Tag Archives: Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ – Review

14 May

‘I just wanted to be one of the strokes, now look what you made me do.’ As opening lines go, that one’s a dozy and worth the admission price alone. More importantly though, the sentiment re-grounds Arctic Monkeys in a rock n roll lineage, and reminds the listener just where the band started and therefore how far they’ve travelled. From mop-top teens with guitars to the sleekest and biggest rock band in the country. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ is an album, essentially, all about distances – between the past and present, reality and fantasy, the earth and moon, our finger tips and touchscreens. What about the distance from ‘Whatever People Say I am, that’s what I’m not’ to this, very complex, very odd, very ambitious new album? Arctic Monkeys are quite comfortably the band of my generation; the only ones who truly transcended a classic debut album and have carved out a career that matches artistic daring with commercial success. Few young rock bands sell out stadiums and headline pop festivals, but even the handful that do (Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, The Killers, Kasabian) have struggled to keep their credibility fully in tact in the process. Arctic Monkeys achievements therefore cannot be understated.

Nor can the bravery it takes to deliberately undermine that success in the name of artistic endeavour. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ is as singular and uncompromising as that title suggests it might be. It’s a world away from the jagged indie of 2006 and the cocksure pop-rock of 2013. It’s also a world away in the sense that the album imagines a future society, living and loving in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Hotel resort on the moon. Alex Turner’s impulsive, scatterbrained style prevents this from being a proper concept album but in its thematic and aesthetic cohesion it certainly feels like one. Moving away from the romantic lyricism of ‘Suck It and See’ and ‘AM’ towards a piercing type of social commentary, it’s almost a return to the bluntness and dark humour that defined their early material.

The album starts with the somewhat jazzy ‘Star Treatment’. It reads like a dissection of the slightly vulgar persona Turner adopted for the Last Shadow Puppets most recent tour. ‘Karate bandana. Warp speed chic. Hair down to there.’ In a recent interview with Annie Mac he blushed when reminded of the Karate moves he pulled on stage at Radio 1’s big weekend (later on during ‘She Looks Like Fun’ he notes to self ‘I need to spend less time in bars waffling on to strangers all about martial arts’). ‘Star Treatment’ is too delightedly giddy when describing this ‘golden boy’ to be considered a complete rejection but when Alex sings ‘back down to earth with a lounge singer shimmer’, we can perhaps accept this as a slight admission of regret and a deceleration of a more down to earth perspective.

It holds for much of the album’s running time but occasionally Turner seems to delight in toxic role play. Politics comes in to the conversation from time to time, mainly as a bedrock of disparagement and disbelief. The louche, lounge singer type personified and then popped on ‘Star Treatment’ returns at the start of ‘One Point Perspective’ to announce: ‘dancing in my underpants, I’m gonna run for government. I’m gonna form a covers band.’ Of course politics has become so debased that the situation doesn’t sound that far fetched. Perhaps Turner was thinking of the same character who later on is ‘leader of the free world’ and ‘reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.’ It’s no wonder the ‘shining city is on the fritz’ if these are the people in charge.

Once the modern fantasy is revealed as a sham, a futuristic alternative is imagined – on the moon. In this post apocalyptic vision, vacuous pop culture figures mix with ‘Jesus in the day spa’, prophets lose their train of thought, protesters get their hair done before ‘popping out to sing a protest song’, technological advances get you in the mood, and God can be contacted on video call. Its a surreal vision of a technologically obsessed future that is not dissimilar from our own. It’s no wonder he asks, at the start of ‘American Sports’, ‘when you gaze at planet earth from outer space, does it wipe that stupid smile off your face?’ This is often a bleak, and bleakly hilarious, vision of a future society that feels a little too close to home.

This critique is soundtracked by music that is itself a kind of odd, futuristic fever dream of past influences, rendered in vivid new colours. It’s where the dark psych-rock of Humbug, the silky strut of ‘AM’ and the sleazy chamber pop of ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ melt in to something totally unrecognisable to all but the few paying extra close attention. It’s a sound that is almost without precedent but at points recalls the abstract absurdity of ‘Smile’ mixed with the luscious musical flourishes of ‘Pet Sounds or the sleazy glamour of ‘Historie de Nelson’ with the dark detailing of ‘Tender Prey’. The last time a stadium sized band took a risk on this scale was Radiohead with ‘Kid A’ nearly twenty years ago, and even then the stakes weren’t this high. Arctic Monkeys are currently the biggest band in the country at a time when Rock stars are an endangered species. When Turner sings ‘I’ve played to quiet rooms like this before’, it’s funny because he really hasn’t. But ‘Tranquility Base’ feels exactly the type of music suited to the quiet rooms.

