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The Beatles remain one of the most critically acclaimed bands of all time. Their emergence in the 1960s defined the entire era, and their success and longevity can be summed up by one thing: consistent innovation.
Despite struggling at first to get a record deal, their first album Please Please Me (1963) became popular in England. With a sound reminiscent of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll (perhaps the remnants of The Quarrymen) yet more progressive, they immediately appealed to a wide audience. Once exposed to America, they were launched into huge critical acclaim, even resulting in the subsequent “Beatlemania.”
Each album following had a similar sound as the Beatles had established their niche noise, but were different enough to be intriguing. They slowly worked their way towards a more rock-heavy sound, slowly bringing experimental elements into the music to give their mainstream audience an idea of what was next to come.
But what was next to come was one of the most progressive albums of all time. May 1967 brought a huge, potentially risky change for the Beatles as they released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They sported a new look and an almost entirely different sound, breaking the typical verse-chorus-verse mold. But the decision to allow themselves to be more experimental saved them from irrelevancy, and instead projected them even further into superstardom. It is now one of the most beloved albums of all time, but was and still is met with heavy criticism for their change in musical direction.
Something similar is happening with the Arctic Monkeys’ new release, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino (2018). Straying entirely from the previous album AM (2013)’s sultry yet punchy rock anthems, the new album dives into a side to music lesser explored and it is being both adored and chastised.
Perhaps it’s because frontman Alex Turner penned all 11 songs on the album on a piano in almost complete isolation, but the tracks have a completely different feel to anything they have done or any other musician has done. The layering of piano and synthesisers punctuated by their signature echoey bass akin to AM is mesmerising, and Turner’s intelligent lyrics and storytelling vocals give each track an otherworldly feel- literally, as Turner based the album on short stories he’d written about a hotel complex in space.
But despite the atmospheric experience of the album, it is being met with heavy criticism: perhaps because it sounds the least like any of the Monkeys other albums. In fact, it’s more reminiscent of Turner’s project with Miles Kane, The Last Shadow Puppets.
Despite the chastising of their newest album, the Arctic Monkeys have received a fair amount of love and adoration for it too and continue to thrive. In fact, their new direction may have bought them more fans, more success and more time in the spotlight. Because the only way to be successful in music is to stay relevant, and the easiest way to stay relevant is through innovation. And innovation is the key to a successful musical career.