment’. And damn, that guitar in ‘Batphone’ was worth coming back to. So I gave it another listen. And then another. The rooms of this hotel were beginning to look familiar, and I started to get a sense of where I was.
I woke up the next morning singing the album’s title track. After the first listen, I was ready to not like the album, to have it be the kind of thing I don’t play that often. But once I got better acquainted with it, once it got inside my head, it became the only thing I felt like listening to. Only a handful of albums have sucked me in like this, and all of them took a few listens to get into. Only time will tell if Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino retains its place in as one of these great albums. All I can say is it is rare for an album to feel this fresh and interesting, as though there’s an infinite depth of new things to discover with every listen. The album has a dark and mysterious character to it, a living personality. It won’t liven up for you immediately, you’ve got to get to know it first. If first impressions turned you off this album, I can’t stress this enough. Stick with it, it’s definitely worth it.