Nothing remains in Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino of the band that released the
excellent Whatever People Say That's What
I'm Not 12 years ago. And that's fine, because 12 years ago Alex Turner was
a post teenager who just wanted to be one of the Strokes and is now a star with more than 30 years behind him. His
world is no longer the nightclubs and pubs of Sheffield but the life of a
millionaire in Los Angeles. Times change and people change too. That doesn’t
mean that Turner is not still an excellent songwriter, although his references
have gone from the Strokes or the Jam,
to Scott Walker and the Style Council. Of course, on this album
he has looked for something more intricate; ornate songs that turn on
themselves and do not seek luminous and humming refrains. Maybe Cornerstone or The Age Of The Understatement by the Last Shadow Puppets are the closest references in Turner's previous
work, but there's nothing so direct here. These are songs that have multiple
readings but, of course, they are the least commercial he has done to date.
This is also an album that grows on you with multiple listens and, above all, listened to as a whole. It is not an album for these times of streaming and random songs, it is an archaic record, made for the old ritual of putting on the turntable and watching the needle fall on its grooves until it reaches the end. Whoever looks for a continuation of the successful AM will be terribly disappointed but whoever hears it without preconceived ideas might be pleasantly surprised.
It is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an artist defies the expectations of his audience but, with better or worse results, every time this happens it means that the artist in question has decided to avoid the easy way, and that always should be lauded. Not everything is perfect, there are skids like Batphone, but the overall result is very good. Once you've heard it, you will understand perfectly their decision not to advance a single from the album; there's nothing like that here and the group makes their intentions clear; you either take it (as a whole) or you leave it.
The album opens with Star Treatment and, after an instrumental start that is close to lounge jazz, the true protagonist of the album appears: Turner’s voice with a soul lament in falsetto, in Marvin Gaye style, which gives way to a recitation that begins with the already famous first phrase "I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you made me make". This gets the listener directly to the point, before moving on to references to Style Council, something that also seems very conscious and intelligent on the part of Turner. Style Council was the project from which Paul Weller, who until then had led the top guitar band of the time in the United Kingdom, the Jam, moved on to soul and ‘sophistipop’; thereby breaking with the expectations of his followers. The lyrics of the song are full of darts and sarcastic winks in the vein of Father John Misty, as when Turner exclaimed "What do you mean you’ve never seen Blade Runner?".
In One Point Perspective Turner sounds like a crooner from the 50s (with great work by Nick O'Malley on bass) and later the lead singer shines with a small, but sexy, solo on his Gretsch 6143 Spectra Sonic, while Jaimie Cook adds small arpeggios with his Gibson ES-335. This is one of the best songs on the album. Listening to Science Fiction you understand why his version of Nick Cave's Red Right Hand was not just pure chance. There are also echoes of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp’s This Is Hardcore; the álbum where they were also thousands of miles away from writing another Common People. She Looks Like Fun is the closest thing to the Monkeys of the past that fans will find on the album; but to the darker cuts in Humbug instead of the irresistible singles; which is why it's not strange that Turner undusts his Jazzmaster for an interesting, and short, solo. But, without a doubt, Four Out Of Five, very close to Bowie, is the best tune on the whole album and, possibly, the only one remotely closer to a single. His lyrics are what best summarize the spirit of the album, with allusions to the obsession with network ratings ("I put a taqueria on the moon / It got rave reviews / Four stars out of five") or our loss of connection with reality, as on She Looks Like Fun ("No one's on the street - we moved it all online as of March").
Lyrically the album has a certain continuity, a kind of futuristic story line in which Turner leaves Earth by the Moon, with touches of Space Oddity, and Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, another clear reference, with which the singer gives his vision about a digitalized world organized around social networks. The result is like a collection of Black Mirror chapters linked by a small storyline. This helps make this work more cohesive. Something that also happens on the musical side of things, namely on the songs with similarly calm tempos, built upon Turner’s much-loved Steinway. In many ways Turner is the beginning and end of this work; and in that sense the album is perhaps closer to a solo work than to a joint work.
In spite of everything, I do not think that this is the band’s best album but it is far from being the worst, and I prefer this album rather than a decaffeinated version of what made them great. I think it will be one of those albums that will grow in strength over time, and perhaps become the most special album of their discography; their cult work, their cursed album.