Slap bang at the beginning of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Alex Turner foresees the early-Arctic Monkeys evangelist social media uproar. ‘I just wanted to be one of the Strokes,’ he croons. ‘Now look at the mess you made me make.’
Space-age concept album or not, he’s doing the very northern thing – if not just Yorkshire – of prepping people for something outlandish in order to spare him the inevitable embarrassment/harassment. It’s the guy in Hunter’s Bar saying okay guys I know we’re all concerned about Chris Wilder’s future at United and you’re gonna hate me for this, but how about that new Murakami book!
Turner’s not an idiot. He knows dropping an album of lounge ballads on an audience of 18-year-old Teddy boys is going to ruffle a few greasy feathers. That people who know the morse code lyrics of Fluorescent Adolescent better than they do their bank details are going to recoil at American Sports and ask themselves, ‘f***in, eh?’
Yep, the Arctic Monkeys have made the record most bands of their international status dare not even consider after five Old Fashioneds down on the Sunset Strip. The album admits: ‘Hey, we’re not the same people we used to be so let’s reflect that.’
With the possible exception of straight-man Helders, this Sheffield lot have fully embraced a type of boujee living they would’ve gleefully curled their lip at on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. But that’s not the greatest sin man can commit on this pale blue dot. Everybody changes, especially when filthy lucre comes into the equation. These days, you’re more likely to see a TMZ video of Alex Turner at LAX looking like Austin Powers than you are him walking around Primrose Hill like Paul Weller’s eldest child.
And for some that’s uncomfortable. Turner, in the eyes of certain fans, needs to be his former self-deprecating self, and not some jumped-up John Wayne impersonator with a mouthful of golden syrup, in order to make good music. But that was disproved by Humbug, it’s easy to forget – which also drew initial criticism – and to some extent Suck It and See.
AM was also a huge leap that eventually gelled. See, change is a win-win. Either it comes and bombs forcing the puppeteers to go replace the strings with something stronger. Or it comes and bangs. Of course, the listener decides which category Tranquility Hotel Base & Casino falls into, but bemoaning the lack of riot vans and book of sex tips up on their lunar getaway misses the point.
Tranquility Hotel Base & Casino isn’t exactly absent of Turner’s famous non sequitur charm, nor does it shy away from moments of 2006/2007-era scorn with which he first broke the mould. In Star Treatment he asks ‘What do you mean you’ve never seen Blade Runner?’ In One Point Perspective he pleads ‘Bear with me, man, I lost my train of thought.’ Throughout each of the 11 songs, he manages to keep two plates of self-awareness and unexpected frivolity spinning in unison.
Whether we like it or not, Alex Turner is now a 32-year-old millionaire with horizons beyond club toilets in industrial town centres. He doesn’t owe our sentimental feelings anything.
Had Bowie gotten glued to his Changes period, we wouldn’t have gotten Ziggy Stardust. Likewise if Stardust hadn’t hung up the jumpsuit, our 80s throwback student nights would be bereft of Let’s Dance and Ashes to Ashes.
It’s comfortable, personally and professionally, to stick to your guns and obey the public order of ‘know your audience’ but bands who do seldom make anything interesting or exciting as they sail the sad voyage to obscurity. Oasis post-1997 for example, or pretty much any indie band to ever play Wireless.
The Arctic Monkeys created a sound for their generation in 2005, and it was great. Yet it wouldn’t be nostalgic had they never let it go into the smartphone era. Now the boys have given us a 2018 sound and we’d be stupid not to lap it up.
In 10 years time people might just be pining for it.
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