When artists normally talk about exploring their creative freedom they don’t really mean it. Results are usually underwhelming: A new producer maybe, or a half-hearted collaboration with a grime MC in an attempt to extend themselves into a new demographic.
The truth is that for most bands – players of traditional instruments writing songs – the possibilities for escape are very limited. The Arctic Monkeys of course aren’t most bands, but for them more than most success comes at a price, like a hall of mirrors from which you can never make out a true reflection of yourself.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino finds Alex Turner grappling with a dozen ghosts of past present and future; on it he returns to himself as an avatar, a gecko with habits as dodgy as his regional aphorisms. “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” he quips as it’s opening line, an admission that, depending on your perspective, ensures the quartet’s sixth album never recovers or goes from strength to strength.
Rarely has an album offered such a binary choice for its audience, to love or to hate with equal feeling, a declaration of war on neutrality similar Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy, except of course Josh Tillman hasn’t sold a gazillion records and hot wired an entire generation of the British proletariat. From here the Arctic Monkeys may make another similar record, or never sound like this again. All bets it seems are off.
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