Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino: Alex Turner's Definitive Guide

17 May 2018, 13:55

Alex Turner and Radio X's John Kennedy
Alex Turner and Radio X's John Kennedy. Picture: Will Ireland/Radio X

Arctic Monkeys' new album track by track. The frontman explains everything, from Star Treatment to The Ultracheese.

The sixth album from Arctic Monkeys. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino has caused more discussion, more outrage, more confusion and more enjoyment than any album of recent times. Released on 11 May 2018, five years after the acclaimed AM. Alex Turner and his team have crafted an exotic, lush and densely-layered record that seems light years away from the band’s classic 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Or does it?

Radio X’s John Kennedy sat down with Turner for an X-Posure Playback special, in which the pair go through Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino track by track, trying to get to the bottom of the lyrics and what was going on in Turner’s mind. Check in, get something off the room service menu and set the controls for Clavius Base.

Listen to the whole show again here

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Disco artwork
Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Disco artwork. Picture: Press

STAR TREATMENT

“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes / Now look at the mess you made me make.”

“The arrival of The Strokes changed what music I was listening to, what shoes I was wearing. I grew my hair out and borrowed my mum’s blazer. I was a huge fan. That line seemed to encapsulate this idea that a period of time went by in a flash. It was something to hold a place, which I’d return to once I knew what this album was going to be about. By the time I came back to change it, it seemed to be exactly where it ought to be.

“There’s something about how blunt it is, that almost caused me to dare myself to leave it in. It reminds me of the way I would have written the lyrics on that first record of ours as well. There’s something about this record and that first one… There’s a similarity to them and I couldn’t draw as strong a similarity to any [album] in between. I can’t quite put me finger on what it is. Maybe it’s in that line and how direct it is.”

ONE POINT PERSPECTIVE

“This stunning documentary that no one else unfortunately saw / Such beautiful photography, it's worth it for the opening scene.”

“It was informed perhaps by conversations I may have heard or been involved with, under the influence of some narcotic draft or another. The title of it, of course, is taken from a technique that we’ve seen in cinema, specifically in the films of Stanley Kubrick, one point perspective is a composition in the shot where all the lines in the image seem to be pointing to the centre point and perhaps the subject is often in the centre. In his films, he very often used it to create something ominous. Wes Anderson uses it a lot, in a very different way. There’s this sensation that it’s unsettling.”

AMERICAN SPORTS

“Breaking news they take the truth and make it fluid / The trainer's explanation was accepted by the steward.”

“I was visiting my granddad, and I’d not yet started writing for this album. We were talking, he and I, and he declared out of nowhere: ‘You know I often think of phrases from time to time that I think you might be able to do something with’.

“I thought, alright, I can take all the help I can get at this point, I’m sort of drawing a blank. What have you got in mind? He’s a horse racing fan, and whenever there’s a steward’s inquiry, what you hear back after is: ‘The trainer’s explanation was accepted by the steward’. "

“He shared this with me and I thought, it’s so loaded. So I had to write us that down, and I sellotaped it in my notebook. I wrote a lot of it around that [phrase] and what I interpreted it to mean. It’s nice to know he’s got me back.”

TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL & CASINO

“Good afternoon / Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino / Mark speaking / Please tell me how may I direct your call?”

“First of all, there was a bloke with a phone and he says ‘Mark speaking’ and I’m like, where is he? I decided that he was there [at the Tranquility Base]. It happened backwards like that."

“I’ve got some cups that are Apollo mission cups and the word tranquility is in reference to the site of the first moon landing, folks. There’s a picture of the eagle and I think it says tranquility base. When it comes to giving the record its title, there may be something you want to convey and you have a title that does that perfectly, but then something else comes along that fits the bill better.”

GOLDEN TRUNKS

“The leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks / He's got himself a theme tune / They play it for him as he makes his way to the ring.”

“The whole song there is about a conversation between myself and someone that I’m falling for. That’s not the leader of the free world in golden trunks, by the way. The character in the song, who I’m singing to, that’s something from her imagination, that may have come out of her sense of humour.

“You’ve been straight with me and I’m saying, well I fantasise about you as well. We’re shooting straight with one another, at least.”

FOUR OUT OF FIVE

“All the nights that never happened and the days that don't exist / At the information action ratio.”

