Tag Archives: Alex Turner

Arctic Monkeys ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ – Review

14 May

‘I just wanted to be one of the strokes, now look what you made me do.’ As opening lines go, that one’s a dozy and worth the admission price alone. More importantly though, the sentiment re-grounds Arctic Monkeys in a rock n roll lineage, and reminds the listener just where the band started and therefore how far they’ve travelled. From mop-top teens with guitars to the sleekest and biggest rock band in the country. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ is an album, essentially, all about distances – between the past and present, reality and fantasy, the earth and moon, our finger tips and touchscreens. What about the distance from ‘Whatever People Say I am, that’s what I’m not’ to this, very complex, very odd, very ambitious new album? Arctic Monkeys are quite comfortably the band of my generation; the only ones who truly transcended a classic debut album and have carved out a career that matches artistic daring with commercial success. Few young rock bands sell out stadiums and headline pop festivals, but even the handful that do (Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, The Killers, Kasabian) have struggled to keep their credibility fully in tact in the process. Arctic Monkeys achievements therefore cannot be understated.

Nor can the bravery it takes to deliberately undermine that success in the name of artistic endeavour. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ is as singular and uncompromising as that title suggests it might be. It’s a world away from the jagged indie of 2006 and the cocksure pop-rock of 2013. It’s also a world away in the sense that the album imagines a future society, living and loving in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Hotel resort on the moon. Alex Turner’s impulsive, scatterbrained style prevents this from being a proper concept album but in its thematic and aesthetic cohesion it certainly feels like one. Moving away from the romantic lyricism of ‘Suck It and See’ and ‘AM’ towards a piercing type of social commentary, it’s almost a return to the bluntness and dark humour that defined their early material.

The album starts with the somewhat jazzy ‘Star Treatment’. It reads like a dissection of the slightly vulgar persona Turner adopted for the Last Shadow Puppets most recent tour. ‘Karate bandana. Warp speed chic. Hair down to there.’ In a recent interview with Annie Mac he blushed when reminded of the Karate moves he pulled on stage at Radio 1’s big weekend (later on during ‘She Looks Like Fun’ he notes to self ‘I need to spend less time in bars waffling on to strangers all about martial arts’). ‘Star Treatment’ is too delightedly giddy when describing this ‘golden boy’ to be considered a complete rejection but when Alex sings ‘back down to earth with a lounge singer shimmer’, we can perhaps accept this as a slight admission of regret and a deceleration of a more down to earth perspective.

It holds for much of the album’s running time but occasionally Turner seems to delight in toxic role play. Politics comes in to the conversation from time to time, mainly as a bedrock of disparagement and disbelief. The louche, lounge singer type personified and then popped on ‘Star Treatment’ returns at the start of ‘One Point Perspective’ to announce: ‘dancing in my underpants, I’m gonna run for government. I’m gonna form a covers band.’ Of course politics has become so debased that the situation doesn’t sound that far fetched. Perhaps Turner was thinking of the same character who later on is ‘leader of the free world’ and ‘reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks.’ It’s no wonder the ‘shining city is on the fritz’ if these are the people in charge.

Once the modern fantasy is revealed as a sham, a futuristic alternative is imagined – on the moon. In this post apocalyptic vision, vacuous pop culture figures mix with ‘Jesus in the day spa’, prophets lose their train of thought, protesters get their hair done before ‘popping out to sing a protest song’, technological advances get you in the mood, and God can be contacted on video call. Its a surreal vision of a technologically obsessed future that is not dissimilar from our own. It’s no wonder he asks, at the start of ‘American Sports’, ‘when you gaze at planet earth from outer space, does it wipe that stupid smile off your face?’ This is often a bleak, and bleakly hilarious, vision of a future society that feels a little too close to home.

