Track-by-track review: Arctic Monkeys diverge on ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’

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Track-by-track review: Arctic Monkeys diverge on ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’


Arctic Monkeys’ new album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is an undoubted left turn for the group. Beat Editors Gloria Brancatisano and James Di Fabrizio break down the album track by track. 

Star Treatment

Gloria: For months now we’ve known that the latest Arctic Monkeys album wasn’t going to be the same rock’n’roll we’ve come to know and expect from the band throughout their discography. But right from the get-go, the lush melodies (and extreme lack of guitar) still catch you off guard. Then you get to the lyrics and that vocal croon, and it’s still the same Alex Turner with his cheeky-yet-intelligent turns of phrase. Instead of being carried by gritty rock’n’roll the track seems to soar on a bed of strings. This perfectly suits the more beautiful elements of Turner’s vocals, letting them shine in all their glory instead of mixing them into a wash of guitar and drums. When we heard Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was going to be lacking guitar, I’ll admit I was afraid, but if this is the vibe AM are going for here, please give me more of it.

James: Ok, this is not the rock’n’roll I was expecting. Strings, lush grand piano, and falsetto harmonies? If anything, it’s reminiscent of a Last Shadow Puppets track. But then the lyrics come in and it’s pure Alex Turner. I forgot how good of a singer Alex Turner is, and it’s on full display here. A sultry, sexy number that takes you back to the golden age of ’70s schmaltz. However, Turner’s lyrical turns of phrase are purely contemporary. By the end of the song, I’m sold. If this is how the rest of the album turns out, I’m on board. After three albums of pure rock’n’roll, Arctic Monkeys are writing a new chapter – I’m keen to read more. 

One Point Perspective

G: On ‘One Point Perspective’, AM are still leading with the same stripped-back vibe. Albeit, here it feels a little grittier, thanks in part to Turner’s vocal delivery. And there is the guitar – only here it’s dressed in a business suit and sipping top-shelf whisky instead of wearing a leather jacket, smoking darts on a street corner. Now we start to get an almost show tune-inspired vibe, and the album is heading somewhere I can’t quite figure out yet.

J: More grand piano and a sparse backbeat. Turner’s lyrics are almost theatrical here. Is this Arctic Monkeys gone Broadway? And there it is again, strings come glistening in with all the panache of a Las Vegas sideshow. A slinky bassline and Turner’s falsetto kick into gear and ‘One Point Perspective’ comes to life. A brief guitar solo adds a flair of classic ‘70s rock, but it’s restrained and melodic throughout. This is a slow burner, but it simmers with a mysterious intensity. 

American Sports

G: I checked out once this track opened up from its brooding, almost spoken-word intro.

J: Things are getting darker here. Turner sings sardonically and dramatically in the verses, before opening up with a chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place on Suck It and See. He sings of dirty looks, video calls, and God – there’s no doubt he’s focussing on the dramatic here. Arctic Monkeys have been hamming up the idiosyncrasies of subgenres for a few albums now and on Tranquility Base, they’re ditching ’70s rock for the washed out drama of old Vegas. It ends abruptly, and feels a little incomplete. Theatrical, opulent and brooding. 

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

G: If a title track is meant to summarise the overall feel of the album then I’m not sure what to expect from the next seven tracks. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casinosits at one very similar level throughout. There isn’t a lot drawing you in, but there’s just enough to keep you listening – waiting for something more to happen. The contrast of haunting melodies and twinkling moments keeps expectations bubbling, but eventually everything simmers away before the track ends.

J: Here comes the title track. Spaghetti Western guitars sound like they’re out of an Italian film soundtrack, while Tuner sounds like he’s channelling his best Bowie impression. Warbled guitar lines dance with fuzzy bass, haunting strings, and a lonely organ. Bit-crushed keyboards wrap up the track, capitulating an otherwise eerie sound.  So far, this album seems more about setting an atmosphere than cranking out anthemic choruses. If you love Arctic Monkeys for their harder-edged moments, you’ll find this record divisive. 

Golden Trunks

G: The stage show vibe of ‘Golden Trunks’ is back, but here it feels more like a production of Dracula and less like a Broadway spectacular. Here the album really kicks into self-indulgence – it’s overblown and dripping in grandeur. So much so that all the intricate details get lost in the chaos.

J: A fuzzed-out guitar line carries the haunting atmosphere from ‘Tranquility Base’ over to ‘Golden Trunks’. Turner harmonises with himself over an off-kilter melody that twists and turns with every bar. Unfortunately, it feels like it’s building towards a chorus that never comes. 

Four out of Five

G: It’s a little bit twangy and a little bit funky – the ~ cool boys ~ we know and love are back, they’ve just grown up a little. Where some of the previous tracks cruised at the same pace, here we get a little more light and shade, something to really keep your attention. Musically, there’s a lot more restraint – less self-indulgence means that each of the instruments has its own space to breathe. The overall result is refreshingly less claustrophobic. 

J: This is more like it. A dark, twitching groove coupled with Tuner’s fast-paced lyricism provide an edge that’s been lacking in a few other tracks. Minimal, heavy, and all the better for it. While some earlier tracks have benefited from their indulgent instrumentation, ‘Four Out of Five’benefits from being stripped back. Plus, who else besides Alex Turner could ladle ’60s pop hooks onto a tale of gentrification? Easily one of the most listenable tracks on the album – you’ll be singing along by the end of the first listen. Harmonies cascade over each other as the chorus turns into a Beatles-esque refrain. The band are pushing themselves harder here, and it’s paying off. 

The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip

G: ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ has me hooked before the song even begins. Again we see more contrast between the lighter and darker moments. This shows off the nicest qualities of Turner’s vocals in the best way possible.

