Archive | April, 2016

Prince Remembered

30 Apr

Prince is gone. It seems so unfathomable and yet it’s true. In a way it was like he was never really here. Prince never belonged to this planet, not like everyone else. Prince was other. Something unidentifiable but brilliant. Unprecedented and unsurpassed. He could play guitar like Hendrix, dance like MJ and sing like Marvin Gaye. And he was utter filth. It took me a while to work that out because I was a born and raised Michael Jackson devotee and therefore Prince was forbidden territory.

Prince v MJ was the Oasis V Blur or Beatles V Rolling Stones of the 1980s without the aggro of the former and the joviality of the later. Both artists were respectful of one another but were equally egotistical. They both believed that being the best was the ultimate virtue. They were equally peculiar and brilliant in their own way but here were differences. Michael Jackson was primarily a dancer and singer who hungered after popularity. He was also a perfectionist. Prince was a musicians musician and at least gave the impression that he didn’t really care about popularity (although he clearly did for a period in the mid 80s). Prince didn’t have the time to be a perfectionist. MJ released two albums in the 1980s, Prince released nine. MJ was my hero for as long as I can remember and so, naturally, Prince was out of bounds. My loyalty to the side prevented me from thinking about, let alone listening to, this forbidden fruit. Which is how it was for nineteen years, which in itself was glorious. Prince viewed from a distance is beautiful and tempting. Echoes of his music rippled to me every now on then and his odd otherness, not dissimilar to Michael’s, was both familiar and otherworldly.

When Michael died, a Vacuum opened and it needed to be filled. That summer, I purchased ‘Purple Rain’ initially and not long later bought every single album he made during his prolific 1980s. Ironically Michael’s greatest rival became a comfort to me. The following January I even made a New Years resolution that Prince would be the only artist I would listen to in my car. Complete immersion. One by one I indulged and explored, struck by the similarities that bound them and the odd differences that made each one unique. This string of albums is almost unparalleled in consistent class (only a handful of artists have ever made this many classic albums back to back). What is staggering to modern ears is just how many there were and just how quickly they followed one another. Like The Beatles before him, Prince had a virtually uninterrupted spell of genius over a decade. Prolific doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

It started with ‘For You’ and ‘Prince’, which, In bursts and flashes are as brilliant as anything he completed. Both records have a likeable, amateur quality and are imprinted with the enthusiasm and ambition of youth. Even when they fall short they do so admirably. ‘Prince’ is actually a more stylistically diverse record than the two that followed it. We catch glimpses of funk, soul, r&b, country and hard rock all filtered through a purple lens. It has a remarkably rich and deep sound with strings and horns being utilised more than would be typical on later albums. James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder loom so large that it’s sometimes difficult to identify where they end and Prince begins but there are also signs of him developing his own distinctive style. The falsetto is there, the dirty lyrics are there and the eclecticism is there. It’s a thrilling blueprint that remains one of his most enjoyable records.

‘Dirty Mind’ and ‘Controversy’ followed and are, if not his best, then certainly the Prince albums I listen to more than any other. ‘Dirty Mind’ is virtually exactly the same length as my old journey to work, meaning I could press play as I rolled down the drive and ‘Party On’ would be coming to an end as I clocked in. It was exactly what I needed for such a journey. It scans more like a punk or new wave record than anything else; from its provocative cover and horny subject matter right through to the punchy rhythms, minimalist instrumentation (compared to his previous albums certainly) and razor sharp hooks. ‘Controversy’ is essentially ‘Dirty Mind’ part 2 and like most sequels it can’t quite replicate the thrills of its predecessor. That said it still has more than its fair share of delights – none more so than the tightly wound funk of its title track, so appropriately covered by LCD Soundsystem at this weekend’s coachella. If ever a song predicted that band, this was surely it.

