Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino may be Arctic Monkeys’ biggest gamble yet

In an era where nobody’s buying albums, Arctic Monkeys have bucked the trend, but could their complacency backfire?

Back in 2005 the Sheffield band had kept to the traditional DIY ethos of handing out CDs to anyone who would take them. Soon though eager fans started uploading their tracks to indie message boards, and the band became the face of a new era – one where anybody could become Glastonbury headliners as long as they had a four track and a Myspace account.

As word spread about the internet being a revolutionary tool for new bands, the Monkeys were beating older bands at their own game at the same time.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not remains the fastest selling debut album by a band in the UK, and after the release of AM in 2013, they became the first band on an independent label to release five consecutive number one albums.

They survived the rise of piracy, the decline of indie rock, and then the rise of streaming. Unlike any other of their peers, however, they continued to shift albums. By almost every metric, no other band this side of the millenium comes close in terms of size to the scrawny-turned-sleek Sheffield group.

That’s why their approach to album number six comes as a surprise.

This morning the band released Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino with little fanfare. Save for a few posters and a 42 second teaser video, there was no other indication of what to expect. No singles or radio sessions; it was just released.

While the Monkeys and their label, Domino, knew that the album would not go unnoticed, by introducing a stark new style it risked alienating their traditional fanbase with no warning.

The guitars are largely out, and pianos have come in; Alex Turner is no longer mouthing off about High Green, but crooning about gentrification on the moon. Compare it to Whatever People Say I Am…, and it’s not unreasonable to think these could be separate bands entirely. 

So do fans think that it’s a way of protecting the album as a collective piece, or was a move to sell records without having to show this alienating change of sound?

We went out to ask some people whether they’d be willing to pay for an album just on the artist’s reputation alone.

Just as we found, the reaction from Arctic Monkeys fans on social media has been split.
There was a consistency that they’re decision not to release any singles was a fear of a backlash, and by saving it to the release they already had album and ticket sales in the bank.
Some fans of their earlier, more frenetic material thought the focus on lyricism and piano playing proved lacklustre.

Although there is some balance and some, including Radio 1 DJ Greg James, think that Tranquility Base showcases the strength of the band’s evolution.

Once the hype and disappointment fades, the album will probably fall somewhere between grand and gaudy.
Tranquility Base is almost infuriatingly dense. The album’s first real hook to grab onto doesn’t come until the sixth track, Four out of Five.
It requires attention unlike other Arctic Monkeys records, but Alex Turner is still the same writer. He’s still funny and clever, willing to turn a phrase from nowhere, but they’re now hidden in long, winding soliloquies.
For those who want festival anthems, this album is undoubtedly be a disappointment.
But it’s wrong to suggest this is Turner starting to coast, in many ways this is the most complicated album the band have released since Humbug.
Whether this controversial change of tact will affect their popularity in the long term remains to be seen.
But one thing is for sure; Arctic Monkeys’ silence has got everybody talking.

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