5 Apr 2016

The Last Shadow Puppets / Everything You've Come To Expect (album review)

If there's one soundbite to take away from this review, and let's be frank there probably is, we'll get to that straight away; Everything You've Come To Expect is everything that AM should have been and then a bit more. OK. Now we've got that clear, here's some background on this record and why that comparison feels like a necessary one to make in the first paragraph of a review.
The Last Shadow Puppets are a side project of Alex Turner and Miles Kane, formed in between the recording of Favourite Worst Nightmare and Humbug, i.e. at the height of Turner's late noughties creative flourish. Kane and Turner made one record, The Age of the Understatement, which was full of incredibly arranged rubberly soulful pop songs that combined amazing instrumentation (strings, horns, etc) with a lyrical intimacy that is seldom found on Arctic Monkeys records. That was 2008, and The Last Shadow Puppets were the shit; they toured a bit, gave the charts a bit of a chamber-pop scare, and then called it a bit of a day so that Turner could focus on being an Arctic Monkey/Submarine-soundtracking solo artist and Kane could be a Paul McCartney lookalike heartthrob capable of fluking record deals on the strength of some OK Soccer AM soundtrack songs.

At the tail end of last year, or maybe the start of this year, I can't really remember, they announced they'd come back. There didn't really seem to be a demand for a Last Shadow Puppets return. And I was quite cynical because, well, Miles Kane hasn't churned out anything too worthwhile since The Age of the Understatement and probably needs the money to keep up his expensive dress sense, and Alex Turner doesn't seem all too keen on doing much with t'Arctics, whilst firmly needing some kinda income also. So yeah, I didn't expect big things from this album - it just seemed like a little bit of a cash cow - like Turner had a load of b-sides he wanted to cash in. 

Anyway, Everything You've Come To Expect dropped last Friday and it can be said that the above isn't really true. This album is full of really lusciously arranged pop songs, that bring to mind the same mental pictures that The Age of the Understatement brought to the fore. The best news: the godawful Bad Habits single was a red herring and the rest of the record is so far removed from that kinda obnoxious cocaine slop pop. But in other news: there's a lot of songs with really subtle orchestral arrangements, twangy desert guitars, cinematic strings; it's basically just really well put together, and a hell of a lot more than what I'd come to expect...

Straight out the traps, the Aviation opener is a brilliant galloping opener that sounds like the band back at their best immediately; quick paced, with a salsa feel, and an outro with escalating cellos and violins. It's a gorgeous opener. 

Elsewhere, Elements of Surprise has a slow-burning swooning intimacy, whilst the waltzing Sweet Dreams, TN sees the band sound their most like Pulp in sonic aesthetic and delivery, which is definitely the best thing a fairly generic (sorry) indie band can do really, before the instrumentation takes it up another level. Dracula Teeth, like quite a lot of the record, mirrors AM in style - that sexy kinda US, leather jacket, smoky bars, Harley Davidson thing that Turner tries to get going on - but does it so much more subtly, and is therefor a lot nicer to listen to. Actually, scrap that, it's luscious and glorious to listen to, and maybe the best thing Alex Turner's done in the, umm, what do you call this decade again? Maybe one thing I would add though, is that although Turner (and on occasion Kane) do showcase silky voices, they don't really have the tenacious passion that they used to, back on LP #1.

Pattern sees Owen Pallet's string arrangements take centre stage - fluttering, elegant flourishes that disguise the anonymity of Miles Kane's vocal performance perfectly, while the title track combines a kinda prancing string part with a weird vaudevillian keyboard sound to make for a pretty sounding number. Even in the context of the album - where it's outlying as the single narcotic, sloppy rock song - Bad Habits kinda works, as a nice rock 'n' roll reprieve from the slow moving sounds of the rest of the record.

The songs don't quite have the character that the singles from the first album do, and the album lacks the central belters, the obvious singles and all that. But the album on the whole is a really easy listen, put it on for 40 minutes and your life's soundtrack will be pleasing and cinematic. Anyhow, I expected this album to be a real dud, but it's lovely sounding all the way through and a real pleasure to listen to - it's that mixture of Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg, Richard Hawley and The Beatles that just (while not being quite as great as any one of them) works so well. The cockiness and cringiness of AM are overcome here, and this record does feel pretty intimate and heartfelt. Certainly not what I'd come to expect, but as someone that adored TLSP growing up, I'm glad that it's not...


(written by calum cashin)