“When I think about it, there’s something in Tranquility Base and this song that suggests that you may not have to leave the comfort of your own home to get to this place - you just put your headphones on. And there you go.”

“Originally we wrote a [video] treatment for Star Treatment. You almost see it as you’re right there with the narration. We would depict exactly what’s happening in the lyrics; eventually we end up in this car in the second verse. I’m in the front of the car, but who’s that ghost in the back? We began to explore this idea that it was me as well - and I’m talking to meself.”

THE WORLD’S FIRST EVER MONSTER TRUCK FRONT FLIP

“You push the button and we'll do the rest / The exotic sound of data storage.”

That was a real news story that I read, with a video attached to it that I watched. It’s just remarkable really, that it's possible. I think I imagined a sort of All The President’s Men sort of newsroom with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, trying to get the editor’s attention: ‘You’re not going to believe it! Someone’s done it forwards!’

“It just seemed like that’s where we’re at now, isn’t it? Those are the types of things that are happening. It seemed like it were going begging.”

SCIENCE FICTION

“I want to stay with you my love / The way that some science fiction does reflections in.”

“Truthfully I haven’t read that much science fiction, but it started with the idea that in science fiction films, these other worlds are created in order to explore ideas that are related to this one.

“The album artwork started from a picture that I saw of someone in the art department of 2001: A Space Odyssey, building the set for the Hilton on the moon. At this point, we’d already decided to call the album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, so we began to think of things that may be in the lobby of this place.

“The thing that I became most obsessed with that there was a model of the place inside the lobby. That’s where I focused most of my attention and time, not figuring out what the place itself looked like, but what the model of the place in the lobby would. I made the model.

“It’s made of illustration board with a bit of dowel for supports. I sat it on top of a tape machine. The tape on the machine sitting underneath has the album on it, or an earlier version of it. Which seemed to make it all make sense to me.”

House Of Pies, Los Angeles
House Of Pies, Los Angeles. Picture: Google Street View

“I was driving back from the art supply shop and I saw a rotating sign - of which there are many in Los Angeles - and this one was outside a place called House Of Pies, which I’ve actually never been inside. I ought to really - I think we can all agree on that. I thought this place should have a rotating sign like House Of Pies."

SHE LOOKS LIKE FUN

“No one's on the streets / We moved it all online / As of March.”

“There’s this television show called High Maintenance about a weed dealer in New York - he cycles round delivering weed and each episode is based around the person who’s receiving the delivery that week. It amuses me. In one [the first season episode, Selfie] the main character was a writer, she was meant to be doing an interview with him. She’s constantly swiping through their phone, and taking a picture of their lunch, doing everything to keep up appearances."

“Eventually, at the end of the episode, she’s got the phone in one hand and a novel in the other and she keeps being distracted by the pressure to keep up appearances. She can’t keep her eyes on the book. Eventually she just bursts into tears. I think that might be the origin of this song, the constant updating and refreshing.”

BATPHONE

“It's the big night in Tinsel City / Life became a spectator sport / I launch my fragrance called 'Integrity' / I sell the fact that I can't be bought.”

“I can visualise the font that will be on the perfume bottle that says Integrity… The rest of it falls into place when you can visualise that.

“I remember once being in the vicinity of somebody who was swiping through their phone at an airport or something. And there was no one else around. [They] just looked up from it and blew an actual raspberry… I may have took a cue from that. It takes a lot to make you blow a raspberry. What’s that got to do with this song? Not a lot.”

THE ULTRACHEESE

“What a death I died writing that song / From start to finish, with you looking on.”

“I do feel as if this has become the type of tune that’s the closest to what I might call my default position, like Cornerstone, or Dream Synopsis, those ones. It’s the most accessible, or where I’m most comfortable, perhaps. A lot of people in a room, doing a live take. Having all the expanded group brought an energy to it. [Matt] Helders and Loren [Humphrey] both on drums, two kits, Jamie [Cook] and Tom [Rowley] and Evan [Weiss] all playing guitars, a couple of people playing pianos and me outside singing at the same time. This was the song where we got the best of that approach, definitely.

“Live, we’ve expanded beyond the five of us that we had on AM, but not as far as we did for the recordings, because I don’t think it’s necessary… but one day it’d be great to do something like that.”