J: Flutes, organ and a faint marching drum show Arctic Monkeys slipping back into chamber pop mode. A twitching verse opens up into an instantly memorable chorus. Turner is crooning his heart out – and it’s one of the things he does best. One part love song and one part nightmare, ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’has a sense of light and shade that’s lacking in some of Tranquility‘s other tracks. An instant favourite, if for nothing else than its ability to stand out from the pack. 

Science Fiction

G: If we were partying in an old Vegas casino before, now we’re slinking down a New York alleyway in the middle of the night. Probably wearing a trench coat. Probably smoking a cigarette.

J: The band is locked in tightly, dirty guitars and creepy synth lines tip toe around Turner’s lyrics of warped reality and hidden dangers. While it’s not an album highlight, it’s probably the best song of 2018 to feature a Theremin. This could be the theme song to a spooky B-movie that was never released. 

She Looks Like Fun

G: This song is kind of a hot mess. But there are really beautiful moments if you can get your head around all the layers. This isn’t a track you can get settled in for – as soon as you feel comfortable,  you’re ripped right out of your seat.  When the track opens up in the last minute it really works – but you’ve got to get there first. This is definitely a track that deserves a second visit. Once the initial shock fades there is definitely more to enjoy.

J: Straight-up, this song is an absolute head-fuck. And I mean that in the best way possible. You’re either going to love it or hate. Personally? I love it. By far the most deceptively complex and interesting song on the album. A big ol’ riff opens this up, with a grizzly baritone menacingly chanting ‘she looks like fun’. It shifts gears between heartbreaking crooning and tense rhythms so often that you’ll get whiplash just by listening to it. Baselines follow vocal melodies, and a slide guitar solo appears from nowhere. Amazingly, it all works. Lyrically, Turner captures the same juxtaposition – alternating between questioning himself (“I’m so full of shit”) with a desire for unbridled hedonism. 


G: We’re back to the slinky, sexy mood of the earlier tracks except we’ve lost the grandeur of the setting. This is our nightcap. As the end of the album nears we head to the nearest smoke-filled bar for this one. It still warbles along, but here everything seems to work. Taking some of the more left-of-centre ideas from the rest of the album Batphone combines everything in a way that feels more comfortable and more ear-catching. It took until the tenth track, but this is definitely my favourite of the bunch.

J: If nothing else, Tranquility Base is a record that gets darker with each song. If the start of the album is glistening with promise, the end of the album shows what happens when all of the money has dried up and there’s nothing but empty martini glasses left on a detuned piano. “I’ll be by the batphone, if you need to get ahold,” Turner sings – a surreal lyric that only he could get away with. A scuzzed out bassline is constantly threatening to overtake the melody’s optimism, but never quite steals the show. Ultimately, this is a strong track that encapsulates the best of what Tranquility Base is and the sonic world Arctic Monkeys have created around it – is about. 

The Ultracheese

G: Even if you didn’t listen to the album in order, right from those opening notes you’d know this was the grand finale. It’s a quintessential ending – all twinkling keys and crooning vocals. Soft, beautiful, and heartbreaking. It’s been a crazy journey but it’s definitely over.

J: And here we go. We’re wrapping it up. The bar is closing, and Alex Turner croons with a lilting rise and fall that mirrors a drunken, heart-warming singalong. He sings of love, politics and the cosmos –  but remains anchored by a melody that’s thoroughly classic. So classic you already feel like you know it. A gentle guitar solo and twinkling grand piano takes us out. Arctic Monkeys are taking their final musical bow, closing the chapter on what is ultimately a theatrical album full of twists and turns. As for what the encore holds? Tranquility Base proves that Arctic Monkeys may have been around for a long time now – but they’ve still got numerous surprises up their sleeve.  

Final thoughts:

G: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino still features the most recognisable parts of the AM sound – the intelligent lyricism and vocal style distinctly Alex Turner – only here, everything feels different. This is an album only an established band can make; a record that deserves to be spun the classic way – from start to finish. There aren’t any tracks that stand out from the bunch as a single – instead, this is a collection of songs that work together as an all encompassing whole. It’s intelligent, but also risky. Arctic Monkeys have hedged all their bets on the fact that fans are keen to hear something new. And that’s exactly what they’re providing. It might not slot as seamlessly into their catalogue as each of their previous albums have, but this is definitely an album you can return to to uncover new elements and moments hidden just below the surface. This is the Arctic Monkeys’ show piece – here they shed the rock’n’roll stereotype, the leather jackets and upbeat indie-rock melodies that reference a million other bands of the past. Maybe this is the sound they were always destined for – a little bit showy, incredibly catchy, but most of all completely unexpected.

J: This is a record that errs between self indulgence and musical payoffs. While it won’t be an instant favourite for all Arctic Monkeys fans – it’s certainly their most left of centre, experimental and interesting to date. After a career-spanning more than a decade, it’s refreshing to know that Arctic Monkeys are still capable of covering new creative ground. While sonically it charts unexpected waters, it still has the hallmarks of what makes them an undeniably great band of the modern era – bursting with intelligent lyricism and songs that reward repeated listens, Tranquility Base will be remembered as Arctic Monkeys throwing away the blueprint that so many wanted to follow. It may open with the lyric, “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes,” but by the time the album wraps up, Alex Turner proves that he was always destined to be so much more. Yes, Arctic Monkeys will always be one of the hallmarks of early 2000s indie rock – but in 2018, they’re doing anything but. That takes courage, and in this instance, that courage has more often than not paid off. 

By Gloria Brancatisano and James Di Fabrizio