In 2006, a group of 4 shaggy teenagers from Sheffield released their debut album Whatever You Say I Am That’s What I’m Not and, without realising, defined a generation. A rough-and-ready series of vignettes painting out pictures of British nightlife: fights at the taxi rank, failed chat up lines in clubs, wedding discos, and a few cans in the park. Now, 12 years, 5 albums, 2 Glastonbury headline slots and a mic drop later they are unrecognisable.
Under the creative direction of frontman and lyricist Alex Turner, the band have churned through each album, adjusting their sound each time: from teenaged rock’n’rock to sophisticated stadium fillers. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sees Turner push the boat out further than ever before: the catchy riffs and sing along choruses which helped rocket them into mainstream success have almost disappeared from sight.
The mischievous lyrics and Sheffield accent Turner started out with has given way to a persistent transatlantic drawl, more pretentious lyrics and silly hair (personal opinion). The crooning of “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” in Star Treatment sets the tone for album as Turner explores the themes of distance, alienation and fame. Turner wrote most of the songs from his new home in LA on a Steinway Vertegrand piano: a drastic change from strumming some E minor chords in a recording studio in High Green, Sheffield – Turner’s usual haunts. The change in the writing process is clearly reflected in the shift of style the album takes. One Point Perspective features synths and a hip-hop drum beat and and Star Treatment wouldn’t be out of place on a Serge Gainsbourg album. Four out of Five, a stand out track on the album, seems to combine many different components of the Monkey’s discography into one track: the synchronous bass and guitar riffs are not far akin to AM, the vocals resemble some of their earlier work in Humbug, and the near-psychedelic chorus brings about nostalgia for Suck it and See.
Guitarist Jamie Cook had initially suggested the album should be released as a solo piece by Turner. Indeed, the tracks show far more resemblance to Turner’s solo work (Submarine EP 2011) and his side project with Miles Kane, The Last Shadow Puppets, than to anything the Monkeys have done. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sees Turners’ original piano demos transformed by Nick O’Malley’s hypnotic basslines and Matt Helders’ decorative drum backing into, what one journalist elegantly put as “their first work you can imagine anyone sampling”. Helders’ drumming is far more reserved than previous work, with him adopting a style not far akin to Ringo Star (albeit far more in time). The album’s title is a fitting one. Taken from the landing site where Armstrong and Aldrin first stuck the American flag on the Moon, this album sees Turner make one giant leap for the band’s future direction. Like the Moon, the album may seem foreign and inaccessible, yet after further listening and deeper inspection there’s beauty to be found within its intelligent framework.