Cleverly textured sounds

Arctic Monkeys comprise (from left) Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O'Malley and Matt Helders.
Arctic Monkeys comprise (from left) Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O'Malley and Matt Helders.PHOTO: ZACKERY MICHAEL

Despite the chill-out vibes and space-age pop sounds, Arctic Monkeys' new album is no easy-listening ride

With their sixth album, British band Arctic Monkeys continue the bold streak that saw them constantly reinvent themselves, from a scruffy garage outfit to muscular, bluesy rockers and, now, science-fiction lounge lizards.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, named after the first moon landing site, is as far removed from their previous efforts as you can get, ditching brash guitars and spunkiness for jazz-inflected sounds and down-tempo rhythms.

Principal songwriter and frontman Alex Turner, who was said to have written the tunes on a Steinway upright piano, a recent gift, is also taking cues from the past.

There are shades of David Bowie and Serge Gainsbourg's output from the late 1960s and 1970s, as well as the Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds (1966).

Yet, Turner and gang (guitarist Jamie Cook, bassist Nick O'Malley and drummer Matt Helders manage to take all these classic sounds without being derivative.

Turner's distinctive turn with words is still on display here and while he drops copious amounts of science-fiction references, the lyrics cover subjects ranging from social and political issues to consumerism.

  • Arctic Monkeys comprise (from left) Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O'Malley and Matt Helders.

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Now in his early 30s, he is ruminating on life, singing about the time before the band took off about a dozen years ago (I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/Now look at the mess you made me make) and his current incarnation (Back down to earth with a lounge singer shimmer) in self-referential opening track Star Treatment.

The title track, with its byzantine bass line, has him musing while on a made-up Moon complex (I've been on a bender back to that prophetic esplanade/Where I ponder all the questions but just manage to miss the mark).

Four Out Of Five shines with its singalong chorus and trippy lyrics about a rooftop taco restaurant on the Moon, with Turner satirising ratings and review scores (I put a taqueria on the roof, it was well reviewed/Four stars out of five/ And that's unheard of).

On Batphone, he parodies the modern obsession with social media (Life became a spectator sport/I launch my fragrance called Integrity/I sell the fact that I can't be bought), while The World's First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip, with its orchestral pop, Good Vibrations-like arrangements, mocks the over-reliance on technology (You push the button and we'll do the rest).

Despite the chill-out vibes and space-age pop sounds, the album is no easy-listening ride, as the band trade youthful effervescence for cleverly textured sounds that take repeated listens to uncover.

It is a shift that might alienate long-time fans more attuned to their more immediate back catalogue, but a daring work that affirms their position as one of Britain's most artistically exciting bands.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Cleverly textured sounds'. Print Edition | Subscribe