Alex Turner’s Lyrical Journey from the Rubble to the Ritz

Eddie Milton-Seall 27 January 2019
Image Credit: Serhiy Kolotylo

The 20th of July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk upon the moon’s surface; their first steps were taken on the ground named ‘Tranquillity Base’. Alex Turner’s and Jamie Cook’s combined lyrical effort to recreate this distinct experience is the premise of what the latest Arctic monkey’s album Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino is built upon. The album includes calm psychedelic masterpieces such as Golden Trunks and Star Treatment which juxtaposes the raw, untamed noise of some of their early work most notably From the Ritz to the Rubble and Teddy Picker.

In the last fifteen years, the Arctic Monkeys have propelled themselves to the heights of music stardom; with seven Brit Awards and five number one albums, as such their new album Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino (TBHAC) was hugely anticipated. Yet, the album was met with mixed reviews. Some critics and fans who had fallen in love with arguably the greatest rock album of the 21st century, AM, were left disenfranchised with the space rock sound-scaping ambience of the new album. Despite this, TBHAC still went on to receive a Mercury Prize nomination, claiming many awards along the way and selling out a world tour in minutes. TBHAC may not be as popular as the Monkeys’ previous work, but it has certainly succeeded critically.

Obviously, it is clear that the Monkeys’ success has moved them up in the world; once an innocent Sheffield school boy, Alex Turner can now be found living the high life in his LA mansion. Fortunately though, fame and privilege has not come at the expense of the quality of the music being produced by the band, as can often be the case. What I believe TBHAC as an album shows, from a critical perspective, is Alex and the band’s unwavering confidence in their own abilities, using their success not as a template to repeat but a license for artistic freedom.

Upon release, the album was thought by many to be more of an ‘Alex Turner side project’. In our world of instant gratification, some found themselves disappointed by the lack of “hits” or “catchy choruses”. Instead, this album is meant to do what the title suggests: transfix your mind, taking you to an unknown land. Turner spoke about the influence of Pet Sounds (the legendary Beach Boys album), suggesting the album to be more of an experience of physical place, and not simply a compilation of songs. TBHAC is trying to do a similar thing; Turner is trying to make the album resonate with people on a much more distinct individual level, trying to make the listeners come to their own conclusion rather than give them distinct answers. A clear contrast is made with the direction of previous work, where Turner used common experience as a means to tap into the emotions of a generation. The progression is evident. While in the first studio album, Whatever People Say I am That’s What I’m Not, the lyrics describe teenage experiences of nightclubbing, getting in trouble and chasing girls. TBHAC consists of constant pop culture references, offbeat line endings and a huge amount of ambiguity and mystery. The listener is permitted to feel lost in the serenade of its elegance – a huge deviation from the focused rawness of the first album.

Whilst I enjoyed the new album, like many fans I’d like to see Turner untamed once more. Personally, I’m particularly hopeful of this happening for one reason. In my opinion, Turner’s most iconic moment was his 2014 Brit Award acceptance speech for album of the year, in which he staggered up to collect the award and through his slurred words came a message.

“That rock ‘n’roll, eh? That rock’n’roll, it just won’t go away. It might hibernate from time to time, and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules. But it’s always waiting there, just around the corner. Ready to make its way back through the sludge and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever. Yeah, that rock’n’roll, it seems like its faded away sometimes, but it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Obviously, this was in reference to AM. However, when it comes to Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys you never know what is around thegeni corner. It may well be true that Turner has matured and his music will continue to be sophisticated and challenge boundaries, or he may make the venture back from the metaphorical ‘Ritz’ of the musical industry and return to the roots or the ‘rubble’ from where he originally staggered out of the swamp – we will have to wait and see.