“Are you just happy to sit there and watch / While the paint job dries?”
That’s Alex Turner, friends. The greatest songwriter of his generation, apologising for becoming a fucking bore. Crooning through the fourth wall, on a track named (if you please) ‘Jet Skis On The Moat’. As if this were some manner of experimental cinema project and not a rock record.
We get it, dude, you like movies. Go make one! I’d pay to see it.
Arctic Monkeys dropped ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ four years ago. It was an arse-ache to get into at the time (right?) but we all got there. His mid-Atlantic drawl grated, at first, but it grew on us. To the point where ‘Tranquility Base…’ today occupies roughly the same place in my heart Anchorman (the film) did 15 years ago. You put it on, from time to time, don’t you, with mates, and squeal over the best lines. A cult delicacy.
Tranquility Base’s saving grace is that Turner was playing a character. A lounge singer, on the moon. A golden conceptual thread held the whole insane enterprise together. He’s not gone mad. He’s gone ‘method’.
Is there a method at play in ‘The Car’? I don’t think so.
Anyway, most important thing is to say ‘The Car’ sounds gorgeous. They don’t make them like this any more – exquisitely tailored, masterfully crafted. The heft, the sheen, the sheer bloody marquetry of it all is sublime. It’s not too long. Mellifluous strings, slow dancing under honey-sweet vocals. What’s not to like?
Lyrically it pendulums between infuriatingly opaque – not a clue what he’s on about half the time – and quite a lot more fourth-wall-breaking hater-baiting.
“Puncturing your bubble of relatability / With your horrible new sound.”
“I’m keeping on my costume / And calling it a writing tool”
“The orchestra has got us all surrounded.”
That last line is from ‘Big Ideas’. Lovely tune. Quite possibly my favourite on the album. The lead singles – ‘Mirrorball’, ‘Body Paint’ – are sumptuous, we all know that. But sumptuous in a mid-noughties Stella Artois commercial kind of way. Right? There’s not exactly what the kids call ‘a bop’ on this record. Maybe ‘Hello You’, or ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’. Sorta.
This is my chief critique of ‘The Car’. Just… why? A galactically-tight, weapons-grade godzilla of a rock band, opting to make a 70s easy-listening pastiche. Perhaps it’s Alex Turner’s sly pitch to be commissioned for a Bond theme.
You’d put it on at a dinner party, I guess, or a romantic night in. But there’s already loads of records kicking around for that. Old gems by Scott Walker, or Julie London, the time-honoured vinyl of seduction.
No doubt I’ll re-read these words in six months and feel very foolish indeed. I love Arctic Monkeys. First dance at my wedding was ‘Only Ones Who Know’. This album is, to be clear, an ambitious, stylish, coherent work of fine art. ‘Tranquility Base…’ grew on me, this may too. But I can’t help but feel that with ‘The Car’, Arctic Monkeys have taken a wrong turn.
Words: Andy Hill