On May 11, the Arctic Monkeys defied expectations with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a concept album about a lounge band residing at a hotel and casino on the Moon.
"Tranquility Base" is the exact location on the Moon where Neil Armstrong famously declared, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," during a television broadcast watched by over a half-billion people in 1969. It was the first time that any human had set foot anywhere outside of Earth.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino takes that idea and runs with it.
Originally known for their fast-paced, guitar-laden tracks, the Arctic Monkeys have undergone a startling transformation. Possessing a collection of slower and more carefully orchestrated songs, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino offers memorable melodies and soaring harmonies continuing the evolution from their 2013 album, AM, which has been their biggest commercial success to date with their first number one single in the United States, "Do I Wanna Know?"
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino poses a heavy contrast with the Arctic Monkeys' earlier albums. Their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, served as a breakthrough with faster and heavier tracks like "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" and "When the Sun Goes Down" — both reached #1 in the UK charts. 12 years later, the band has matured and moved in a completely different direction.
In a move that few could have expected, frontman Alex Turner shifted from hard rock guitar and aggressive vocals to mellow keyboards and a lounge singing style. Turner decided to take up piano after receiving the instrument as a surprise gift from a friend. In an interview with Billboard, Turner explained how the piano served as a catalyst for new ideas. "It was quite a rush, really," said Turner. “Prior to that point I didn’t really have many ideas, and in my memory, that was the point at which they started to come. I really do think sitting at the piano tricked me into writing a lot of this stuff.”
The songs that stand out on this new release share elements that support the album's spacey vibe. "Star Treatment" opens up with punchy lyrics over a soothing instrumental backdrop. The title track is one of the darker numbers, featuring haunting vocals and electronic experimentation. "Four Out Of Five" is the catchiest song on the record with its snappy groove and infectious chorus.
Not all fans and critics responded positively to the new album, which is slower and darker than anything the band has done before. However, it seems poised to age well. The arrangements, production, and vocal delivery are reminiscent of David Bowie, especially on songs like "Star Treatment" and "The Ultracheese." The stream-of-consciousness storytelling also brings to mind Weezer's Pinkerton which was not well received when it first came out, but in retrospect has come to be considered one of the best rock records of the '90s.
Ultimately, this new release is a must-listen not only because the Arctic Monkeys are one of the most important rock bands of this century but because it has genuinely good songs. The album may not yield big hits, but it includes the most revealing lyrics from Alex Turner to date, and it opens up the Arctic Monkeys' sonic universe to lots of interesting futuristic possibilities.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is available on Amazon. You can also stream the album for free below on Spotify.
For more music, news, and tour dates, check out Arctic Monkeys' Zumic artist page.