If you blur your eyes, and ears, accordingly, for the first 30 seconds of ‘Four Out of Five’ (a lead single that didn’t actually lead the album) it would be easy to mistake the song for something from ‘AM’; the tight bass line interlocking perfectly with a popping snare. But in the chorus it blossoms in to something far richer than anything on that album. This time the backing vocals don’t just mirror the lead melody, they dance around it, enhancing and (at points) mocking the message of the narrator. Guitars squiggle in the margins, the orchestras glitters on top, Alex croons and moans and sneers. The song is a clever satire but more importantly it’s endlessly enjoyable. Asked by Ryan Domball if there was any particular reason for naming a taqueria on the roof the ‘information action ratio’, Turner replied ‘I don’t think so. It just sounded interesting. Something to look at.’ Perhaps he was being coy or perhaps not. Either way, it rolls off his tongue with style.

Turner, never a songwriter with the longest attention span, now flips from observation to observation without much consideration for coherence or narrative. Before, on the likes of ‘Pretty Visiters’ or ‘Library Pictures’ this was done largely for effect – to show off his Olympian verbal dexterity or to simply to delight in the auditory thrill of the sibilance, half rhymes and ridiculous similes. Here though it reflects the shortened attention span of the characters he’s describing, ‘sucked into a hole through a handheld device’. One song is named after a YouTube meme (‘The Workd’s First Monster Truck Flip’), another, ‘She Looks Like Fun’, races from image to image like someone scrolling down their Instagram feed. ‘Bukowski. Dog sitting. Screw balling.’ That song in particular is a murky, heavy, deeply weird slog with an air of wonder and hallucinogenic glee – the type of song that might be played on an especially demonic merry go round ride. In both sound and content, it’s the perfect rendering of how it feels to be sucked down a YouTube black hole.

It’s a dicey game, writing about technology, one that easily boils over in to didacticism or worse, threatens to make you sound like a fuddy-daddy. At times Turner is one small step away from becoming Father John Misty. Luckily he reins it in at the right moments. He’s aware of his own complicity in a game we are all playing to varying degrees and is only too happy to mock or undermine his sense of authority and wisdom. Only on ‘Batphone’ do the observations feel a little too ponderous and oblique, the tone a little too detached. He recovers on the gorgeous album closer ‘The Ultracheese’, a ballad that ranks alongside ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘Love Is a Laserquest’ in the band’s catalogue of sweet and sober meditations on nostalgia and ageing. ‘Oh the dawn won’t stop weighing a tonne/I’ve done somethings I shouldn’t have done but I haven’t stopped loving you once.’ The song ends abruptly, at the conclusion of that sentence, with no big send off or dramatic crescendo, and the melody is left somewhat unresolved. The music stops and Alex coos sentimentally, before the lights fade and the curtain drops. It’s a morsel of romance in a world that otherwise seems remarkably short of the stuff. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ presents a generally grim vision of the future but in its final moments Alex Turner makes assurances that there will always be room for human connection and commitment. It’s a touching finale to what could (could) be the band’s most accomplished album to date.



The Last Shadow Puppets ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ – Review

5 Apr

Watching Alex Turner and Miles Kane flirt, gyrate and strut across the stage at their recent London show, in matching grey suits, they appeared the picture of audacious confidence. Only in Butlins would you find more flamboyant showmanship, manufactured cockiness and camp outfits. It’s therefore useful to remind ourselves that it has been quite a journey to reach this destination. Back In 2008 they were just two loveable Northern rogues already fronting successful bands, who inexplicably decided to abandon their day jobs for a year to make a loving homage to balladeers like Scott Walker, Dion and early David Bowie whilst amping the melodrama to Ernico Morricone levels. ‘The Age of the Understatement’ was the product of youthful, infectious enthusiasm. It was pretentious, exuberant, silly, ambitious and sparodically excellent.

It also provided a much needed breather for Alex Turner. Not yet 21, he’d had a number one single to his name with his first attempt and received high acclaim. In 2008 he was trying to shake free from the shackles of rock stardom and The Last Shadow Puppets was essentially a vehicle for that. It was both an education in musical experimentation, a symbol of independence and a chance to cut loose. The intervening years have been kinder still and Turner seems to have embraced his destiny as a Rock Demi-God. 2013’s ‘A.M’ was Arctic Monkeys biggest, and possibly best, record yet and the idea of a follow up must be daunting. Once again, Last Shadow Puppets provides respite, relief and opportunity for a bit of a laugh.

