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Music

Why 'Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino' is Arctic Monkeys' best work

Each song on the densely produced Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino tells a story of some description, as the narrative gives the album a certain gravitas that was intellectual, as well as inventive. This makes for a curiously obnoxious record, or a genuine desire to compensate for the barrelling production sound of 2013’s AM.

This is the first time Alex Turner and company pin a character hook onto the work, and it shows, because the finished product is infinitely more interesting than the sum of its parts. The album is both self-reflective and explosive, although it’s also darkly ironic, creating a more impassioned performance that opens itself up to interpretations, as Turner lets the nuance do the heavy lifting for him.

There’s the Queen send-up ‘Batphone’ and the turbo-charged frenzy of ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’, both of them sung earnestly, so it’s never entirely clear if the band are being cute or clever, but there’s no denying that Turner’s singing sincerely, bolstered by the weight of Matt Helders back-beat.

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Whatever riffs are played, are done with playful abandon, and whatever drums are performed are done with delicacy, so the sound of the album feels more like a continuation of the narrative Turner spun on the Submarine soundtrack than it is from the more recent material. Buoyed by the cinematic trappings, the album flows like a cinematic venture, as Turner follows the characters on their adventure, letting the story unfold before his very eyes.

“I like the idea of an underworld, not necessarily in Las Vegas but somewhere in my imagination,” Turner recalled, “and that idea helped me to write the lyrics on the record. I also sing about the ‘martini police’ on this song, and there was just something about that melody with those words that amused me; I’ve begun to wonder if that’s the right name for the band that has the residency in the night club in the song. And the melody of that bit reminds me of Toto—but I’m not sure why I’m sharing that with you.”

Nick O’Malley plays the baritone riff on ‘Science Fiction’, creating a parallel between the outskirts of the production, making it one of the more pleasant recordings, detailing the beginnings of the next stage of the band’s trajectory. The album stemmed from Turner’s lifelong fascination with sci-fi, bringing his tastes back to the genre that has stood in the back of the British vernacular since the 1950s. Science fiction formed the backdrop of Tony Banks’ giddily inventive A Curious Feeling and laced the backdrop of Genesis powerful ‘Watcher of The Skies’

“Science fiction creates these other worlds within which we can explore our own,” Turner admitted, “and I wanted to write something about that idea. So, through reading sci-fi … I began to access that sort of vocabulary — then suddenly we’re talking about virtual reality moon casino experiences.” Turner sings confidently, earnestly and with great reverence to the people in the painting he has built up.

Then there’s the knowing nature of ‘The Ultracheese’, which creates a central hook that could only stem from a place of great comfort and resonance, as well as the pounding ‘Four Out of Five’, which demonstrated an understanding of the world they created, complete with Turner’s most fragile vocal on the album.

It was less of a rock statement, but Turner was rolling over and letting him take the fall for the faults of his fans and fuses a sense of communication between listener and band. The tunes pose the perspective of the listener, character and musician, creating a triumvirate, a narrative and a tumbling shakedown based on beliefs and behavioural patterns.

The soundscape was pastoral, piercing. Ultimately, the tunes carried a sense of purpose that merited it on a spiritual level and made it rise onto the world’s fortresses, making it equal parts comedy and tragedy. Since it started from the ashes of a stadium outfit, the songs only grew more impassioned with every passing hook, and the band were confident enough to bring the story back to the place where it once began. What the next chapter for the band is, we have yet to find out, but they will be hard-pressed to top Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.