Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino A Year On - How It Became Arctic Monkeys' Best Album

Tears tinged my eyes as I heard the words ‘Jesus in the day spa’ sung whimsically from a blurry Alex Turner from behind my phone screen. The date was May 6th 2018, and Arctic Monkeys had just played their first comeback gig in celebration of upcoming 6th album Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, allowing inevitable videos of the anxiously awaited new songs to find their way online.

Arctic Monkeys have a talent for accentuating the poignancy in the mundane. Historically, by documenting a night out in town with an existential eye, or by finding the poetry within the lines of a drunken text. But the title track from the latest album, which had just been released into the wild, saw this ability reach new heights.

The 'mundane' lines of the song are, this time, accentuated with irony as well as poetry, the entire chorus comprising of the lines of a phone directory worker's spiel. One who works at a hotel, that's located on the moon - this cosmic concept setting up the theme for the rest of the album. The final line of the chorus - 'Please tell me how may I direct your call' - teeters pleasingly until it’s last two notes seemingly echo the vibrations of the soul, foreshadowing how deeply stirring the rest of the album is. The evokative line, along with the hypnotic verse, proves the impossible. That a song set in a futuristic space-age can be bathed in a melancholic nostalgia.

Uncommon of an Arctic Monkeys fan who backdates their fandom to the mid naughties, the release of 2013's AM led it to becoming my favourite album. The compact theme of late bars, black leather and 3am thoughts that are tightly woven through the record, against a canvas of falsetto vocals and electric riffs, cemented it as the album that, to me, felt the most succinct and monumental. So it made sense that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino - being the first Arctic Monkeys record to be widely labelled as a concept album - would take AM's place at the top of my list. 

TBHC, by admission of Alex Turner himself, contains a whole world. It transcends the medium of music and becomes an alternative existence within the dedicated listener. And the word ‘dedicated’ is key, as the brilliance of the record is easy to be missed in casual listens. And that, unfortunately, was a prevelant problem in the reception of the album, rendering it Arctic Monkey's most divisive work yet.

Come May 11th, the TBHC's official release date, a common critique of the album was that it resembled elevator music. And in there lied the problem. Listening to TBHC like background music means not watching out for the deep-rooted lyrical themes and subtle musical nuances that make the album what it is. Another common mistake leading to the same conclusion is forming an opinion after only two or three listens- an error I was at risk of falling into myself. As, like many, I wasn't taken by the album immediately.

But then, of course, I kept listening. 

I spent all my free time (this was during my third year dissertation period, so my 'free time' mainly consisted of walking from the library to the shop and back again) listening to the album over and over. As soon as the 'ooohh' of 'The Ultracheese' faded it was back to the opening chimes of 'Star Treatment'. Rinse and repeat. I had been waiting five years for this album, and - unlike some who put it down after one or two listens, never to pick it up again - I wasn't going to give up on it that easily. 

By my third listen of TBHC, the haunting piano medley that ran through its first track started to resonate with me, making it the first song post-release date to capture my attention. And when I finally began to piece together the lyrics that the riff ran through, 'Star Treatment' became - and remains - my favourite song on the album. 

Awe-inspiring lines like 'Don't you know an apparition is a cheap date' are rife throughout the softly rousing song. They also can't exist in solitary. In this case, this already clever and evocative line becomes excellent in context of the rest of the beautifully constructed second verse, which uniquely sees a vivid, dreamlike sequence play out from the point of view of said apparition.

'Star Treatment' melds deep characterization and almost spoken word presentations that are melodic in all the right places - highlighting the most poignant parts of the song - with dark, cinematic sci-fi imagery, creating one of the most well-written songs in recent history. The track culminates in haunting repetitions of 'As we gaze skyward/Ain't it dark early?/It's the Star Treatment', followed by intoxicating, spine-tingling riffs and vocals coos that fade the song into a quiet oblivion.

On first listen of lead single '4 out of 5', I found it to be catchy at best. But only alongside a close study of the rest of the album that surrounds it - which also uncovers a necessary later of the album's signature irony - did it become genius. Casual listeners may not even blink at the references to the gentrification of Clavius (an existing crater on the moon) or to 'Mr. Bridge and Tunnel on the Starlight Express' (the best commute you've ever heard of). Nor may they note the smart social commentary found in a song set in the future, which celebrates receiving the 'rave review' of 4 out of 5 stars with an elaborate sing-song vigour. 

Instead of uncovering a hidden layer behind a world we know but often miss the poetic significance of, in TBHC Turner creates a new world where the grandeur is blatant. His lyricism jumps out of descriptions of taxis and night clubs, rises above the Earth's atmosphere and explodes into the ether, giving it the freedom to reach its full potential, one that has evolved to a point where it's unable to be constrained nor expressed within the Earth's bounds. 

On May 11th, Alex Turner unveiled the world he had created. On September 9th, that world came to life. Expanding beyond the music and subsequent music videos, TBHC was finally being brought into the real world, in the form of the AM:ZM exhibition. A collaborative showcase between the band and photographer Zackery Michael.

Fans wandered the two floors of the London exhibition space, observing models of the infamous hotel and exclusive photos of the band, as the hypnotic melodies and synth, spatial sounds of the album soaked the venue in an eerily intoxicating atmosphere; the backing track of the album played on repeat. At the tail end of the exhibition, fans led themselves behind curtains revealing a small, dark room, where they were able to watch the premiere of Warp-Speed Chic, a stylistic short film documenting the conception of the album.

The immersive experience provided by AM:ZM proved that, even without the lyricism, the effectiveness in conveying the poetry of Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino remains just as powerful when conducted through its pure musicality. A surprise when the lyric book for the album evokes the same stirring feelings as listening to it does. This layered substance cements the album as a multifaceted piece of art, one that needs to be dived head first into, with each facet fully explored to be truly appreciated.