19 Jan 2016

The Last Shadow Puppets / Bad Habits (single review)


I'm going to preface this review by saying I hope to fuck that the rest of this band's output proves me wrong in everything I write, but at this point - a few listens in - I'm really struggling to see that happening.

The Last Shadow Puppets are a supergroup formed of Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) and Miles Kane (mod that sings sometimes), who put out a really good, cinematic alt-pop record about 8 years ago. What made it good, great even, was it's ambitious feel, and it's sophisticated use of strings and other instruments that Alex Turner's contemporaries would never have dared try to use - if you need a flavour of that, this Jools performance is brilliant. My Mistakes Were Made For You adds some beautifully caressing strings and horns to an already elegant pop song, and Standing Next To Me combines a real salsa strut with subtle, intricate strings sections. It's a really bloody good album, and their Age of the Understatement is one of my favourite side projects of the past ten years. But.

But.

Since then, 8 years have passed, and for Mr Turner and Mr Kane a lot has happened; a lot. At this point, Arctic Monkeys had two records in the bag, the stellar Whatever People Say... debut, and the Favourite Worst Nightmare follow-up, which alongside effort #3 Humbug are undeniably their best records. Meaning, well, since then Arctic Monkeys' output hasn't just tailed off, but it's fallen off the fucking cliff; what were once instantly memorable indie bangers, then near-essential strutting psych-influenced anthems turned quickly into cocaine caricatures and sleazy substanceless rock tracks, which has kinda rubbed off on the new Last Shadow Puppets song.

Similarly, Miles Kane arrived on the first LSP album full of ideas, yet to release a proper album and full of that kinda youthful energy that can make any decent indie band listenable. But since then, he too has burnt lightly, then burnt out, with his second album fiercely unoriginal, and kinda unlistenable (sorry Miles). And anyway, his music never sounded as good solo to begin with as it did with Alex Turner (sorry again, Miles), don't forget whose legs you're on boy.

Also, before this recent LSP reunion slash single slash album came into fruition I overheard someone in a record shop say that they knew a guy that knew someone that they knew Miles Kane had run out of money, and that the Last Shadow Puppets were going to inevitably get back together. Not a reliable source, I know, but a theory that makes sense. A lot of sense; "Miles, do you wanna come over to LA for a mad one with me and the lads?" "I've got no money left mate, come to the Mersey, I've had to get a part time job at Tesco Metro" "Hmmm [sighs], I guess I've got some unreleased b-side ideas floating around, we'll get Puppets back together" "Okay" "Okay."

So really, where the two musicians that make up the Last Shadow Puppets aren't quite the creative force they were back in 2008, so the single Bad Habits came to me without any real expectations. I expected it to be alright, you know? But what I got wasn't even alright, it was pretty fucking far from alright. It begins with a bassline far removed from the subtlety of their first record, clunky and packing precisely 0 punch that the yelps and screams in the background imply that it should have.

Similarly, the strings that made Age of the Understatement stand out are back. But here they're about as subtle as an earthquake. Loud violins and the occasional horns penetrate the timbre in a way that is so painfully self aware (you'd like to hope). But instead of being woven into the sonic tapestry elegantly like it is on the first LSP record, it sounds really dissonant, and just generally makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, and not in the way that menacing punk bands like The Cramps or whoever make me feel a bit uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because it's just cringeworthy.

And the lyrics never really stray away from 'BAD HABITS! ooh! BAD HABITS! yeah!' in a way that kind of makes the main refrain unlistenable if you've had to listen to it more than once. Which I have, in desperate search of the merits of this song. By the time I reach this point in the post, I've listened to it 5 or 6 times too many to even think about putting it on.

In short, this is not the Last Shadow Puppets we know and love, but this is what we knew and expected. Metacritic gave album #1 a score of 77 as an aggregate of all the reviews it received - 'generally positive' reception that means - when it arguably deserved quite a bit more. I'd give it at least a 8.2 Best New Music out of 10. That was the age of the understatement that. But y'know, if Bad Habits receives a reception in any way similar we will officially be entering the age of the overstatement.

But anyway, like I said at the start, I hope I'm proved wrong.

watch it below



(written by calum cashin)