If I mentioned ‘the classic Prince sound’ you’d know what I mean, even if you’d never heard of the Linn LM1 drum machine or the Oberheim OB-8 synth. It’s somewhat strange that a particular sonic identity has become so closely identified with an artist even though he really only used these particular instruments for a very brief time (maybe four or five albums) in the mid 80s. It speaks to how distinctive the sound is and, again, there is a punk element to it. These sounds are fraudulent imitations of real instruments and that is utilised as a strength rather than a limitation. They are consciously not the real thing and Prince embraced that. He knew ‘the real thing’ had been mastered by the legends that preceded him so he went in the opposite direction. He knew he could manipulate these instruments by himself, and he twisted and bent them to suit his every need. It afforded him complete control, which is just how he liked it.

Prince’s mid 80s work remains his most well known era, and perhaps rightly so. Even if you were left with just the singles you would have one of the most diverse, daring and renowned catalogues in popular music. ‘Purple Rain’ itself plays like a nine track greatest hits. And what’s telling is how effortless that record sounds, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to construct. This is the one album where Prince chased the success that until that point had been almost drip fed to him. Spurred on by the multi-dimensional ‘Thriller’s success, Prince deemed it necessary to make an album that could unite and eclipse race, gender and age. So we got funky bass lines mixed with hard rock guitar solos, kinky lyrics over new wave synths and a confessional ballad following a story about a ‘sex fiend’ called Nikki. The sonics of this era can sometimes sound a little cold and steely to modern ears, and Prince was not immune to this, but not so on ‘Purple Rain’. The whole record is positively creamy and indulgent – a combination of warm synth pop and bubbling melodies. Even ‘When Doves Cry’, which famously lacks a baseline, sounds glorious and complete.

‘Purple Rain’ is untouchable but what truly speaks to Prince’s extraordinary talent is the number of high quality album tracks, B-Sides and unreleased gems from this period. It’s rumoured that for every album Prince released in the 80s, there are three more that he shelved. It’s even said he recorded a song a day. His most diverse album, and the one most representative of his sprawling creativity, is the stunning double disc ‘Sign o the Times’, which moves from the most commercial moments of his career (‘You Got the Look’ and ‘Never Take the Place of Your Man’) to the strangest (‘If I Were Your Girlfriend’), the heaviest (‘The Cross’), the most lyrical (‘Sign o the Time’), funkiest (‘Housequake’) and most soulful (‘Until the End of Time’).

His other albums from this time were similarly eclectic. ‘Parade’, the soundtrack to ‘Under the Cherry Moon’, has a particularly refined and sophisticated sound beneath which Prince started to experiment with more blatant jazz and classical influences. The ice cold funk of ‘Kiss’ still sends shivers down the spine and ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’ remains his unsurpassed ballad. I’ve never been as big a fan of his ‘Purple Rain’ follow up ‘Around the World in a Day’, which sounds dull in comparison. The psychedelic elements of that record have been somewhat overstated, though he fuses his signature sound with sixties inspired experimentation convincingly throughout the first half, the second half feels less inspired.

The speed of Prince’s decline has generally been exaggerated – it certainly wasn’t as quick or large a drop-offas some people have made out. ‘Lovesexy’ (1988) has its defenders, including critic Matt Thorne (author of the definitive critical review of the artist) who has called it his best album. It’s certainly an impressive work; thick with funky sounds and tangled in its own lust, it’s easily the most complex difficult and rewarding piece in his discography. ‘Batman’ (1989) was suitably dark and atmospheric but, despite holding a warm place in many people’s hearts, its dated badly. The early 90s albums are a mixed bag when compared to earlier records but there are more good songs than duds and they are certainly worth checking out. After that there was the whole ‘artist formally known as Prince’ period which is best left for hardcore fans.

