Sunday, September 19, 2021

#9 Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino - Arctic Monkeys

I was incredibly late discovering the joys of Alex Turner's songwriting. The band had the temerity to emerge during my wilderness years, the 2000s. I'd kept myself almost preternaturally au fait with the major trends and players in popular music of all stripes right through from my early teens until I turned forty but then EverQuest came along and a decade was lost just like that.

That's not entirely true but it's uncomfortably close. I did hear about the Arctic Monkeys when they exploded onto the scene (Copyright Disc and Record Mirror, 1975) with their debut #1 hit "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor". I knew enough to chuckle patronizingly when then-Chancellor Gordon Brown embarassed himself (not an unusual occurence by any means), claiming to be a fan of the band and then not being able to name a single one of their tunes.

Mind you, I couldn't have, either. Not then.

Other than that, I pretty much skipped their entire career until sometime around the middle of the following decade. By then I'd begun to wake up from my long mmorpg-induced trance. I was busy trawling YouTube for nuggets I'd missed from every decade, when I chanced upon Alex Turner's side project, the Last Shadow Puppets, doing a live cover of a song by an obscure band I used to go watch in student halls and local dive clubs when I was still in my teens.

The song in question was This Is Your Life by the Glaxo Babies (later forced to change their name to the Gl*xo Babies by the trademark owners, GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational pharmaceutical company not widely known for its sense of humor). It's a cracking cover and it made me think that if Alex Turner had good taste enough to know something that obscure and that good and to cover it that well I probably ought to pay him more attention.

So I did. I went through a bunch of Last Shadow Puppets and Arctic Monkeys videos on YouTube and liked pretty much everything I saw. Still didn't buy any of the records. 


Why I ended up buying Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino I'm really not sure. Thinking back for this post, I thought it might have been because I read a particularly persuasive review by Alex Petridis in the Guardian but when I look that up it turns out Petridis did review it but only gave it three stars out of five, plus I have no recollection of ever reading the review at all.

I must have heard of the album somewhere, and presumably heard something from it, too, because I put it on my wishlist and someone bought it for me. I listened to it and then I listened to it again and then it became one of the albums of the last three or four years I've listened to more than any. 

Reading that review, I noticed Alex Petridis cites Serge Gainsbourg and Pet Sounds era Beach Boys as the obvious and inevitable influences at play, which threw me a little. Of course, everyone gives Pet Sounds as an influence these days. It's about as useful a marker as saying "Oh, it sounds like the Velvet Underground". 


I thought I was at least marginally up to speed with Serge Gainsbourg, though, and I confess I did a double take when I read that part. When I go back and listen to Histoire de Melody Nelson, though, the influence is so bloody obvious it's embarassing to have missed it. Perhaps it's a good thing I never did become a music journalist after all.

However it came about, I'm extremely glad I found the Arctic Monkey's "science fiction lounge music concept album" (New Statesman - and hey, isn't the New Statesman the first place you turn to for all your rock music reviewing needs?) It's louche, loose, flip and funny. It mooches and slouches and sometimes it struts. Alex sounds worn down, world-weary, cynical and spent. 

It's packed with great one-liners that jump out of the thick, treacly mix. This is the kind of thing that gives concept albums a good name, if such a thing is even possible. I think I placed it too low. I'd shunt it up a couple of places, swap it with the other space-named entry, the Moonlandingz' Interplanetary Class Classics.

That's the problem with all lists, though, favorites especially. Nothing ever stays put. 

I keep thinking about putting an all-time favorites list together but should I do the first twenty-five years separately and then a lifetime list? Fifty favorites for fifty years would be neat. For sure it wouldn't just be the two twenty-fives  bolted together, though. And anyway, lifetime should probably be a hundred. 

If I'm going to do it at all I'd better get on with it. Much longer and it won't be fifty years any more. Technically it probably isn't already. I think I was twelve when I bought Abbey Road and Motown Chartbusters Vol 5 from my mother's Freeman's catalog, the event I always take as my initiation into popular music as an active participant, so I'm in the fiftieth year now and I only have a couple of months of it left.

Neither of those would make it in, either. Or I don't think they would. I guess we'll find out when I do the list...

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