If you pay attention to the comments on social media (and you really should not) then the sixth Arctic Monkeys album is either a complete piece of shit or a work of genius in the mould of Pet Sounds.
I’ve taken some time to live with this record before offering an opinion, which isn’t gonna help bring the web traffic since almost everyone else said they thought it sucked on the morning it hit the shelves.
On first listen, this review might have said much the same thing. Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is the proverbial ‘slow burner.’
Kicking off the record with three songs that, on first listen, are damn-near indistinguishable, is always gonna make it hard to win people over.
Star Treatment, One Point Perspective and American Sports are just too similar, even if Alex Turner’s typically brilliant lyrics make them well worth repeated listens.
Then comes the title track, which makes only a slight deviation from the laid back, sleazy lounge sound of the first three songs.
It features an ominously clanging guitar that brings to mind I Wanna Be Yours from previous album AM. Again, it’s lyrically fantastic (“Jesus in the day spa filling out the information form”) and it sounds a little more like the Monkeys we know and love.
Still, it’s around now that you’ve given up on getting AM part 2. If you thought Humbug was a change in direction, this record will floor you.
On side 2 (I bought the vinyl version, as I’m a bit of a wanker that way), things do take a turn for the slightly more lively. Lead single Four Out Of Five is probably the closest thing to a traditional Arctic Monkeys song on the album. It has a proper chorus, for starters.
Yet it still fits into this new vibe, it doesn’t sound out of place.
Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’s biggest problem is that the band have nailed the sound they probably wanted, and they’ve nailed it too perfectly. If it’s meant to sound like a lounge band being played through a poor quality elevator speaker, that’s exactly what they’ve achieved.
I wondered if it was the fact I was listening on vinyl that gave off this excessively lo-fi sound, but the digital version is equally frustrating to hear. The drums don’t cut through, the vocals struggle for definition and guitars swish around barely legible bass lines.
Very few people will love this record on first listen. The experience reminds me of the first time I listened to Some Loud Thunder by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Having fallen deeply in love with their debut, I was initially sorely disappointed with the follow-up, which went off in all kinds of fucked of directions. But hand on heart, Some Loud Thunder is now one of my top 10 albums of all time.
So what I’m saying is, give Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino some time. It will grow on you, even if I doubt it’ll go on to hold my affections in the same way that Some Loud Thunder has.
If it was a debut album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino would’ve bombed. But since it’s the sixth album by one of the world’s greatest bands, it gets a pass. Just.