Aside from the personal, human tragedy of Prince’s death there is also an unsatisfying conclusion to his artistic life. There was no great, final act for Prince, no ‘Blackstar’ – in fact he hadn’t released a truly classic album in at least two decades. His recent records were typically accomplished and generous but lacking in inspiration. He turned his back on filth, profanity and synthesisers and in turn sounded a lot less Prince-like. On the positive side the 21st century has seen Prince develop in to the most electric live act with more stamina than musicians half his age. His epic, three hour sets with multiple encores and after parties became legendary – who else could sell out the O2 for a record 21 nights (only MJ, whose 50 date residency sadly never came to fruition. It’s said just the thought of it exhausted him and contributed to his death). There have been some highlights on record as well; 2006’s ‘Planet Earth’, released free with the Daily Mail, was brilliant and greatly underrated, whilst ‘Musicology’, ’31/21′ and ‘Art Official Age’ received plaudits.

It’s hard to quantify just how influential and important Prince has been. Like Bowie before him, He was a singular auteur who redefined not just one, but multiple genres. His intense approach to music and musicianship hasn’t been replicated because it can’t – he was arguably the greatest guitarist of his generation and almost as proficient with at least 20 other instruments. Nobody ever SOUNDED like Prince and they still don’t. But his approach to record making certainly made other artists lose their inhibitions. He changed attitudes more than anything. Prince’s legacy was felt when mainstream stars like Janet started to sing about sexuality, when D’Angelo took his shirt off but still sang in a feminine falsetto, when the New Romantics started wearing make-up and it’s still felt whenever Kanye and Beyonc√© change face with every statement record.

Prince sang about what he wanted in a way that was both thoughtful and provocative. Spirituality, politics, romantic love and sex got equal billing. Nothing was out of bounds. Equally, he would present these thoughts in which ever way he wanted, whether it was with a punk sneer, jazzy sincerity or high theatricality. The lesson learned? Do what you want, how you want. Don’t imitate, become your own person. What he inspired wasn’t a generation of artists who sounded like Prince, but a generation of artists who sounded like themselves.

M83 – ‘Junk’ – Review

17 Apr

M83 were literally years ahead of the curve on their classic album ‘Saturday’s = Youth’. When that dramatic, gated reverb drum break opened ‘Kim and Jessie’, after the spacious dream pop of ‘You Appearing’, it was a mini revelation. Maybe I’m being over-dramatic but that’s how I remember it. I hadn’t heard the kitsch sounds of 1980s Pop repurposed by a credible indie act before. Not so blatantly, lovingly and expertly at least. The song itself remains a joyous, vivid ode to a very particular decade and a very particular feeling about a very particular time of one’s life. In essence, the song encapsulates m83’s manifesto.

For the past two years every man and his dog has been mining the Reagan years; some brilliantly (Taylor Swift, Carlt Rae Jepson, Brandon Flowers, The 1975) but most just because it’s the in thing to do. ‘Junk’ arrives in that context. Anthony Gonzales is no longer the only cat in town. Perhaps because of that, ‘Junk’ is a different type of 80s homage; it’s the weirdest and most singular entry in M83’s flawless discography. Unlike ‘Saturdays = Youth’, the dated sound grabs aren’t sprinkled over more credible fillings (shoegaze or dream pop or electronica), they are the fillings. There is nothing subtle or subversive about it. And irony? Forget about it. Hipsters be warned, every inch of this record bleeds aching sincerity. There is nothing outwardly artful about how these sounds have been used other than in how precisely¬†the sonics and aesthetics of 80s pop have reproduced. It is, that dirty word, unashamedly nostalgic. These are the uncool sounds of Gonzales’ childhood and he’s utilising them in the most disruptive way you can imagine – with utter conviction.

You get the sense that Gonzales Has Daft Punk on his mind. Like his fellow Parisians approaching their ‘Random Access Memories’, M83 came to ‘Junk’ off the back of a compromised Disney soundtrack and, similarly, he has talked about this album being an homage to the sounds of his youth. Certainly both ‘Junk’ and the acclaimed ‘Random Access Memories’ feature lovingly sculptured sounds, exactingly recreated using vintage equipment and both prominently feature guest stars. But ‘Random Access Memories’ this is not; Its far more peculiar and far less likely to find a mainstream audience. He does take a leaf from their book though. Gonzales utilises groove and space more than he has before which makes ‘Junk’ a far more dynamic and varied album than the colour starched ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’. The melodies are also brighter, higher in the mix and for the first time the lyrics are instantly discernible.