This critique is soundtracked by music that is itself a kind of odd, futuristic fever dream of past influences, rendered in vivid new colours. It’s where the dark psych-rock of Humbug, the silky strut of ‘AM’ and the sleazy chamber pop of ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ melt in to something totally unrecognisable to all but the few paying extra close attention. It’s a sound that is almost without precedent but at points recalls the abstract absurdity of ‘Smile’ mixed with the luscious musical flourishes of ‘Pet Sounds or the sleazy glamour of ‘Historie de Nelson’ with the dark detailing of ‘Tender Prey’. The last time a stadium sized band took a risk on this scale was Radiohead with ‘Kid A’ nearly twenty years ago, and even then the stakes weren’t this high. Arctic Monkeys are currently the biggest band in the country at a time when Rock stars are an endangered species. When Turner sings ‘I’ve played to quiet rooms like this before’, it’s funny because he really hasn’t. But ‘Tranquility Base’ feels exactly the type of music suited to the quiet rooms.

If you blur your eyes, and ears, accordingly, for the first 30 seconds of ‘Four Out of Five’ (a lead single that didn’t actually lead the album) it would be easy to mistake the song for something from ‘AM’; the tight bass line interlocking perfectly with a popping snare. But in the chorus it blossoms in to something far richer than anything on that album. This time the backing vocals don’t just mirror the lead melody, they dance around it, enhancing and (at points) mocking the message of the narrator. Guitars squiggle in the margins, the orchestras glitters on top, Alex croons and moans and sneers. The song is a clever satire but more importantly it’s endlessly enjoyable. Asked by Ryan Domball if there was any particular reason for naming a taqueria on the roof the ‘information action ratio’, Turner replied ‘I don’t think so. It just sounded interesting. Something to look at.’ Perhaps he was being coy or perhaps not. Either way, it rolls off his tongue with style.

Turner, never a songwriter with the longest attention span, now flips from observation to observation without much consideration for coherence or narrative. Before, on the likes of ‘Pretty Visiters’ or ‘Library Pictures’ this was done largely for effect – to show off his Olympian verbal dexterity or to simply to delight in the auditory thrill of the sibilance, half rhymes and ridiculous similes. Here though it reflects the shortened attention span of the characters he’s describing, ‘sucked into a hole through a handheld device’. One song is named after a YouTube meme (‘The Workd’s First Monster Truck Flip’), another, ‘She Looks Like Fun’, races from image to image like someone scrolling down their Instagram feed. ‘Bukowski. Dog sitting. Screw balling.’ That song in particular is a murky, heavy, deeply weird slog with an air of wonder and hallucinogenic glee – the type of song that might be played on an especially demonic merry go round ride. In both sound and content, it’s the perfect rendering of how it feels to be sucked down a YouTube black hole.

It’s a dicey game, writing about technology, one that easily boils over in to didacticism or worse, threatens to make you sound like a fuddy-daddy. At times Turner is one small step away from becoming Father John Misty. Luckily he reins it in at the right moments. He’s aware of his own complicity in a game we are all playing to varying degrees and is only too happy to mock or undermine his sense of authority and wisdom. Only on ‘Batphone’ do the observations feel a little too ponderous and oblique, the tone a little too detached. He recovers on the gorgeous album closer ‘The Ultracheese’, a ballad that ranks alongside ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘Love Is a Laserquest’ in the band’s catalogue of sweet and sober meditations on nostalgia and ageing. ‘Oh the dawn won’t stop weighing a tonne/I’ve done somethings I shouldn’t have done but I haven’t stopped loving you once.’ The song ends abruptly, at the conclusion of that sentence, with no big send off or dramatic crescendo, and the melody is left somewhat unresolved. The music stops and Alex coos sentimentally, before the lights fade and the curtain drops. It’s a morsel of romance in a world that otherwise seems remarkably short of the stuff. ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ presents a generally grim vision of the future but in its final moments Alex Turner makes assurances that there will always be room for human connection and commitment. It’s a touching finale to what could (could) be the band’s most accomplished album to date.



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?