Essentially Alex and Miles still come across like two lads on holiday. They sound more carefree and lacksidazicle than they have in years, which is both a help and a hinderance to the success of the record. The freedom that the Shadow Puppets umbrella provides has allowed them to dip their toes in new waters as well as flip casually through Arctic Monkeys playbook, revisiting the gloomy desert rock of ‘Humbug’ on ‘She Does the Woods’, the indie pop of ‘Suck it and See’ on ‘The Miracle Aligner’ and the widescreen balladry of the Submarine soundtrack on ‘The Dream Synopsis’. They eye up lite-disco on the shimmering ‘Element of Surprise’, northern soul on ‘Pattern’ and rock out on ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘Used to be my Girl.’

But youthful enthusiasm has been traded in, perhaps inevitably, for a discomforting dose of cynicism. It’s been eight years since ‘Age of the Understatement’ and Alex and Miles have lived with their influences for years now. They aren’t digesting sounds as teenagers do and this is not the first flush of youth. Tellingly, ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ is neater, more accomplished, more restrained and assured than the debut. But even in its best moments there is the sense that these are just slightly more sinister, guarded and weary takes on songs we’ve heard before. First single ‘Bad Habbits’ was an utter disappointment. It’s woozy melody, or rather Kane’s embittered delivery of it, contains nothing but bile and its lyrics are mean spirited (‘should’ve known little girl that you’d do me wrong/ should have known by the way you were showing off). Aside from a nice baseline and an interesting string arrangements from the always reliable Owen Pallett, the song has nothing of interest to offer. But Turner has form for releasing red herrings as lead singles (‘Brick by Brick’ and ‘Don’t Sit Down’ being the obvious examples) and luckily, ‘Bad Habits’ is the only truly obnoxious song on here. Mostly, ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ manages to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Opening track ‘Aviation’ picks up roughly where ‘Age of the Understatment’ left off, with a bombastic string arrangement, harmonies and bold metaphors galore. But moments that so blatantly recall the debut are hard to find, past obviously hearing Alex and Miles sing in tandem over some lush string arrangements. The title track has a nicely lilting melody that recalls ‘Pet Sounds’ era Beach Boys (and I don’t use that comparison lightly). ‘The Dream Synopsis’ and ‘Sweet Dreams TN’ demonstrate Turner’s beautiful, crooning voice which has added depth and richness over the last eight years – you get the impression he’s been indulging in far too much expensive whisky and cigarettes. These tracks in particular also convey the most generous and endearing lyrics on the record. The latter is a love song that boarders on the sleazy (‘I ain’t got anything to lick without you baby’ ‘maybe we ought to fuck’) but redeems itself through Turner’s humorous asides and completely over the top delivery where he channels his inner Roy Orbison and then some. On the former he reminds us of his stunning observational gift with a throwaway line about the object of his affection having a ‘leaning tower of pint pots in your hand – you can carry much more than I can.’ These days he favours Impressionistic wordplay over observational realism but in that line he reminds us why we fell in love with the little scamp in the first place.

However, the simple days of ‘his way or no way totalitarians’, ‘Topshop princesses’ and ‘weekend rock stars’ are long gone. In 2016 Alex Turner is a much more divisive figure. Trying to explain his current shtick (for want of a better word) is getting harder. There’s a certain detached irony to his rock n roll persona, a certain cheekiness and smart-alec self awareness, but an equal sense that he’s genuinely in love with old fashioned, obnoxious rock star chic. Representative of this was his ‘mic drop’ at the 2014 Brit awards which occurred after delivering an acceptance speech that amounted to a nonsensical but brilliant analysis of rock n roll’s place in pop culture. He was serious but not serious, tongue in cheek but armed with a solid point. The tabloid columnists were up in arms the next day – how dare this ungrateful hooligan mock the seriousness of the Brit institution! His fans got it but others were bewildered. He was either wilfully rude, arrogant or spaced out on cocaine depending on who you spoke to. Love it or hate it, one thing was for sure – In his bravado, swagger and utter confidence he appeared about as far removed from the shy Alex Turner of ten years ago as we ever could have imagined.

