There are hard acts to follow, and then there’s Arctic Monkeys’ last album. 2013’s AM was, in so many respects, the perfect rock record of our times. With a few exceptions, mainstream indie guitar music often seems an exhausted idiom, trying on fifth-hand poses to diminishing creative returns.
On AM – a record about lust in LA – the Monkeys’ carnivorous riffs and piledriving drums exchanged body fluids with the slink and anomie of contemporary R&B and west coast hip-hop. AM’s qualitative brilliance was matched by its quantitative uptake, earning the Sheffield outfit No 1 spots internationally, and a massive new audience in the US. Was it the band’s best since their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not? In all likelihood. Five years on, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino totally strips out the rock from the Arctics’ offering. Sure, there’s a fuzz-toned guitar on Golden Trunks. The low-slung She Looks Like Fun opens with a very rock band-y “one, two, three, four”. Guitarist Jamie Cook, drummer Matt Helders and bassist Nick O’Malley are here, but they are muted, repurposed. All contribute to the vibe – not least, in soulful falsetto backing vocals – but their instruments are not slamming up against your chest cavity and dislocating your spleen.
Instead, singing guitarist Alex Turner has taken his muse off into space – the moon, specifically. It’s an awe-inspiring place, somewhat despoiled by humans and their need to build hotel-cum-casinos near the Sea of Tranquility. If you’ve been to Niagara Falls, you’ll have a flavour. There’s a taqueria on the roof, too, scoring four stars out of five (“and that’s unheard-of”, vamps Turner).