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A Change of Direction

Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, 2018.

If I remember correctly it was released at midnight. That’s a showbiz release time isn’t it? Who wants to hear an album release at 4pm? Not me. “The wait is finally over – hear our new album on all platforms from 4pm!!” I’d rather watch Judge Rinder, mate. Let’s just go with the midnight release. It was either that or I’d convinced myself that was the case, and spent an hour or so into the early hours of the following morning listening to what would be my favourite album to date.

It’s not a familiar occurrence is it? Bands you like or have an admiration for release things every other week. But your favourite – there’s a certain romance to it. [Pun wasn’t intended there, but all over it.] It feels like an occasion being in the moment. You may love The Rolling Stones or Oasis – but often you’re listening to all their things in retrospect of the release. Have you ever heard anyone tell stories of remembering the eras and breakthroughs of these huge bands or artists, feeling a sense of jealousy and awe that they lived these moments? What I’m attempting to say is for anyone that has a passion for music, your favourite musicians latest album release – it’s a big fucking deal.

The months leading to the moment finally arrives. 00:00 - Tranquillity Base, Hotel & Casino. Is panic the right word here? Unsure. But there’s a definitive reaction of being torn between listening to 30 seconds of each, racing for the tune - or giving each one the fullest attention all the way through. I’m a fan of the latter in most cases. I like listening to an album as opposed to a compilation as it essentially depicts the era, especially looking back on it. In track listing order as well, for that matter. The artist didn’t pick this order randomly – there was a reason for it. This particular album shows the perfect example of this non-coincidental placement, with the opening line to track No. 1 - “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes...” to the last line in the last track – “….but I haven’t stopped loving you once...”, with a plethora of complicated imagery and emotion in the 45 minutes between.

About a minute or so into Star Treatment I remember thinking – hold on, what? Bands often have stylistic changes in direction. This isn’t an exclusive thing to Arctic Monkeys. If I had been paying full attention to The Last Shadow Puppets work leading up to this moment I might have been less surprised, but to this point my dabbles in the Turner/Kane collaboration were few and far between. That has since been ferociously corrected.

My first listen wasn’t a disappointment, just confusion mixed with intrigue. Arctic Monkeys are known for a somewhat stripped back online presence - which I love by the way - so if I remember correctly there wasn’t a huge reveal or tease for this stylistic difference. There could very well have been and it went completely over my head, but from what I could see the only clues leading up to this change in direction was the odd deer caught in the headlights picture on Twitter of Alex Turner going to the shops looking like Tom the Grunt.

That’s his thing though, he submerges himself in the styles of his new albums. Plucky Fred Perry polos and A Certain Romance, to slick bastard who Only Calls You When He’s High, to man you’d be afraid of meeting in the jacks talking about the World Largest Monster Truck Front Flip. Probably the most famous example of this is David Bowie, mentioning that he used himself as a blank canvas throughout his years in music. The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack – all examples of using Rock & Roll to separate the man on stage from the man off stage. An ironic steer into the skid of assumption that all rock stars are exactly as they are seen on stage. Perhaps Turner looking like a lad you just met asking you for a loan of €5, doesn’t necessarily mean he is that man. It suits the work.

This happens generally with anything you anticipate. You have an image in your head of what something is going to be and when it doesn’t align with this premonition you’re surprised. Ever read a book and have the full picture of the man or women painted in your head, to then seeing the character on screen and think - hold on, that’s not Cedric Diggory? Only joking. He looked exactly as I’d imagined. But generally the two are different. That doesn’t mean you’re not open to a rethink. It took two or three listens through until it clicked that this is a fucking masterpiece. Karate bandana. Warp speed chic.

I remember tweeting at the time that this album was the push I needed into madness and I was only half-messing. I was going through an Area 51 vibe myself so the weirdness suited me. I absolutely engrossed myself in it. My day-to-day was spent selling suitcases and handbags (I said what I said) and my adoration for the album essentially played out my real life scenarios. My time in Kildare Village was taking its toll, and with an unruly long barnet I too looked like a man that would tell you about monster trucks in the jacks.

The lyrics are – as is Alex Turner – just a fucking masterpiece all over. I’m reluctant to sound like a music snob here - I resent that kind of carry on. There’s a time and place for everything in my eyes. Keep an eye on the fella telling you ‘S Club 7 – Reach’ isn’t a tune when he’s five pints deep. I’m certain you’ll see his inner battle not to tap his foot. He’s wearing navy K-Swiss yokes, I assure you. What I’m getting at is for me there’s a certain weight with Turner’s stuff that’s hard to find these days. The lyrics are pure poetry. She looks like fun – smile like you’ve got a straw in something, tropical – a tune about the transparency in modern social media. On first listen this went completely over my head until a friend pointed it out to me. The bullshit of social media and the pretend lives we convey. Not all of us, in fairness, but you know what I mean. ‘Dance as if somebodies watching – cos they are.’ If you weren’t already aware or haven’t heard this one before, go back and listen and think about Instagram. Also note the now sheer insanity of the line – ‘no one’s on the streets, we moved it all online, as of March.’ Cheers for that one, Notradoofus.

It could be the timing of that release which puts it on a pedestal for me. I was at a stage in my life fed up with the situation I’d found myself in – grateful of work – but incessantly bored of collecting a monthly wage for something I had no passion for whatsoever. I was open to new ideas, which I’m sure is the denominator in the wholehearted embrace of Arctic Monkey’s stylistic shift. I packed in the handbag-selling to spend a summer in the US - before embarking on a career U-turn. All the while listening to this album over and over again.

I eventually finished that summer seeing this album live at Arctic Monkeys in beautiful Budapest, with a beautiful gang of people. Separate, these moments are powerful – the good times with great people and your favourite band releasing an album you adored. Together, the music becomes an introverted soundtrack to memories that last a lifetime.

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