Gonzalez embraces sentimentality in a way that most artists are too afraid to do. Here he is searching for a feeling that he lost at the end of his childhood, and that resonates in the lyrics, which vaguely dwell on loss and longing. The details are fuzzy and out of focus, as if these memories are being recalled via Vhs or cassette tape, which is complimented by Gonzales reverb drenched, breathy singing. He is at turns determined to revisit the past and move beyond it – contradictory actions which make sense to any of us with happy memories. Sometimes you long to go back and sometimes you long to escape the past. On ‘Walkaway Blues’ Gonzales laments that he’s ‘lost’ and ‘everything’s changed.’ On ‘Road Blaster’ he has gone ‘forward and reverse to forget about you.’ On the beautiful finale he sings about ‘lost memories, faded pictures, can you drive me back to this very moment?’ Often guest singers inhabit his persona but it’s never difficult to see the hand of Gonzales behind their singing. It may be Susan Sandfor belting ‘I’ll wait till the stars go dark for you to come back to me’ but the sentiment is very clearly Gonzales’.

M83 paint in big, bold brush strokes and that lack of subtly makes for an instantly engaging but occasionally short-sighted album. The sickly garishness of big room ballad ‘For the Kids’ Is impressive because it so accurately mimics the sound of all those eighties anthems you love to hate. You get love drunk on the Schmaltz of the thing; on Susane Sondfor’s gorgeous voice, on the sugar sweet melody and on the dramatic chords tenderly massaged out of the vintage synth. But you can have to much of a good thing. When the melody is less memorable, and the lyrics more straightforward, as on ‘Solitude’ or ‘Walkaway Blues’, it doesn’t matter how cool the song sounds, it doesn’t take long for it to fade from your thoughts. There is also something unfortunate about an album that professes to be a love letter to the classic pop song that falters on the marquee numbers. Lead single ‘Do It, Try It’ is deliberately wonky and disorientating. The central piano riff is catchy but everything going on around it is designed to throw you and it ultimately feels too jarring and cynical to effectively introduce the album. Second single, the faceless TV show jingle-esque ‘Go’, is an extended guitar solo and not much else while the song featuring the biggest name, Beck, becomes the most pedestrian M83 track you’re ever likely to hear. The leaner ‘Road Blaster’ and ‘Laser Gun’ should have been chosen as singles; they feel like a throwback to the orchestral synth pop of ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’ stand outs ‘Reunion’ and ‘Steve McQueen ‘ but with more refinement and pop smarts.

There’s no doubt that ‘Junk’ is divisive – you’re either going to love or hate goofball interludes like ‘The Wizard’ or ‘Moon Crystal’ and I’m not sure anybody’s going to be arguing that it’s the best M83 album ever. However, it does feel like the purest representation of Gonzales’ vision to date. His obsession with nostalgia (thematically, musically, lyrically) has been boiled down and frazzled in to a strange, bewildering and often brilliant collection of pop songs. It’s taken a lot of stick for not being as serious or heartfelt as previous m83 epics, but I genuinely believe that to Gonzales this is the most serious and heartfelt thing he’s ever done. It’s just that his heart doesn’t belong with the credible, shoegazing hipsters, it belongs with the weird kids playing dress up and singing along to Mcdonald adverts somewhere in the distant past.

8/10

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Weezer ‘Weezer’ – Review

12 Apr

As an easy but flawed comparison for unfamiliar British fans; consider Weezer as the American Oasis. Both groups made influential, revivalist debut albums (‘Definitley Maybe’ and ‘Weezer’) in 1994 that they followed with another pair of classics (‘what’s the Story Morning Glory’ and ‘Pinkerton’) after which came years and years of inexplicably bad imitations. Using the same ingredients they’d used to make some of the best albums ever recorded, both Oasis and Weezer spent the next fifteen years struggling to follow the same reciepe.

