“Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”
BOTTOM LINE A stunningly ambitious concept album of sci-fi soul from the unpredictable mind of Alex Turner
Some musicians need a bit of distance when they want to reveal their truths.
Sometimes, they create characters to make sure people don’t confuse what they sing with who they are. Sometimes, they change their names. For their first album in five years, the Arctic Monkeys created a concert residency in outer space.
The songs on “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” (Domino) may take place on the moon — or maybe a simulation of the moon — but their focus is most definitely life on earth, rolling the story out like a science fiction novel from the near future.
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes,” Alex Turner sings to open “Star Treatment.” “Now look at the mess you made me make. . . . I’m a big man in deep space.”
He takes us through the results of escapism — even confiding, “Maybe I was a little too wild in the ’70s” — over a space-tinged soul background, with Turner’s lounge-singer delivery making it all feel that even escapism has its consequences.
The music of “Tranquility Base” is more piano-driven than ever from the Arctic Monkeys, though its lushness does seem like a natural progression from their comeback “AM” album. What’s changed here is that Turner is using his lyrics to consider broader themes and using his voice to convey a wider range of emotions.
He gives us the full “Young Americans”-era Bowie treatment on “Four out of Five” as he gives us the most thoughtful Yelp review for a gentrified “taqueria on the moon.” There’s more than a little “Pet Sounds”-era Beach Boys bittersweetness in “Golden Trunks,” where he worries “the leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.”
But the trippiness of “Batphone” shows that this is still most definitely the Arctic Monkeys, trying to make sense of their place in changing times and creating a classic.