Miles Kane ‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’ – Review

12 Jun

Miles Kane is a Last Shadow Puppet. He co-wrote ‘Age of the Understatement’, a fantastic record that stands up five years on. I doubt anyone’s forgotten this (although I’m sure Miles would like you to forget and take this new album on its own terms) but I feel like reminding myself. That was nuanced record that avoided cliche, let alone parody. His earlier work with The Rascals and Little Flames was perky but insubstantial, certainly not bad though. His solo debut was also pretty decent, at times downright brilliant. Again, I just want to remind myself of that. This guy knows how to pen a good song… doesn’t he?

It’s just that ‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’ is undeniably a damp squib. A big, soaking, useless squib. Miles has He’s made a big deal of ditching the metaphors that have coloured his best writing, calling ‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’ direct and to the point. Direct is certainly one adjective you could use to describe it, but ‘obvious’ is the one I would use. On the catchy but forgettable ‘Better Than That’ Miles tells us he’s happy and it’s down to a four letter word. Ok, fair enough. Then he says he means ‘L.O.V.E’. Yeah, we get it Miles, no need to literally spell it out. But in case the message isn’t clear enough he then yells ‘I’m talking about love!’ It’s this kind of pandering, colour-by-numbers lyricism that makes ‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’ such a joyless listen. It’s wholly uncharicteristic of the painterly, detailed lyrics that won him acclaim a few years back. By the time you hear him repeat ‘Give up’ for the twelfth time in his droning scouse accent you’ll be wishing he’d follow his own advice.

It’s not just the lyrics that are obvious. The riffs are stone cold stupid, his voice is increasingly Gallagher-esque, and the arrangements lack any spark of originality. His horn soaked collaboration with Skream, ‘First of My Kind’, released last year hinted that the second album would move things on nicely from the debut, but there is none of that innovation or ambition here (and ‘First of My Kind is reduced to a lowly bonus track on the expensive deluxe edition). That said, there are highlights scattered across the thankfully brief running time, including the dizzy title track, the Oasis humping ‘Out of Control’ and the supremely confident ‘Taking Over’. Kane relies on predictable structures, predictable chords, predictable themes and predictable swagger but he does it all with absolute sincerity and forthright purpose. It’s never a dreary listen and at times the glam stomp and throwback  riffs put a smile on your face. It’s impossible to dislike him, you just end up feeling a little let down.

‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’ isn’t just a disappointing record, it’s the type of record that is so out-there disappointing it makes you question everything the artist has ever done. It makes you think ‘was his other stuff really as good as I remember? Have my listening tastes changed or something? Or is it Miles that has changed?’ I’ve always dismissed the cynics who pointed out that Kane had yet to write a classic on his own without a songwriting partner, but there’s got to be something in that.  Alex Turner co-wrote the Last Shadow Puppets album and all the best songs on his solo debut – is that a coincidence? I hate to say it, but I don’t think so. Miles Kane is a talented lad but he has to do better than this if he wants to be considered a credible artist in his own right. At the moment he’s just gone about two steps back into the shadow of a certain Shadow Puppet.



Miles Kane ‘The Colour of the Trap’ – Review

12 May

Miles Kane Recently said of this album – “it makes you feel like a real man”. Here is an old-fashioned rock n roll hero. Someone who dresses in only the finest suits, who dates only the finest models and who collaborates with only the finest songwriters. He appears on the album cover ‘because I just had to’ – his words, not mine. If only more rock stars were like Miles Kane. He is a real man.

This is an unashamedly retro rock n roll record, one that features nods to just about every variety the genre has to offer. There are dirty, chugging riffs on ‘Come Closer’, ‘Inhaler’ and ‘Better Left Invisible’ and it’s these songs that will catch your attention; however it’s the ballads that will hold it. The title track is pure pop gold, a sly wink to John Lennon’s more melodic solo material (it’s also the song that most fondly recalls Kane’s work with The Last Shadow Puppets). ‘My Fantasy’ and ‘Take the Night From Me’ are Roy Orbison-esque in the way they slowly build melodrama, and the former features Noel Gallagher on backing vocals. ‘Quicksand’ takes a decidedly more upbeat turn whilst retaining the sophistication of the slower numbers, and ‘Happenstance’ is a loving homage to the Gainsbourg/Bardot duets of the sixties.