Of course the Oasis/Weezer comparison won’t stand up to much scrutiny – for a start Weezer have never really been more than an influential cult band over here. They haven’t even had a top ten album, which seems extraordinary, but anyway… the last fifteen years have been filled with mediocre to awful albums, punctuated by some truly memorable singles (‘Beverly Hills’, ‘Perfect Situation’, ‘Pork and Beans’, ‘Troublemaker’, ‘If You’re Wandering’, ‘Memories’). The band have been in a perplexing, Catch 22 situation; when they’ve stuck to the established formula their work has come across as a pale imitation of past glories. However, their more ambitious, experimental material has been properly dreadful (be warned you can’t un-hear Rivers rapping). But even the shocking, though car-crash interesting, ‘Red Album’ in 2006 at least carried the sense that the band weren’t just phoning it in. The albums since have been tired, repetitive and generic exercises in keeping the brand alive through predictable power chords and a whole lot of cheese.

Last year’s ‘Everything Will be Alright’ gave the impression that things were changing, and now ‘Weezer’ (or The White Album as it will be known) confirms that the band are genuinely back in fine form. It’s not flawless but it certainly isn’t faceless, which in recent years was the nicest thing you could say about a new Weezer record. The White Album contains some of the niftiest songs they’ve made in a long time. ‘L.A Girls’ and ‘Californian Kids’ are two singles linked by theme and sunny sound. The hooks – loud guitar riffs offset by pointed synths and smooth harmonies – come straight from the classic Blue Album playbook and they sound great. But even on these stand out songs there are still some baffling, immature elements. ‘L.A Girlz’ has some juvenile lyrics and why does ‘Californian Kids’ open to the sound of auto-tuned gurgling? The best thing to do is leave your cynicism at the door.

The common criticism levelled at present day Weezer is that Rivers Cumo has been unwilling to engage with the emotional vulnerability that made their first two albums so magnificent. A less generous reading is that Cumo has been deliberately trolling us. As I say, there’s definitely still an element of The White Album that will unsettle the serious types (song titles like ‘Thank God for Girls’ ‘Do You Wanna Get High’, ‘L.A Girlz’ and ‘Jacked Up’for starters) but for the most part it’s a straight faced pop-rock record where it’s evident the band are emoting. It’s telling that they’ve chosen White as the colour of choice. White represents purity and cleanliness, two virtues evident in the sound and mood of an album that favours simplicity, clarity and childlike emotion over all else. For fans of ‘Pinkerton’s temperamental mood and raw, feedback kissed sound this will be a disappointment but it makes for an immediately arresting record. Maybe white represents rebirth as well. A blank page and a clean slate, in which case it’s even more fitting, as Cumo has used ‘Weezer’ as an opportunity to start penning emotionally engaging songs again.

Despite the album’s implied title, The White Album has very little in common with The Beatles classic, sprawling masterpiece. ‘Weezer’ is concise, bright and unrelentingly single minded to the extent that some people have called it a concept album. It’s a Californian love story that ends in heartbreak. The cover photo and videos (all filmed in Santa Monica), vocal harmonies and the numerous references to parts of California suggest that it’s not The Beatles but another 1960s group Weezer had in mind when making the record. It’s early Beach Boys in particular that they reference, and especially the straight laced moon/June lyricism of Mike Love rather than the in vogue 66-73 sound that has been the influence here. So we get funny lines like ‘Puerto Rico would be a perfect destination wedding / or driving to Ventura on the 101 / it sounds like fun to me’ that cushion the more cutting lyrics at the end of the album.

The final song ‘Endless Bummer’ riffs off the title of the classic Beach Boys compilation. Released in 1975, ‘Endless Summer’ was both a greatest hits and a tremendous exersise in nostalgia that outsold everything else released that year. The compilation gave a skewered account of the beach boys history that ignored everything released after the golden summer of 1965, even cuts from the classic but more experimental Pet sounds were ignored. Nostalgia has been Weezer’s chief subject and outlook over the past ten years, much to the chagrin of critics everywhere. They revisit the theme here but with the rose tinted sunglasses left at home. ‘Not all 19 year olds are cool and I’m alone at night’ Cumo recounts. This is a reminder that the past isn’t always as glorious as we like to remember. For so long Weezer have been chasing their own history and failing to live up to it. The White Album finds them engaging with their past on more realistic terms, it doesn’t feel sentimental and it doesn’t romanticise what has been. It’s mainly for those reasons that The White Album is their best record since The Green Album.