In the two years since that Brit appearance, Turner has rambled even further in to murky, gold medallion, slicked back hair and velour tracksuit territory. He now has the appearance of a 1970s Mafia boss on holiday in Malabo. Until now that vibe has been restricted to his style and on stage mannerisms but on ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ it’s leaked into the lyrics; the album is dripping with sleaziness. The first album was obsessed with femme fetales but ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ amps up the contempt and becomes a slightly uncomfortable listen because of it, especially in light of some rather tasteless, borderline lecherous comments made by Miles Kane to a Female journalist. It isn’t smart or interesting to make references, more than once, to a girl who needs to get down on her knees. Nor is it charming to ask a girl if she wants it ‘on my planet or yours’. And ‘just tell me when you want your socks knocking off’ is the wrong side of confident. Both Miles and Alex need to hold themselves to a higher standard than that. Thankfully, some distasteful lyrics and an air of naughtiness isn’t enough to derail an otherwise enjoyable record – if it was there’s no way the recent Kanye West album would have received so much attention. The otherwise imaginative language and captivating imagery is ultimately what you’re left remembering – the ‘four horsemen in a one horse race’, the ‘dirtbag ballet by the bins down the alley’ and the ‘chalet of the shadow of death’ – and that’s just one song.

‘The Dream Synopsis’ demonstrates a more tender side to their songwriting that is underused and perhaps undervalued. Here Alex reflects nostalgically on a moment of sneaky indulgence at work. ‘Well we were kissing, it was secret, we had to sneak beyond the kitchen. Both well aware that there’d be trouble if the manager should find us…’ Perhaps that’s instructive of how we should treat ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’, as a brief, indulgent, somewhat uncomfortable and slightly dangerous moment of escapism. In a minute or so the kiss is over and it’s back to work. You walk away unsure of what to make of it but Are thrilled nonetheless. Next year there will be new Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane albums, you can be sure of it. They will be less adventurous, less scandalous and probably more successful. But will they be this much fun?



Arctic Monkeys ‘AM’ – Review

15 Sep

Listening to ‘AM’ for the first time inevitably takes me back to the first time I heard ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, as a 15 year old on a very overcast day in January. Arctic Monkeys were THE band of my generation and each subsequent album has felt like a vindication of my initial passionate investment in them. I will never get that excited by a new band again – the bands you discover at that age stay with you forever. They had songs I could relate to; definitely pop songs, but they weren’t like the other tunes that occupied the number one slot. They were edgy but accessible. They were like my gang but cooler. They sang about things that I experienced or wanted to experience. I could relate to their lyrics a little too well, and yet I could never hope to express myself in such an eloquent, verbose and funny way.

And yet these initial attractions have diminished over the years as new ones have emerged. They have grown, as I have, and our experiences have differed. We’ve ventured down very different paths, and yet here we still are. I’ve always felt that innate connection. As I look at them in 2013, headlining Glastonbury and unquestionably stealing the show from under The Rolling Stones nose, It strikes me that they are now pop-stars without qualification.They aren’t necessarily pop stars of the current mould (no twerking to be seen on that stage) or of any previous mould either, but they exude a confidence, a bravado if you like, that only pop-stars have. The rough edges have been smoothed over. The buzzcut became a shaggy mop became a quiff. The sweat and Greece became polish. After a decade as a band, Arctic Monkeys have finally become Arctic Monkeys. AM. They haven’t ‘sold out’ on those original principles (many of which fans imposed on them anyway), they’ve simply become the band they always had the potential to be.

It’s fitting then that this, their fifth album, is essentially self-titled – at least it would be if they ‘didn’t have such a stupid name.’ As it is, they decided to ‘initial it’, and thus ensured a whole host of connotations were made apparent. AM = Aftermidnight. For sure; this is a sexy, slinky, seductive record. Neon light riffs, grumbling bass sounds, disco bass drums, the type you hear coming through your walls when there’s a party next door. AM = Analogue Frequency. This is an album from an analogue age, which is not to say it’s ‘retro’ or ‘old fashioned’. I mean, it belongs to an age where people took care over records and used the best equipment money could buy. It SOUNDS amazing. The likes of ‘Number One Party Anthem’ and ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ have pure 1970s AM radio warmth. AM = as in a homage to VU by Velvet Underground. That band’s influence is all over this record, particularly the ‘Sunday Morning’-esque ‘Mad Sounds’ and the galloping ‘Fireside’. AM = AM, as in I AM living, I AM creating, I AM doing, I AM being. This is a record that moves and adventures and experiences. It’s vital and urgent. AM = the letters visually represent three mountain peaks. This is Arctic Monkeys at the top of their game, looking down at their competition.

The recording process was started little over a year ago, right after Arctic Monkeys became the only British band to appear at the Olympics opening ceremony. Fittingly, each one of these tunes is stadium ready, even if they carry a personal weight that feels intimate and close. Alex has never sounded more like he’s crooning in your ear. His voice now quivers and serenades. His lyrics are soft and romantic – rarely sarcastic or twisted these days. He’s often the victim but often the predator. On the album opener he’s crawling back to an ex, hoping the ‘feeling flows both ways’, on ‘R U Mine’ he moans, he begs, he fantasises, and he LONGS. On ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When Your High’ he is reduced to sending incoherent texts on wasted nights out.

