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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