Arctic Monkeys have done an album, it’s got a long title (“Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino”), and if you’d told me before it came out that I would end up loving it then I would have assumed it was a record of Beach Boys covers, which (it seemed to me), were the only circumstances under which I would enjoy the Arctic Monkeys. But it’s here, and it’s surprisingly good. Very good in fact, a spectral set of spacey and loopy and haunting songs, dragged into being and led by some jazzy piano chords and frontman Alex Turner’s lascivious, crooning voice.
Lots of critics and pundits are pegging it as a Bowie-esque record, and that’s definitely true, but my dad compared it to Pulp and I think that’s a much better point of reference. It’s got the same thirst-factor that you’d find in songs like Pencil Skirt, and Turner is a good match for Jarvis Cocker’s preening, ghostly lust.
I’m still not what you’d call a fan of the band, but this album goes a long way towards making me like them. There’s an audacity to it that I appreciate; one of the biggest guitar-rock bands, disappearing for five years and coming back with a sprightly suite of balladry that brings to mind John Barry instead of the Strokes (who get namechecked in the first line of the album). It’s much more of a rock statement than the insipid, ever-diminishing posturing they’d been at on their interminable last album, AM.
The fans, and even some critics, are pissed. Scanning their Facebook page reveals fields of young men called things like Lewis, Alan, Dave, Martyn, Dean, bemoaning it to be absolute wank, griping about the abundance of piano, the lack of riffs, the fact that the songs on the album sound alike (a particularly hilarious criticism given the fact R U Mine and Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High are basically the same song).
But, look, I get it. Arctic Monkeys are a particularly working class band, one of the last of their breed, and when they started out they played songs that genuinely spoke to a generation, that were about a distinctive milieu, about the cycle of going out, and getting pissed, and telling your girlfriend you love her, and having fun, because what else is there to do?
I don’t say this to romanticise the band, and I’m not trying to be disingenuous either. I am a vaguely effeminate absolute soft boi, and though I have not and never will be one of the lads, which seemed to be who this band spoke to (though I don’t mean this to discredit their incredibly broad demographic either). There is a sense in which this album is the Metal Machine Music for the Oceania generation.
With this in mind, the blowback to the album is entirely justified, in a sense. It’s a sense of betrayal that runs through these comments, a sense of being left behind. If the Arctic Monkeys once represented something aspirational, the idea that if four lads from Sheffield could accomplish all that before they were even 21 then you could too, then this represents the other side of that aspiration. Alex Turner’s frame of reference is no longer shitty Saturday jobs, the sesh, and first relationships, it’s Serge Gainsbourg, Alexa Chung, Jean-Pierre Melville. This is fine, and I’m not saying that Alex Turner should be scorned because he is being authentic to himself, still; it’s just that he’s a different man now. Twelve years of being entrenched in the music and showbiz industry has changed him, as it would.
But the fact remains, he’s not speaking to his core audience like he used to.
I don’t know what’ll happen now. Maybe they’ll go back to making the music they used to make, and reclaim some of that audience they seem to have alienated. Maybe they’ll continue to go off in weird and strange directions. Maybe they’ll do something completely unexpected, like split up. However, the band have evolved. Sometimes that means shedding an old skin. And as much as I’m enjoying this record, I recognise that it means something bigger than a bunch of songs. The Arctic Monkeys were about a lifestyle, and just because they’ve left that lifestyle behind doesn’t mean it’s not there anymore.