Make no mistake – Alex has only one thing on his mind. Where as ‘Suck It and See’ was all about love, ‘AM’ is a record about lust. On ‘Knee Socks’ he reminisces about a girl wearing ‘Sky blue lacoste and knee socks’ whilst ‘Arrabella’ has a ‘Barbarella silver swim suit’. Alex smoulders over the details and he inhabits various Lothario roles. On ‘Number One Party Anthem’ he is a predator on the chase, on ‘Snap Out of It’ he is the scorned ex and on ‘I Want It All’ he is the greedy lover. Matt and Nick are his shoulder angels. Or shoulder demons. They whisper into his ear with their heavenly high backing vocals, sometimes repeating Alex’s lines, occasionally offering harmonies or counter melodies, usually recalling early Destinty’s Child or TLC. Sometimes they sound mocking, sometimes reassuring, sometimes comforting – unquestionably the add a unique flavour to the record.

Some other stray observations about the musicians; Jamie is finally starting to come into his own as a guitarist. In the past it’s been difficult to see what exactly he adds, but here his playing is astute and thoughtful. ‘Fireside’ is carried by the sunburnt shuffle of his acoustic guitar, ‘One For the Road’ is leant a minor key shimmer by some of his subtle staccato sounds. Matt Helders has been listening to a lot of Dr Dre. His beats are never innovative or particularly interesting (especially compared to the rich gold-mine of contemporary beat making) but the likes of ‘Arabella’ and ‘R U Mine’ show he’s still capable of doing something TNGHT, SBTRKT or Jamie XX can’t do – go ape-mental on the skins when the tune requires it. Nick’s grooves have always been reliably sturdy and they continue to groove along nicely here. He’s returned to the slightly funky sound of ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ as opposed to his more melodic work on ‘Suck It and See’ and it works perfectly.

The three singles find Alex in an interrogative mood. ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When Your High?’ and ‘R U Mine?’ On the latter Alex demands to know if the girl belongs to him. He buys into this possessive mind-frame for much of the album, often coming across as unlikeable or even slightly misogynistic – presuming the ex that has fallen in love after him must be ‘hypnotized’. On ‘Knee Socks’ he just assumes the girl will be his tonic to the January blues, seemingly never stopping to consider her feelings. ‘You could be MY baby’ he croons. But all his bravado is undone on the album’s finale, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ in which Alex confesses that he’s the plaything, he’s the ‘puppet on the string’, he’s the possession. ‘You call the shots babe, I just wanna be yours.’ It’s the most moving song on an album of seduction and heartbreak.

Every Arctic Monkeys album has felt like a peak but looking back now it’s easy to see each one as a natural stop-off on a journey that has led to ‘AM’. The band’s story arc is compelling and classic, especially when compared to the career progressions of their early rivals. The other day I was reading an old interview from 2006 where they were asked if they were worried about being a flash in the pan compared to Kaiser Chiefs. Such questions prompted Alex to ask ‘In five years time will it be who the fuck’s Arctic Monkeys’. They needn’t have worried; those other bands stalled as the Monkeys flew into fifth gear. 2006 now feels like a lifetime ago, for everyone concerned – Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Me. Who knows where they’ll be in five years time. It’ll be hard to top the Olympics, Glastonbury and ‘AM’ but this being Arctic Monkeys, you wouldn’t bet against them trumping the lot.


Arctic Monkeys turn up at the Olympics

29 Jul

The other night I had the strangest dream that Arctic Monkeys turned up in the middle of the Olympic Opening Ceremony (watched by over a billion people) and performed Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor and Come Together whilst a bunch of cyclists (wearing neon wings of course) flew around the track. Oh wait…

Pretty Insane right? Musically speaking, the ceremony was a mixture of the expected (Paul Mccartney, plus a soundtrack featuring Queen, Rolling Stones, The Who etc) and the unexpected (Two Door Cinema Club, Sex Pistols and a live performance by Frank Turner). It was pretty wild, and The Monkeys owned the entire night.

Arctic Monkeys ‘R U MINE?’

27 Feb

Check out the new single from Arctic Monkeys, it’s called ‘R U MINE?’. The tune’s big on riffage and not so big on subtilty, but it’s great fun. You won’t find this on ‘Suck It and See’ so get downloading.