Alex Turner performing with The Last Shadow Puppets. April 10, 2016. Photo by Amanda Silberling.
My story isn’t special. So many of us love this band – their awkward hair choices aside – but that’s what makes our collective story meaningful. So many of us can say that our love for this band “changed our lives.” Rock music gave us a sense of identity in a time in life when we felt like we didn’t matter.
I think about the mom in Almost Famous, who claims rock music is satanic, inspiring children to do wrong. And maybe it’s true. I still don’t smoke cigarettes – I narrowly avoided that vice – but it was around the time I fell in love with bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes that I realized that there was more to life than my SAT score.
Rock music was a way for us to break out of our insecurities. We grew up and became better versions of ourselves, confident and passionate, emboldened by records like Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). Bands like Arctic Monkeys gave us something to love as teenage girls, a time when it seemed impossible to love ourselves.
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Today, I wake up early to go to Penn’s Student Health Service. I’m injected with five vaccines: rabies, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis, and Japanese encephalitis. I’m moving to Laos next month. It’s also the morning that Arctic Monkeys’ first album in five years, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, is released. A friend from tumblr who I’d lost touch with texts to ask if I’ve heard the album. I tell her not to spoil anything for me – I’m waiting until I have a chance to really sit down with it, which I can’t do while I’m getting prodded with needles at the health center. Spoiling an album isn’t quite like spoiling a movie, of course, though she knows what I mean. Listening to new music by your favorite band is nothing to take lightly.
After my appointment (and still before I listen to the album), I take graduation photos for my freshman hallmate Regina. We’re sentimental about when we met freshman year (think: the AM era). We joke about when a pipe in my historic quad dorm burst, flooding the room with hot water. My dorm was damaged beyond repair, destroying the walls and everything on it, including my Jamie Cook-signed copy of Suck it and See.
As I listen to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino for the first time, I can’t tell you whether it’s good or not – maybe this is why I got rejected from that Pitchfork internship. When it comes down to it, I’m really not a great music critic. I struggle to describe the way music sounds. Writing reviews feels like pulling teeth. I’ve realized that what I love about music is the experience. I need to be present, surrounded by people who foster the same irrational passion for these songs as I do.
What I can tell you about the new Arctic Monkeys album, though, is that it feels like a destination. On a literal note, it’s a concept album about a hotel, a place to go and escape monotony – Take it easy for a little while / Come and stay with us / Four stars out of five.
I intentionally avoided reading any articles about Arctic Monkeys in the months leading up to their sixth album release; I wanted to hear the album without a press release lingering in my subconscious. Given that Arctic Monkeys didn’t release a single to promote the album, this press blackout seemed like what the Monkeys wanted.
Upon my first few listens to the album, I imagine the Hotel & Casino to exist in an undefined place: it could be a Southwestern Desert as well as it could be an Asian capitalist megacity. Despite clues from song titles like “Science Fiction,” I don’t know until I read the album’s Pitchfork review that the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is supposed to exist on the moon, though this newly charted territory is getting gentrified, as Turner notes in “Four Out Of Five.”
Laos may as well be the moon to me. I never dreamed of moving to Laos – just moving somewhere far away, no matter where it may be. Yet the way Turner imagines this intergalactic resort seems to criticize those with an impulsive desire to escape. I fear that soon, I might realize what a bad idea this is.
In “Star Treatment,” Turner opens the album: I just wanted to be one of the Strokes/now look at the mess you made. In an interview with NME, the now-thirty-two-year-old musician explains, “The first thing that line does is make me think about then and how much time seems to have suddenly passed.”
I, too, think about how much time has passed – how I have changed since 2013, when the band’s fifth album AM came out, and I would drive around Boca Raton, Florida in a beat-up Honda, fantasizing about what would happen if I kept driving without stopping. These dreams were sometimes literal, in which I would drive into a brick wall near my high school and crash. Other times, I would drive north for as long as I could, until I inevitably ran out of gas money and got stranded somewhere in North/Central Florida. It’s no wonder why South Florida feels so suffocating – the weather never changes, and you must drive about thirteen hours to cross state lines. A place that seems like paradise becomes imprisoning. And for Alex Turner, it appears that the paradise of rock stardom isn’t as interesting as it used to be.