7/10

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The Last Shadow Puppets ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ – Review

5 Apr

Watching Alex Turner and Miles Kane flirt, gyrate and strut across the stage at their recent London show, in matching grey suits, they appeared the picture of audacious confidence. Only in Butlins would you find more flamboyant showmanship, manufactured cockiness and camp outfits. It’s therefore useful to remind ourselves that it has been quite a journey to reach this destination. Back In 2008 they were just two loveable Northern rogues already fronting successful bands, who inexplicably decided to abandon their day jobs for a year to make a loving homage to balladeers like Scott Walker, Dion and early David Bowie whilst amping the melodrama to Ernico Morricone levels. ‘The Age of the Understatement’ was the product of youthful, infectious enthusiasm. It was pretentious, exuberant, silly, ambitious and sparodically excellent.

It also provided a much needed breather for Alex Turner. Not yet 21, he’d had a number one single to his name with his first attempt and received high acclaim. In 2008 he was trying to shake free from the shackles of rock stardom and The Last Shadow Puppets was essentially a vehicle for that. It was both an education in musical experimentation, a symbol of independence and a chance to cut loose. The intervening years have been kinder still and Turner seems to have embraced his destiny as a Rock Demi-God. 2013’s ‘A.M’ was Arctic Monkeys biggest, and possibly best, record yet and the idea of a follow up must be daunting. Once again, Last Shadow Puppets provides respite, relief and opportunity for a bit of a laugh.

Essentially Alex and Miles still come across like two lads on holiday. They sound more carefree and lacksidazicle than they have in years, which is both a help and a hinderance to the success of the record. The freedom that the Shadow Puppets umbrella provides has allowed them to dip their toes in new waters as well as flip casually through Arctic Monkeys playbook, revisiting the gloomy desert rock of ‘Humbug’ on ‘She Does the Woods’, the indie pop of ‘Suck it and See’ on ‘The Miracle Aligner’ and the widescreen balladry of the Submarine soundtrack on ‘The Dream Synopsis’. They eye up lite-disco on the shimmering ‘Element of Surprise’, northern soul on ‘Pattern’ and rock out on ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘Used to be my Girl.’

But youthful enthusiasm has been traded in, perhaps inevitably, for a discomforting dose of cynicism. It’s been eight years since ‘Age of the Understatement’ and Alex and Miles have lived with their influences for years now. They aren’t digesting sounds as teenagers do and this is not the first flush of youth. Tellingly, ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ is neater, more accomplished, more restrained and assured than the debut. But even in its best moments there is the sense that these are just slightly more sinister, guarded and weary takes on songs we’ve heard before. First single ‘Bad Habbits’ was an utter disappointment. It’s woozy melody, or rather Kane’s embittered delivery of it, contains nothing but bile and its lyrics are mean spirited (‘should’ve known little girl that you’d do me wrong/ should have known by the way you were showing off). Aside from a nice baseline and an interesting string arrangements from the always reliable Owen Pallett, the song has nothing of interest to offer. But Turner has form for releasing red herrings as lead singles (‘Brick by Brick’ and ‘Don’t Sit Down’ being the obvious examples) and luckily, ‘Bad Habits’ is the only truly obnoxious song on here. Mostly, ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ manages to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Opening track ‘Aviation’ picks up roughly where ‘Age of the Understatment’ left off, with a bombastic string arrangement, harmonies and bold metaphors galore. But moments that so blatantly recall the debut are hard to find, past obviously hearing Alex and Miles sing in tandem over some lush string arrangements. The title track has a nicely lilting melody that recalls ‘Pet Sounds’ era Beach Boys (and I don’t use that comparison lightly). ‘The Dream Synopsis’ and ‘Sweet Dreams TN’ demonstrate Turner’s beautiful, crooning voice which has added depth and richness over the last eight years – you get the impression he’s been indulging in far too much expensive whisky and cigarettes. These tracks in particular also convey the most generous and endearing lyrics on the record. The latter is a love song that boarders on the sleazy (‘I ain’t got anything to lick without you baby’ ‘maybe we ought to fuck’) but redeems itself through Turner’s humorous asides and completely over the top delivery where he channels his inner Roy Orbison and then some. On the former he reminds us of his stunning observational gift with a throwaway line about the object of his affection having a ‘leaning tower of pint pots in your hand – you can carry much more than I can.’ These days he favours Impressionistic wordplay over observational realism but in that line he reminds us why we fell in love with the little scamp in the first place.

