Monday, May 16, 2016

The Last Shadow Puppets - "Everything You've Come to Expect" (2016)

Everything You’ve Come to Expect, the second album by The Last Shadow Puppets, the musical love child of former The Rascals frontman, current solo artist Miles Kane and Arctic Monkey Alex Turner, was released on April 1 this year. It follows an 8-year wait after their first release The Age of the Understatement in 2008 and they’ve certainly come a long way since then – from boyish floppy-haired 21-year-olds to self-assured suave gentlemen. This transformation could be said to define the whole new record. If you were to compare it to The Age of the Understatement, the words that immediately come to mind are definitely ‘mature’ and ‘refined’. 
The album opens with “Aviation”, one of the strongest tracks on the record which right off the bat perfectly encapsulates everything about the band and leaves you wanting more. Kane takes on the lead vocals while Turner provides falsetto backing vocals during the choruses and the second half of the song, resulting in some beautiful harmonies. The song also introduces us to the string section which is to feature throughout the album, brilliantly arranged and conducted by Owen Pallett.
For the next 4 tracks, Turner takes over the duties of lead vocalist, the first of them being “Miracle Aligner”. It’s a smooth and mellow tune on which Turner’s vocals sound soft and melodious while Kane delivers the deep and sultry backing vocals. It’s quite a change of pace from the previous track, but nevertheless the distinctive character of The Last Shadow Puppets still manages to shine through it.
The next one is “Dracula Teeth”, which while not a bad effort, tends to rather get lost between the stronger tunes. It doesn’t quite have a catchy enough riff or a chorus you want to sing along to and therefore isn’t quite as memorable. However, it may surprisingly evoke a comparison with The Cure’s “Lullaby” as the violins are eerily similar and even the subject matter of both songs essentially deals with nightmares, be it of scary spiders or vampires wanting to eat you.
Up next is the title track of the album – “Everything You’ve Come to Expect”. Similarly to “Miracle Aligner”, it’s calm and mellow throughout, but still with a catchy beat that you just can’t help but sway along to. If you go into it expecting a massive tune, with it being the title track and all, it may not be the most impressive, but it’s still exciting enough to keep your attention.
The next track is “The Element of Surprise”. Coming in at just under 3 minutes, it really is short and sweet in the best way possible. It starts off with a catchy mix of guitars, drums and strings which continues for the entire song, accompanying a story of being infatuated with a pretty girl, which is a theme that it always seems to come down to with these guys. The song also wins the award for the coolest opening lines on the album for “There’s a set of rickety stairs / In between my heart and my head / And there ain’t much that ever bothers going up them.”
Next is “Bad Habits”, which was also the first glimpse we got of the new album back in January. The initial reaction to the track seemed to be confusion as to what exactly they were doing and if the album was all going to sounds like this. Thankfully, it is rather one of a kind on the album and doesn’t represent the record as a whole. It consists mostly of Miles Kane shouting somewhat random phrases in between repeating “bad habits” for 3 minutes, accompanied by a loud, brash string section. It certainly is a lot messier than and not as refined as the rest of the record.
This is in complete contrast to the next track. “Sweet Dreams, TN” is a sweet love song from Alex Turner to his model girlfriend Taylor Bagley who, if the song is any indication, he seems to be rather smitten with. However, in true rock & roll fashion, it is far from your usual sappy and overly sentimental love song, instead including such lyrics as “It’s like everyone’s a dick without you, baby” and “You’re the first day of spring with a septum piercing”, all of which is backed by repetitive drumming making the song sound almost like a march. The track also really shows off Turner’s vocals, which build up to a big finish as the song progresses. It is certainly not bad for a guy who over a decade ago didn’t even intend to become the vocalist of his newly formed band and is a true testament to how much he has improved.
Used to Be My Girl is the first and only track on the record to feature both Kane and Turner on lead vocals, taking turns singing the funky tune. As Kane and Turner actually have quite similar musical styles and voices, a casual listener not acquainted with the background of the band might not be able to differentiate between their voices or even realize there’s 2 people singing before this song. It also doesn’t help that they’re gradually losing their strong native accents, being from Liverpool and Sheffield respectively, as they become international superstars.
Other than the 4 lines of chorus, “She Does the Woods” is rather forgettable. It doesn’t have a catchy riff or a melody that immediately gets stuck in your head. The verses and pre-choruses don’t even really have a particular structure. It almost sounds like no thought has gone into the rhyming or timing of the lyrics, instead being rather randomly put into lines, which is why it’s not really earworm material.
Next up is “Pattern”, which is arguably the best of the Kane-led tracks. It appeals with its simplicity and beautiful melodies. The song has a simple and straight-forward structure with no surprises or changes in pace, is strongest in the pre-chorus and chorus, and ends with an instrumental outro. It starts with an impressive guitar riff which features throughout the song and is complemented by the string section, which sounds especially stunning on this particular track.
The last track on the regular edition of the album is “The Dream Synopsis” which once again mellows and slows down a bit to bring the record to a close. Actually, if it weren’t for the heavier instrumentation and production and the addition of the string section, it could almost even be confused for one of the tracks on Alex Turner’s 2011 acoustic solo EP Submarine. This makes sense when you learn that it’s one of the few tracks on the record that doesn’t have Kane’s fingerprints on it, instead being Turner’s solo effort.
The Bourne Identity” comes as a digital bonus track, but is not by any means inferior to the rest. Like the previous track, it evokes feelings of calmness and serenity and is another one of Turner’s that sounds like it could’ve come straight off Submarine. It also happens to include another one of the record’s most impressive set of lyrics: “I feel like the sequel you wanna see but you were kinda hoping they would never make”. It’s certainly a nice finish to a well-rounded and worthwhile album.
As good as Kane and Turner may be in their respective solo careers or hugely successful bands, The Last Shadow Puppets is the perfect combination of them both with the distinctive addition of a gorgeous string section, and what’s not to love about that. If the music alone is not enough to convince you, just a glimpse at an interview or a live performance is enough to prove that Kane and Turner are clearly the greatest of friends and have a blast working together. Whatever it was that made the stars align just right and brought these guys together, we should be thankful that we get to witness the incredible music this has resulted in. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for another 8 years to hear some more.

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