Arctic Monkeys Offered Sydney A Star Treatment, But Forgot To Connect
Arctic Monkeys had all the ingredients for a knockout show - if only they looked like they wanted to be there.
With their last album, the luxuriously titled Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the Arctic Monkeys performed one of the sharpest left turns that music has seen in recent years.
Granted, they’re certainly not strangers to reinvention — between their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Tranquility’s precursor AM, they’d swerved from punk to ham-fisted stadium rock to sly funk — but on Tranquility they took a blowtorch to any previously held expectations of what the Arctic Monkeys were all about. It completely drained the rock (and, some would argue, the fun) out of their sound, instead offering up a curious selection of languid, ’60s lounge tracks.
The results were, ahem, mixed. Some reviews, like ours, written by David James Young, eviscerated the album, labelling it a “brick shithouse” and accusing frontman Alex Turner of leaving his bandmates in the dark to centre his own existential, moon-obsessed ramblings.
Others were much more forgiving — The Guardian called it a “riveting and immersive listen” — but overall, it seemed the lads from Sheffield had swerved a little too far off the road, even for their rusted on fans.
A year on from its release, Tranquility Base has warmed into its surroundings. Singles like ‘Four Out Of Five’ and ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ have gradually dug their way into fans hearts, suggesting that the initial outrage was more whiplash from the outrageous success of AM than a genuine dislike of the album.
That said, the stark juxtaposition of Tranquility and the rest of their back catalogue creates a bit of problem in a live setting. When pacing and energy is key, shifting from up-tempo punk to moody lounge tracks could dislocate an entire set — and there are times at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena when that shift is handled clumsily, like the change from the thunderous ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and ‘Library Pictures’ to the dreary ‘Science Fiction’.
There are also times when they pull it off with aplomb: opener ‘Four Out Of Five’ and ‘Snap Out Of It’ blend seamlessly, and ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ and ‘Do I Wanna Know’ make for a sexy one-two punch — but there was no mistaking the dip in energy whenever Tranquility cuts rang out through the arena.
When pacing and energy is key, shifting from up-tempo punk to moody lounge tracks could dislocate an entire set.
And as formidably talented a frontman as Alex Turner is — his cold drawl has lost none of its appeal — there was a noticeable absence of charisma from his performance. He spoke to the audience on only a couple of occasions, and even then, just shouts of ‘How are ya Sydney?’ and ‘Hope you’re having a good time’. It felt curiously disconnected — and at worse, he didn’t care. The criticism that he had left his bandmates behind on Tranquility seemed, at times, to ring true.
What made it more frustrating is that, for the most part, it was an impeccable performance. Tracks like ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ and ‘Brianstorm’ were delivered with crackling energy, ‘Four Out Of Five’ was relaxed and gorgeous, and ‘R U Mine?’ served as a bruising closer.
All the elements of an incredible show were there, but ultimately the lack of connection left it feeling hollow — like so much of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino itself.
Jules LeFevre is the Music Editor of Junkee. She is on Twitter.