However, the simple days of ‘his way or no way totalitarians’, ‘Topshop princesses’ and ‘weekend rock stars’ are long gone. In 2016 Alex Turner is a much more divisive figure. Trying to explain his current shtick (for want of a better word) is getting harder. There’s a certain detached irony to his rock n roll persona, a certain cheekiness and smart-alec self awareness, but an equal sense that he’s genuinely in love with old fashioned, obnoxious rock star chic. Representative of this was his ‘mic drop’ at the 2014 Brit awards which occurred after delivering an acceptance speech that amounted to a nonsensical but brilliant analysis of rock n roll’s place in pop culture. He was serious but not serious, tongue in cheek but armed with a solid point. The tabloid columnists were up in arms the next day – how dare this ungrateful hooligan mock the seriousness of the Brit institution! His fans got it but others were bewildered. He was either wilfully rude, arrogant or spaced out on cocaine depending on who you spoke to. Love it or hate it, one thing was for sure – In his bravado, swagger and utter confidence he appeared about as far removed from the shy Alex Turner of ten years ago as we ever could have imagined.

In the two years since that Brit appearance, Turner has rambled even further in to murky, gold medallion, slicked back hair and velour tracksuit territory. He now has the appearance of a 1970s Mafia boss on holiday in Malabo. Until now that vibe has been restricted to his style and on stage mannerisms but on ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ it’s leaked into the lyrics; the album is dripping with sleaziness. The first album was obsessed with femme fetales but ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ amps up the contempt and becomes a slightly uncomfortable listen because of it, especially in light of some rather tasteless, borderline lecherous comments made by Miles Kane to a Female journalist. It isn’t smart or interesting to make references, more than once, to a girl who needs to get down on her knees. Nor is it charming to ask a girl if she wants it ‘on my planet or yours’. And ‘just tell me when you want your socks knocking off’ is the wrong side of confident. Both Miles and Alex need to hold themselves to a higher standard than that. Thankfully, some distasteful lyrics and an air of naughtiness isn’t enough to derail an otherwise enjoyable record – if it was there’s no way the recent Kanye West album would have received so much attention. The otherwise imaginative language and captivating imagery is ultimately what you’re left remembering – the ‘four horsemen in a one horse race’, the ‘dirtbag ballet by the bins down the alley’ and the ‘chalet of the shadow of death’ – and that’s just one song.

‘The Dream Synopsis’ demonstrates a more tender side to their songwriting that is underused and perhaps undervalued. Here Alex reflects nostalgically on a moment of sneaky indulgence at work. ‘Well we were kissing, it was secret, we had to sneak beyond the kitchen. Both well aware that there’d be trouble if the manager should find us…’ Perhaps that’s instructive of how we should treat ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’, as a brief, indulgent, somewhat uncomfortable and slightly dangerous moment of escapism. In a minute or so the kiss is over and it’s back to work. You walk away unsure of what to make of it but Are thrilled nonetheless. Next year there will be new Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane albums, you can be sure of it. They will be less adventurous, less scandalous and probably more successful. But will they be this much fun?

8/10

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