The Sheffield group has always been associated with the concept of “timeless hits.” Ever since their debut album “Whatever people say I am that’s what I’m not” (2006), they have proven to be one of the best acts nowadays, not only in terms of their sound (which has changed and evolved throughout the years) but most noticeably in terms of their lyrical content. Throughout the years, Alex Turner, Matt Helders, Nick O’Malley, and Jamie Cook have tackled different genres and showed us how they evolved as a band.
As the year 2020 comes to an end, let’s look back into some of the songs that have solidified Arctic Monkeys in today’s music scene.
When it comes to Arctic Monkeys, we can always expect the unexpected. Their most recent album “Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino” (2018), showed a different side of the band, applying the name of the album in its literal sense. It is a clear departure from their previous release “AM” (2013), regarding both the overall mood and theme of the lyrics. Yet this decision is not unusual when it comes to this group. Over the course of their career, they never settled with the same formula of composing songs. Instead, they welcomed new and interesting ideas that would lead them onto different and unusual paths. There are aspects that have influenced these changes, such as the time spent in different locations (whether it is London, Sheffield, New York or Los Angeles), as well as the inevitable changes everyone goes through as the years go by. We often hear that certain artists have “lost their touch”, almost as if creativity and passion are limited by the passing of time. The truth is that the passing of time shouldn’t be used as a disguise for lack of effort, but instead an opportunity to explore and experiment with new ideas. It is clear that the Arctic Monkeys have never relied on a specific “sound” they were already comfortable with. The process of writing and composing albums has changed over the course of their career, and consequently, the themes and writing style differ from album to album, yet all of them hold the same artistry, expressiveness, and integrity.
Turner mentioned that he never intended to make a concept album, yet he admits that all of the tracks in the 2018 album have a relationship with each other. The opening track “Star Treatment” introduces the album with a great opening line (“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes”) yet it is the track “Four out of Five” that sets the scene: A futuristic Hotel on the moon, where a set of short stories is told by an unreliable narrator (who often loses his train of thought). The introspective tone that we are used to see in Turner’s writing is elevated in this album, as it was mostly written in isolation in his home studio in LA, which was later named “The Lunar Surface.”
Isolation definitely played a part in the overall mood: an escape from reality and the perfect place to look into himself and eloquently criticize what he sees in the world. The song “Batphone” serves as a perfect example to look into as Turner showcases his way with words, while also providing his opinion on a topic: how technology in all of its forms has become an addiction to most people.
There are certain moments where he is more direct (“Have I told you all about the time that I got sucked into a hole, through a hand held device?”), yet the subtle criticisms that are scattered throughout the song elevate the meaning behind it, such as the lines “Life became a spectator sport / I launch my fragrance called “Integrity” /I sell the fact that I can’t be bought.” His thoughts are ultimately summarized in the last line of the song: “Panoramic windows looking out across your soul.”
The last track “The Ultracheese” brings this journey to an end in a melancholic and nostalgic tone. It may feel like this last chapter is intended to be a monologue, ending the album with the narrator talking to himself. But, It’s almost as if we were invited to listen to Turner’s own narration of his thoughts, as he looks into his own life, relationships, and friendships. As he continues his self-reflections we see him reach certain conclusions not only about himself but also about those that have made an impact throughout his life. (“I suppose we aren’t really friends anymore, maybe I shouldn’t ever have called that thing friendly at all.”)
As we reach the end of the song (and the end of the story), we see that this introspective journey has led him to admit his feelings, one last time (“The dawn won’t stop weighing a tonne, I’ve done some things that I shouldn’t have done, but I haven’t stopped loving you once”).
The feelings, metaphors, and atmosphere of the album are impossible to replicate, as the type of writing we witness in “Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino” is in its core something only Alex Turner could write. It is not the type of album to mindlessly listen to, but one that requires an attentive and open mindset (perhaps accompanied by a glass of red wine).