The music world has graced us with a much needed post–finals gift. The Arctic Monkeys, Britain’s indie rock golden boys, have broken their five–year dry spell to deliver Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, an 11–track romp through the cosmos on the keys of a Steinway.
How does Tranquility Base measure up to the Monkeys’ five preceding volumes? Street took a stroll down memory lane to GreekRank the hell out of our favorite subpolar musical mammals—but be warned, the rankings are subjective and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
6. Humbug (2009)
It’s a struggle to rank the Arctic Monkeys’ discography when it’s all so reliably good. This last place standing is not indicative of Humbug as an objective L; if any other band pushed out Humbug, they’d be lauded as miracles. The album is solid, just not the Monkeys’ best.
In the same way Beatles for Sale straddled the Beatles’ slow shift from heart–eyed pop rock to pacifist psychedelia, Humbug sits on the lab table of sonic experimentation. With a punchiness from producer Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), expanded percussion, and the introduction of keys, Humbug eases off the speed of Favourite Worst Nightmare and wallows in a space with a bit more smoke and a bit more grunge. Plus, it gives us this very quotable lyric in “Pretty Visitors:” “What came first, the chicken or the dickhead?”
Standout tracks: “Crying Lightning,” “Secret Door”
Alex Turner’s Hair: Almost as important as their musical evolution is the evolution of frontman Alex Turner’s hair. Some may prefer Humbug or 2009 Turner’s long mop. (I don’t.)
5. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
There’s a luxury complex on the surface of the moon, a galactic destination where martini police roam and the rooftop taqueria is named the Information–Action Ratio (in reference to the idea that an overabundance of information overwhelms us into inaction; Turner picked it up from Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death). In their sixth and latest album, the Monkeys opine about fame and technology and “The leader of the free world / Reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.” Heavy guitar riffs of the past yield to lounge–pop piano. The Monkeys have wandered out of the stratosphere and currently float between David Bowie and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Given more time to let the new sound stew, I might rank it higher. The Arctic Monkeys are clearly and commendably committed to exploration, but Tranquility Base meanders a touch too far from their classic glamour for my liking.
ATH: The man has committed to the long and luscious, and Street is here for it. No more shag carpet or Danny Zuko. Turner’s looking a bit more jaded, which might be the fault of his new facial hair (also not my thing, but I support all his grooming endeavours).
4. Suck It and See (2011)
A relative underperformer, Suck It and See is the poppiest of all the Arctic Monkeys’ albums. It’s a traipse in the American desert—lighter and less heavily produced than Humbug, with psychedelic influences that shimmer. Some long–time fans found Suck It and See a bland stray–away from OG Arctic Monkeys; I find it fun and flippant and Alex Turner is such a gem when he croons about short skirts and seductive girls. “I poured my aching heart into a pop song / I couldn’t get the hang of poetry,” Turner sings in the title track. The latter part is blasphemously untrue; Suck It and See may not be as well–received as its peers, but the lyrics are consistently top–notch and the album savors its Western charm.
Standout tracks: “She’s Thunderstorms,” “Black Treacle,” “Suck It and See”
ATH: 2011 marks the year of Turner’s first foray into the magical world of hair gel! Good stuff.
3. Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
The Monkeys’ sophomore album is fiercely in tune with the post–punk, garage rock sensibilities that first shot them to fame, but with a bit more polish and a slightly slicker sound to boot. Favourite Worst Nightmare buzzes at lightspeed, drawing energy from its pounding guitar riffs and Turner’s punchy songwriting. “Brianstorm” opens with an unrelenting drum track; electric “Teddy Picker” calls out the fame–hungry, in line with the band’s outspoken striving to never sell out. Turner excels when it comes to the album’s gentler moments too, like in the twangs of “Only Ones Who Know” or the organ notes of “505.” A spitfire of an album.
Standout tracks: “Teddy Picker,” “Fluorescent Adolescent,” “505”
ATH: Calling to mind Jake Bugg or maybe a young Mick Jagger, Turner revels in his messy mop and polo. Hindsight tells us he’ll outgrow the look. Trust the process, right?
2. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)
How can you not ?! Whatever People Say springboarded the Sheffield quartet into the critical spotlight () and into our damn hearts. Turner’s intoxicated hijinks are gloriously universal—the drunk texts, the ambiguity of the dance floor, trying to get with girls who don’t want to get with him. Even “When the Sun Goes Down,” an observation of the prostitution happening around the Monkeys’ recording studio, weaves aggressive instrumentation with brusque commentary.
“Oh, there ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets / Just banging tunes and DJ sets and / Dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness,” Turner hollers in “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” There’s something almost grand about the emerging adulthood of these twenty–ish–year–olds, something grand about the griminess of English nightlife. Britain’s preeminent boy band have come out of the womb at full–sprint.
Standout tracks: “Mardy Bum,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” “A Certain Romance”
ATH: Young Alex looks ready to retreat from the public world and hide behind those bangs. It’s endearing, truly.
1. AM (2013)
The crème de la crème of modern music, AM was the sensation that blew up the Arctic Monkeys’ fanbase from mostly UK–centric to cross–continental acclaim. This 12–track magnum opus dives headfirst into the brash throngs of indie rock, with buzzy bass–lines and piercing drums. Turner’s croon, power–sanded from a near–decade in the business, spins out narratives of love in all its all–consuming and uncertain forms. AM takes all the best parts from their previous albums and conglomerates it into this sexy platinum outfit of pure musical gold.
Standout tracks: “Arabella,” “Snap Out of It,” “I Wanna Be Yours,” “Do I Wanna Know?”—but, all of them, really
ATH: Full embrace of the rocker quiff. He’s so slick, it’s hard to believe he was once a bug–eyed teenager self–learning guitar in his garage. I think I’m in love.