I hadn’t expected this to be such a diverse album, Miles never repeats himself and therefore he never gets tiring. Occasionally however the experimentation doesn’t pay dividends; ‘Kingcrawler’ is the album’s psychedelic number but it isn’t really as strange or as interesting as Miles obviously thinks it is. ‘Telepathy’ is also a bit of a bore, the surf rock guitar sound is cool but the tune lacks a decent hook or melody, and ultimately it passes you by. It’s easy to forget the flaws though because Miles is so ambitious in the range of styles he has tried his hand at – you have to admire his ambition. Largely he is successful; there isn’t anything on here that’s bad and in fact the vast majority of it is very good indeed. ‘The Colour of the Trap’ is not cutting edge and it’s not mind blowing, but it is extremely well made, and there’s no denying that fact.

Miles Kane – the Last Shadow Puppet – has stepped out of Alex Turner’s shadow with this album (although he’s taking baby steps away from Alex, who co-writes half of the songs). The Little Flames (his first band) were a non-event, The Rascals (his second band) had potential but, a few snappy songs aside, were a bit of a disappointment. Now at last he has unleashed his true potential with an album of finely crafted, old-fashioned rock n roll songs. Alex Turner may still be the senior partner of the Shadow Puppets but ‘The Colour of the Trap’ proves that Miles isn’t that far behind him.


Alex Turner ‘Submarine’ – Review

18 Mar

It’ s hard to belive that it’s been only five years since Arctic Monkeys released their debut album; I don’t mean to sound like an elderly aunt, but, doesn’t time fly! Compare the straggly haired, guitar crunching, rock gods of 2011 with the shy, casually dressed lads  from 2005 – they’re like two different bands. Alex Turner in particular is a new proposition entirely. Where he once spat out his colloquialisms with venom he now prefers to croon, and where his lyrics once reminded every one of a young Paul Weller, he now writes like a young Bob Dylan, circa 1965.

‘Submarine’ is his first solo project and it sounds like a solo project. The first four tracks are entirely acoustic and he plays alone for most of this time. ‘Hiding Tonight’ and ‘Glass in the Park’ are particularly stark in their arrangements but Turner pulls it off with real charm and intelligence. He has cited the Harold and Maude soundtrack as a big influence on the style and movement of this record and there are times when he absolutley recalls Cat Stevens. His guitar work is gentle and melodic, whilst his singing is effortless and stronger than ever before. He was once acclaimed for the brilliant way in which he would bend, twist and bastardize his words for poetic effect (rhyming ‘summit’ with ‘stomach’ stands out in my memory), but his style on ‘Submarine’ never draws attention to itself; it’s a calm and laid back record where, if a lyric does hit you, it does so on the third or fourth listen.

The film that this e.p soundtracks is the debut feature from Richard Ayoade, of IT Crowd fame. It’s essentially a coming of age tale and, although I haven’t yet seen the film, these songs sound like they could fit in pretty easily. ‘Hiding Tonight’ is about leaving off until tomorrow what could be done today, and ‘Stuck on a Puzzle’ is about searching for something (or someone) and getting completely lost – it exudes youthfulness. He transforms from being that boy into, by the end, a wisdom giving sage. ‘If you’re going to walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes’, he sings on ‘Piledriver Waltz’ (A song the Arctics have rerecorded for their next album) and suddenly you realize that Alex Turner has grown up. The instrumentation on the song is very reminiscent of early 70’s John Lennon (as is ‘Stuck on a Puzzle’) and It just feels a world away from the energetic pop punk of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’.

When Arctic Monkeys headlined Leeds Festival in 2006 Alex appeared sheepish and confused on the big stage, like he had only ended up there because he gotten lost on his way to the toilet. Now confidence pours out of him, from the arrangements, to the lyrics to his singing; he can stand up without his band and shine just as brightly. He’s fitted more into six years than I reckon any rock star (Jack White aside) has since the 1970’s and it’s all been of the highest quality, this included, which suggests that Arctic Monkeys next album (out in a couple of months) will something to count down the weeks for.