Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
The internet will tell you that The Dark Side of the Moon synchronises perfectly with The Wizard of Oz, which is puzzling given the former lasts 43 minutes and the latter 101. But whatever. Anyway, soon the internet will be alive to the fact that the Arctic Monkeys’ new album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, synchronises almost equally perfectly with Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, 2001. Apart from the bit at the beginning with the monkeys, of course. Because from the first notes of the first song, ‘Star Treatment’, you can nearly taste Alex Turner’s martini as he steps on board the highly futuristic yet somehow slightly retro spaceship on his way to the moon. Throughout, there’s also the unnerving presence of the sentinel. Or Alex Turner’s bandmates as they’re called here. Silent and misunderstood. They’re part of the bigger picture, but goodness knows what they’re up to, so rarely are they called upon. For this could be an Alex Turner solo album. One man’s journey into the mysteries of life. It all comes to a head on the song ‘Science Fiction’. There’s a clue in the title. Sucked into the void, Alex emerges a better person, apparently having watched a Batman film on the way. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a departure from the magnificent AM. It will divide audiences. Some just won’t get it. As HAL 9000 would say, “I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.” Yet it’s not a bad album. Just different. And one that’s best enjoyed when synced to Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic masterpiece. But just not the bit at the beginning with the monkeys.
Here’s the final instalment of my favourite albums of 2013.
Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Perils from the Sea
This album was full of characters. Gustavo, the illegal immigrant. J H Park, the flight attendant. His dad. His sister. There was death. Break ups. Touring. The usual. But through it all, magnificently, “the wonder of life prevailed”.
Bill Callahan – Dream River
This was Bill Callahan’s happy album. At times he seemed almost contented. It’s all relative, of course. “You looked like world-wide Armageddon while you slept” is his form of a compliment. And sitting on a barstool uttering only the words “Beer … Thank you … Beer … Thank you” is about as close as you’re likely to come to a conversation. Few could get away with it, but Bill Callahan certainly can.
Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Song after song with the same tone. The same mood. The same sound. Chilled out. Laid back. Confident. Kurt Vile pulled off a great trick of turning in a really disciplined and coherent album that still totally relaxed and spontaneous. It was an album that you wanted to go on for hours and hours. And with the arrival of the deluxe edition, it did.
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Much was made of Matthew Houck’s new-found love of electronica. But he blended it beautifully with Phosphorescent’s signature-style, slightly off-kilter americana. There were the usual yips. Raggedy guitars. Head-scratching song titles. But most of all there were great melodies and an extra dimension to the sound.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
There were no frills, no flourishes to this version of the Arctic Monkeys. The sound was slinky, sexy, groovy. The themes were late night. Lonely. But then up popped Arabella with her “interstellar-gator skin boots” and “Barbarella silver swimsuit”. Oh, being a rock superstar is such hell.
Arctic Monkeys – A.M.
Post-party. Post-coital. Ante Meridiem. Alex Turner is home alone, even if tonight’s companion is still there. Anomie is his only friend. “Satisfaction feels like a distant memory … All I wanna hear you say is ‘Are you mine?'”. There’s no reply. His friends only call him when they’re high. And when he goes around to someone else’s place, it’s so anonymous he feels like he’s been there before. ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, he sings. I wanna be someone’s, anyone’s, he could have sung. These feelings are always there, but they’re most intense in the wind-down time in the earliest part of the morning. A.M. The triumph of the Arctic Monkeys’ latest release is that the theme of the singer who can’t connect is expressed brashly, utterly self-assuredly, and very, very funkily. The bass is the driving force. It’s glorious. The percussion only just behind. The songs are irredeemably catchy. There’s no excess. There’s only a single, short guitar solo on the whole album. Everything is wonderfully focused. Beautifully compressed. And Alex Turner has a fantastic delivery. Gone are the most of the Sheffieldisms, though “summat” remains in the opening track. What stands out is the phrasing. “Found” and “Around” on ‘Fireside’. There’s more than a hint of John Lennon and some clear nods towards rap. There’s not a single bad song and most of them are among the best of the year. Only on a couple of occasions, ‘I Want It All’ and ‘Snap Out Of It’ do they sound more like The Black Keys than the Arctic Monkeys. And The Black Keys are great too. There’s also an element of surprise. ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is a slow and catchy sing-along number, rather than the fast and catchy sing-along number that it seems to promise. And just when you think that life is totally empty, up pops ‘Arabella’, “She’s got a Barbarella silver swimsuit, And when she needs to shelter from reality she takes a dip in my daydreams”. It’s about the only relief Alex Turner gets from dancing on his own. This may be the sound of someone saying things at night “that you can’t say tomorrow day”, but what a sound.
Paste Magazine review
Music OMH review
This Is Fake DIY review