Review Summary: Bear with me, man, I lost my train of thought.
When it comes to the indie genre, or really any genre, a hell of a lot of bands tend to fall into a rut after album 3 or 4, sitting pretty in their comfort zones of tired guitar riffs and lyrics about rebellion and young love. Arctic Monkeys could very well have gone the easy, radio-friendly route and made Humbug 2.0 or PM (or maybe it would be FM?) Instead, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino winds up being a quite bizarre but welcome change in direction, a grandiose blend of rock, lounge, jazz, and even dream-pop. This album is truly a grower; it took me three full listens (the last one after I’d “borrowed” my brother’s quality headphones) before I could piece together all the different sounds I was hearing. Their most layered, complex album to date, TBH&C takes you on a mellow, sonic adventure through space and time; so kick your feet up and have a martini, why don’t you?
The album opens with “Star Treatment,” a glorious, surreal, 6-minute promenade through a dreamy soundscape, akin to a guided tour through an extravagant hotel. The lights from the casino flash, people pass you by, wondering where you’ve dropped in from, and a porter takes your suitcase. Outside the grand windows, galaxies swirl in wild shapes and colors, beckoning you to join them. The bass notes trot briskly along next to the jazz piano and gentle synth. Falsettos float in the background, coming up to lead the song at just the right moments.
The rest of the album plays out much like this; though many songs aren’t nearly as dreamy, they have atmospheres all to their own. The lounge act from the opener fades out and give way to “One Point Perspective,” switching to a drum and piano duo, waiting to introduce the synth and bass. “Golden Trunks” has a consistent bass line, marching along for just enough time before switching up during the chorus and bridge. “She Looks Like Fun” is smooth and lively (and includes some incredible guitar solos), but breaks completely away from that in the chorus to blast out a theatrical, booming progression. The piano and synth in “Batphone” sounds like something out of an early-90s mystery adventure video game. Each song is riddled with it’s own self-indulgent musings and dystopian (or perhaps utopian) dreamscapes; like a maze with no exit, just tall walls and an endless, starry sky.
There’s far more than one fantastic example of Alex Turner’s writing ability throughout the record. From an odd "I feel rougher than a disco lizard tongue along your cheek" in “Science Fiction”, to his many nods to politics, religion, and society’s addiction to technology, the band blow themselves to the moon with their lyrics, not that it wasn’t expected of them anyway. The album’s lyrics can be summed up as charming, clever, and concise, with a little dash of humor.
“The Ultracheese” is the album’s closing song, and it’s perfect. It’s nothing huge, not layered with splendorous synth and drums, but a simple piano ballad that brings the whole album together. You wait on one of many of the lobby’s sofas, watching the familiar galaxies outside the windows. The piano booms out from the ballroom; you can see people slow dancing. The song comes to a close with the line, "I've done some things that I shouldn't have done, but I haven’t stopped loving you once." The porter hands you your suitcase, bidding you a farewell and lovely journey. Perhaps if you find yourself around these parts you’ll visit again.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino