24 Oct 2016

The Last Shadow Puppets / Is This What You Wanted (single review)

All mop-top and clamour, in 2006 Alex Turner wittily denounced the inauthentic in pop: ‘He talks of San Francisco, he's from Hunter's Bar/I don't quite know the distance but I'm sure that's far’ – and yet, to look at him now, he is from San Francisco. Turner’s transformation into finely referenced baroque’n’roller has rankled with some; but in the video for The Last Shadow Puppets’ new cover of Leonard Cohen’s Is This What You Wanted, we see it at its most self-assured. In their dispatch from inside the lava lamp, everything frames him: the spotlight he first measures up to, the stage lights that flare as he walks past, a schmaltzy skyline, a silhouette string section, and Miles Kane in a dress. That face that once looked like it might nick your fillings has become a jaded Elvis snarl. And did you know Gucci did velvet tank tops? Kane seems happy enough to just crouch back and be older brother to Alex’s mocha-rocker. Besides, he has a mean grin on him, and he gives the band a muted edge.

That something as brazenly inauthentic as this might dazzle early Arctic Monkeys fans is suggested in Simon Reynolds' indie checklist of ‘the songful guitar band with "interesting" lyrics, "attitude" and a decent shot at an NME front cover’. But the last of these surely dooms the idea that ‘authenticity’ should be the main measure of a pop band. In a recent interview Turner said that “Everything you need to know about this band can be summed up by our trousers” – I think the whole history of pop is the influence of people’s trousers. And my, what trousers he's got on here!

Turner slips very comfortably into this song. The title has that same sense of weariness and unfulfillment as ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’. Lyrics which reel off ‘the very reverend Freud’ alongside ‘K.Y. Jelly’ also suit someone whose lyrical mode now shimmies between ‘Ghost Riders and The Rat and Parrot/Croc-skin collar on a Diamond Dog’ and ‘Baby we ought to fuck’. His fifties and sixties reference points are neatly handled by ‘You were Marlon Brando/I was Steve Mcqueen’, and he archly stretches ‘Rin Tin Tin’ in a way that really is his own. But it is undertaken with some embarrassment, as Turner told a Dublin audience, ‘it is that time in any relationship when I feel comfortable enough with you to perform a Leonard Cohen cover.’ At almost seven minutes, if the song wasn't so insistently louche it would be quite naff. Indeed, ‘There’s a ghost in my house’ is not an especially new pop trope, which is why it works. As he increasingly scrapes and jiggles to sing ‘Is this what you wanted?’ (a house that is ‘Hownted’), the line revels in their pose as late pop stars. The ‘Get Down!’ we are left with is a rockin’ sense of disquiet, as the strings make a dignified exit amid Kane's distorted guitar.

This unease, at which Turner repeatedly whips his wrist in the video, comes from the same bachelor pad gothic that would spawn the song name Dracula Teeth. This is a key to baroque-pop, the best of which seemed to smuggle an ugliness into teenyboppers’ living rooms. The line ‘I swear on the wet head/of my first case of gonorrhoea’ comes off chart smash Scott 2; or we could point to The Days of Pearly Spencer (whose funked-up strings grace the wallpaper of Pattern). Turner and Kane understand that its lushness and grandeur belie a sleazy and small, middle-class veneer of success. Chalet of the Shadow of Death indeed.

Is This What You Wanted is off new EP The Dream Synopsis, along with that song from the last album, where in the same vein Sheffield City Centre becomes a home for ‘palm tree debris’ and ‘a Roman coliseum’. Rather than trade his indie soul for something larger, Turner has turned pop’s strange history and excess onto his old themes. Let's hope he doesn't become a Bryan Ferry, someone who also played with irony and got his cummerbund burnt. But as for now, authenticity won't save you. Things have moved on from 2006 – the year is now 1966 (or ‘56, or ‘76). Get louche.

Words: Isaac Lucia