There are seemingly three routes a band can go down when approaching album number six. Either they continue down the same path they have always trodden and are criticised for being ‘samey’ (see Interpol), or they go out of left field and are criticised for being too different. The third option is to chase the dollar and be loathed by your fan base in exchange for a year or so in the limelight (see Leon, Kings of). As the latter was never likely to be a door that Alex Turner would open, he was left with an impossible choice.
AM reinvented the wheel, the rock and the roll. Surely the Sheffield legends couldn’t do that again? Could they? Well no actually, they can’t…
Tranquility Base is nothing like AM. The two albums don’t share a single strand of DNA. It also sounds nothing like Suck It and See or The Last Shadow Puppets either (mainly because it isn’t rubbish). Lazy comparisons abound simply because people are trying to find a footing with Tranquility Base that feels familiar. Don’t bother. Forget San Francisco, Alex Turner has gone into the stratosphere on this latest release, and not always in a good way.
Album opener Star Treatment is a slow burner, like really slow. First time round it passed me by on a wave of disappointment as the whole album congealed into one sticky mess. On repeated lessons however, Tranquility Base starts to reveal the aces in the pack… and the jokers. One Point Perspective is better. An upbeat, base laden breeze through Turner’s boudoir mind. The Sheffield drawl remains but it is tempered by references to science fiction and surrealist beat poetry. Let’s get one thing straight though. This is an astonishing album from a purely lyrical stand point. The wordplay is as good as anything on AM and while there is a sneaking suspicion that Turner wants you to know how clever he is, is that really a bad thing? Because surely the alternative is dumbing down?
American Sports works better if listened to as its own track rather than an extended outro for what precedes it and the title track is a gorgeous, hip-hop inspired ballad with the first real chorus of the album. Again, Nick O’Malley’s bass is the driving force and his funky licks crawl through the whole record, for better and for worse. So far, so weird. But not necessarily bad.
Any yet… Golden Trunks is barely listenable. A nothing riff, annoying falsetto vocals. It sounds like something Brian Wilson might have discarded from Pet Sounds after having a moment of clarity. So is Tranquility Base Alex Turner’s Pet Sounds? Alex Turner would dearly like to think so but to borrow some Yorkshire parlance from the man himself, is it fuck. Notably because for all its sonic experimentation Pet Sounds contains Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows. There is nothing even approaching that level of timeless pop genius here.
The closest we get to an actual banger is Four out of Five and while it is eclectic and ethereal, it could do without the Bowie influence. Oasis were always absolutely slaughtered for ripping off the Beatles. Well, it doesn’t matter if you’re borrow liberally from Here Comes The Sun or the more experimental stuff and The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip is straight out of the John Lennon songbook. Not necessarily a bad thing of course but far from the level of innovation that Turner is clearly aspiring too.
At this point in the album, despite misgivings, Tranquility Base & Hotel Casino could still go down as a success. But then we have the lyrically wonderful but musically dull Science Fiction followed by the insultingly terrible She Looks Like Fun, a song that sounds so much like the Lemon Twigs and by extension Paul McCartney that they should have a song writing credit. Similarly, Batphone takes a g-funk beat and does nothing with it. It’s almost as if they got half way through this concept album and then couldn’t be arsed to finish it. The Ultracheese aims for Cornerstone levels of gravitas and ends up feeling tired and out of ideas. And that’s it. Someone once said that anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment. They weren’t half right…
Alex Turner and his band shouldn’t be castigated for trying something different, especially something that is so clearly a step away from the mainstream, but make no mistake this is their worst album.