The long-awaited return of the Arctic Monkeys was a risk that paid off
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The long-awaited return of the Arctic Monkeys was a risk that paid off

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So here we are – almost five years after releasing one of the best modern rock albums in recent years, the prodigal sons of Sheffield are back with album number six – and boy oh boy, what a beautiful mess it is.

 If your idea of the Arctic Monkeys is the slick radio rock of AM or their raucous garage-y 2006 debut, then Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino might not be your cup of tea. To put it simply, TBH&C sounds like frontman Alex Turner has spent the past five years watching episodes of Black Mirror, reading Jack Kerouac and snorting blow off an ornate grand piano: it’s over-indulgent, a little rambling, kinda surreal, and utterly fascinating. Lyrically, Turner is at his best, mixing cryptic tales of gentrification and consumerism with one-liners and science fiction references. Lines like “Dancing in my underpants / I’m gonna run for government” on ‘One Point Perspective’ and “What do you mean you’ve never seen Blade Runner?” on ‘Star Treatment’ take the cake for best lines across the album. It may be lacking in the romanticism of previous Arctic Monkeys releases, but it’s nice to see another side to Turner’s oft-picked brain.

Unsurprisingly, TBH&C is a huge stylistic shift in musical direction for Arctic Monkeys, and it’s one that’s bound to throw off many casual listeners. Frenetic duelling guitars and pounding machine gun drums are eschewed for quirky ‘70s synth sounds and Turner’s plinky, self-taught piano. While Matt Helder’s prodigious drum fills are notably absent, Tranquillity Base’s musical highlights come through its subtleties – the plunging bassline on the title track or the slinky groove of lead single ‘Four Out Of Five,’ for example – while occasional flourishes of arena rock guitar complement the record’s overall schmoozy lounge vibe. It’d be impossible not to mention the irresistible rollicking closer ‘The Ultracheese’, a simmering jazzy ballad, to tie the record up with a nice little bow.

Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino is certainly the biggest oddity in Arctic Monkey’s so far unblemished output – it’s definitely unheard of to follow up an arena rock epic with a surreal lunar-themed baroque pop opus – but somehow, it works. Mark my words: this album’s going to make a lot more sense in five years time than it does now.

8.5