I have been an Arctic Monkeys fan for a fairly long time. Basically, since the same month the debut album dropped. I have bought all their early singles and like all the B-Sides and deep cuts as much as the fan favourite stuff. I still liked the more controversial moments like their Humbug album and the trippy B-sides from the Suck It And See era singles.
Basically; I am not some casual fan who just cares about the big hits. Coming into this record, the band have basically done no wrong.
…And then we come to this album. To the moon. The Tranquillity Base to be specific. Now, I am not a fan of negative reviews. You may have noticed reading this blog, there are ‘its good’ and ‘its average’ reviews in abundance, but not many, if any ‘what a pile of shit’ reviews. I am very much of the ‘’If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all’’ approach to reviews. That being said, this album is very possibly the single worst album I have heard by a good band in a long time.
Don’t take this for me just not liking the band’s change of direction. This album is a bit progressive, a bit psychedelic, a bit dreamy, and very low key. As I said though, I like the band doing all sorts of things. Its not like ‘’Your So Dark’’ from the last album’s B-Sides or ‘’Fire Side’’ from the last album didn’t work with the band being low key. Its not as if ‘’Pretty Visitors’’ and ‘’The Jeweller’s Hands’’ from Humbug didn’t work with the band being a bit Psychedelic. Its not as if I don’t like me a bit of prog now and again or the general sound of this album (sometimes I can pick up little flavours of Caravan here and there).
Its not even as if the theme of a hotel and casino on the moon, and songs from the perspective of different staff and visitors is too confusing or off-putting. Just look at how many Mastodon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Queensryche or Coheed & Cambria albums I own to know I am a big fan of concept albums.
No; the problem with this album isn’t the direction or the concept. Its not that it is a departure from previous styles. Its not that it is for serious fans only. The fan is that the songs are uniformly boring. The material uninspiring. The whole album is one-paced, uninteresting and forgettable. It is a samey sludge of un-music that is so dreadfully dull it may as well not exist. If you don’t have laser-beam focus on it you can’t tell when one song ends and the other begins (my wife has been heard to remark ‘’Is this still the same song?!’’ three songs later).
Okay, in fairness; When you do focus as hard as you can, its not all bad… You can hear some flashes of attempted hooks. For example, in ‘Star Treatment’ there is a line that goes ‘’who you gonna call, the Martini-police?’’ that is musically catchy (even if the lyric itself is a bit smug and pretentious). The bit on the title track where he says the title of the album is also good. The single ‘Four Out Of Five’ is kind of decent all the way through and is somewhat reminiscent of their better single from Humbug, ‘Cornerstone.’
But really; you shouldn’t have to dig so deep to apologetically try and find some small sliver of likeability. Compare that to their debut album, where it is literally as difficult to find something NOT to like as it is to name great moments from here, and you can see by just how far this once great band has missed the mark.
How do we explain this terrible dirge of an album? Maybe this album was a response to the huge success of the previous album AM. Maybe the band were sick of playing bangers like ‘Arabella’ for years on end and wanted to do something deeper. Maybe the band have always wanted to make this album and are only now in a position to risk it with near universal acclaim for a decade to buoy their confidence. Maybe they just took a bunch of drugs after hanging around Josh Homme too long and decided to get trippy. Who knows?
All I know is I have listened to this album so many more times than it deserved, constantly trying to get it to ‘click.’ Constantly trying to discovery its hidden depths. Constantly trying to find the good in it. I have tried across several months, in different contexts, with different kinds of music before and after, just wanting something good to happen.
The only thing that happened is that I finally felt allowed to give up on it. This is not a deep a profound work. This is not a slow burn. This is not a grower. This is not even one for hardcore fans only. This is, unfortunately, as much as it goes against my instincts to say so… a pile of shit.