Batman Begins, the 2005 film by Christopher Nolan, kicks off with a young Bruce Wayne trapped in a well and surrounded by bats. Played by Christian Bale, the superhero is having a recurring nightmare, and the film sees him frequently return to his past, whether in dream, flashback or thought. It's the horror and guilt that drives him forward, subverting these feelings into triumph as he takes on his biggest fear and becomes the Batman, atoning for a scenario he believes he created for himself: the premature loss of both his parents, shot-down by a mugger.
In an early scene, where Batman is being trained by Liam Neeson’s gruff sensei-like character, he’s told “What you really fear is inside yourself. You fear your own power. You fear your anger, the drive to do great or terrible things.” Given what he’s said about the Arctic Monkey’s latest release Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino – and bare with me here – the same could also be said for Alex Turner. He was inspired by Federico Fellini’s surrealist flick 8 1/2 – a film about writer’s block and being haunted by the past, which prompted Turner to explore his own mirrored fears – to overcome them and look inside himself.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a heavy, dense record; one that weaves a tapestry of pop culture references (a jukebox playing The Style Council’s “Long Hot Summer”; dickheads chatting about Bukowski) across a decadent cocktail bar – one that could be in Las Vegas, but is in fact on the moon. Like Nolan’s superhero film, this presents two characters – there, Bruce Wayne and Batman; here Turner and his interstellar alter-ego. Splices of a persona that, in both instances, merge into a narrative where the line between the real and the super-real become increasingly blurred.
To draw these parallels a little closer, note that Turner is a huge Batman fan. Asked in a 2013 interview with Sydney Morning Herald if, once moving to Los Angeles, he had a favourite activity, he stated: “I like to walk up to the Bat Cave.” He was a big fan of the early series, the technicolour Adam West one, and would jog up the hill to where it was shot. Later, in the same interview, he speaks of a childhood friend and how they grew up mimicking the superhero film. “I was definitely younger and shorter so I was Robin most of the time. But maybe that's what gave me the drive to become a Batman in later life… Yeah, I'm Batman now.”
Prior to the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, it’s easy to imagine Turner holed up in his own Hollywood Hills version of Wayne Manor – the huge mansion where Bruce Wayne lived, mostly alone, save for his butler and minder Alfred (played by Michael Caine in Nolan’s reboot). Not dissimilar to scenes in later films from the superhero franchise, the eerie tonality of TBH&C is near embedded with the spirit of Turner stalking the corridors of his residence – pondering the past, trying to find himself, feeling a bit lost. Then, as the story goes, Turner was gifted a Steinway Vertegrand piano for his 30th birthday.
In the same way Neeson tells Bale to “breathe in [his] fears” in Batman Begins, Turner sat down at that piano and penned the songs for Tranquility; a process that involved conquering fear, presumably, by exploring and then making creative use of his inner-thoughts. Though the record is set in deep space, in a taqueria located on a gentrified Clavicus – detailed, as they are, with lush poetic wordplay – there’s a sense of heavily coded writing that masks deeply autobiographical statement. “And you could say because of those trappings, it’s allowed to be [autobiographical],” he has said in an interview with NME, seemingly confirming the concept of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino being his most self-referential since the Arctic Monkeys’ debut.
However, unlike Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not – an album littered with the minutiae of a night-out – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is immersed in the grand vision of cinema. There are references to film all over the album: Blade Runner, In The Mood For Love, the cult German mini-series World On A Wire. Turner’s studio, the Lunar Surface, is named after the theory that Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo moonlanding, while the band’s sole video from Tranquility – “Four Out Of Five” – is shot on the same location as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Even opening track “One Point Perspective” touches on cinema: its name is a filming technique famously used by Kubrick and Wes Anderson.
And so, back to Batman – the superhero whose world appears several times on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Speaking to iHeart Radio, Turner said the original name for the track “Golden Trunks” was “Bendable Figures”; so called because “someone got me a toy Batmobile, and it came with bendable figures of Batman and Robin.” On the one hand, the song “Batphone” references the high-priority line used by celebrities and businessmen; on the other, the term is derived from the DC Comic series. Meanwhile, Wayne Manor – Batman’s home – makes an appearance on “She Looks Like Fun” as the party spot of a rather memorable NYE. Perhaps, if the writing is autobiographical, Turner partied in the house from the film – maybe dressed as a character from the Batman series, as he did at a separate party in another place in 2015.
Seeing as Turner has a visible affection with the Batman series, it’s difficult not to imagine him thinking about the Bruce Wayne character. Though the two live vastly different lives – one, a fictional superhero in a universe of reboots after reboots; the other a person who shits and drinks beer and fucks up in a very real human way – the two overcame their fears, of the haunted things breathing inside of them: in Turner’s case, writing this album.
Perhaps most crucially though, the two share one another similarity. By virtue of being the only superhero without a superpower, and therefore human, Batman is relatable. Or at least more relatable than Spiderman or Mystique or Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder. Instead he’s Bruce Wayne, resident of Gotham City (practically New York). In contrast, Turner should be unrelatable. He is, in this world, a celebrity. Yet by laying himself bare on this record – and in spite of doing so in a way that emphasises his natural talent – he’s proved he’s as human as the rest of us: full of fear, dumb aspirations that make a mess of the lives of others and doomed, in some way at least, to spend a life looking back on it.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.