Monday, May 16, 2016

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

It has been eight years since The Last Shadow Puppets released their debut album The Age of the Understatement. To give you some perspective, in the time between these two albums Miley Cyrus has gone from being a cute country-singer and TV-starlet on the Disney Channel to the weed-smoking, everything-exposing artist twerking on Robin Thicke.  The long break is supposedly because one half of the superduo, namely Alex Turner, was busy becoming one of the biggest rock stars alive today with his main project, the Artic Monkeys. At the same time Miles Kane, the other half of this bromance, dedicated himself to his solo career. Have these eight years matured these two or are they still the same kind of brash, track-suit wearing, sex-crazed brits they were back in 2008 and have the twelve tracks been worth the almost decade long wait?

As soon as the first track Aviation starts, one thing is clear, this is not just a Turner & Kane show. The first orchestrated long notes on the strings and the following intro by the bass and drums show that there is some serious talent featured here. All of these instruments continue throughout the song, and the whole album really, to create a really nice flow to accompany Turner and Kane’s vocals. And oh my what great vocals they are! Turner coming in with his trademark smoky Sheffield accent with Kane lending a helping hand while playing the guitar hints at what one can expect from the coming tracks – sex, psychedelia and seduction. Going from the almost western-like Aviation to Miracle Liner might be a bit of a suprise for some. The moment it starts, you can feel the influence the Beatles and beat music in general has had on these songwriters. You could almost be forgiven if you mistake the opening few seconds with, for example, the Beatles’ Flying off their 1967 album. The track soon simmers down though and Miracle Liner shows its true colors as a soul-pop track but still managing to stay upbeat and different. Things now take a turn for the even soulier with Dracula Teeth. What really makes this track is everything going on behind the vocals, from the winding strings to the funky bassline and effects later added on.

Everything You’ve Come To Expect, is where things start to unravel a bit. The song after which the album is named is on its own, quite an odd duck. Without the words, it would make an alright psychedelic track, with the whole composition having an organ playing throughout the song and the other instruments playing around this creating this almost minimalist sounding track. With the added vocals though, this song really gives us a glimpse into the lives of these playboyesque young lads and how it is not all fun and games. The Element of Surprise is quite aptly named, because the last thing you would expect after the slowly winding Everything You’ve Come To Expect is a seemingly happy-go-lucky kind of track featuring some really well played strings. When you actually listen to the song it becomes apparent that the boys are not alright and have some real issues with their love lives. If the previous tracks hadn’t made it clear enough that this album is inspired heavily by the music of the 70s then Bad Habits makes it real clear with the tambourine, plucky bassline and long, distorted guitar riffs. This is also the track where Miles Kane can step out of the shadow of Alex Turner for a bit and actually showcase his own vocals. His voice is raspier than Turner’s and seems to be a better fit for Bad Habits which seems to be tailor-made for Kane.

On Sweet Dreams, TN Turner is back at it with full force... well half force really, because every syllable of every word is elongated and boy oh boy how does it work. This song is all about how Turner’s fallen hopelessly for a girl and now seems to be floating through this psychedelic world in a haze of sex and love-crazed existence. Where Kane was the perfect man for Bad Habits, Turner really brings his own on this track with the long reverberant notes and slight distortion in his voice. The aftermath of Sweet Dreams, TN seems to be apparent on Used To Be My Girl. If Sweet Dreams, TN was a track about falling head-over-heels in love then this song is about what happens when the psychedelic feeling of first falling in love runs out and you wake up in the morning, see her lying next to you and realize what a mistake you have made. The vocals here also have an uncanny resemblance to Muse’s Knights of Cydonia but this might be just because in addition to the vocals sounding similarly and echoing and dream-like, both songs have a certain western vibe to them. One of the more candid songs on the album is She Does The Woods. To put it simply, the song is about coitus in the wilderness. Theme aside, the song feels lazy and kind of shoehorned in just so Turner and Kane can gloat about how much tail they are getting and the redeeming factor of this track seems to be what the band is doing behind the vocals.

Pattern is a lovely example of how orchestration can help out a simple rock track and make it become something much more wholesome. Although the track is not much when considering what came before it, it is a great example of why Turner and Kane work so well together because on Pattern their voices are so well intertwined and are almost able to create this third vocalist in a sense. On The Dream Synopsis we are right back where we were on Sweet Dreams, TN, only in a more reminiscing tone and a more melancholic mood. Now that the album is drawing to an end Turner seems to be doing the same, talking about how him, Miles Kane and this girl used to bomb down a neighbourhood in Los Angeles and tying up loose ends. It makes sense that the albums closing tracks would also talk about L.A. since Turner moved there when the Arctic Monkeys hit it big and Kane followed soon after. The last track of the album is The Bourne Identity and as a track it doesn’t really stand out from the rest in any particular way, it is a song about Turner tryong to redeem himself in the eyes of the listener. He tries to make you see him as the downtrodden victim of his own fame and what it has done to him but this raises a question of whether or not these tracks have been created by his real self or the famous rockstar he has become in the eyes of everyone. As for the track as a closing track it does a good job of creating this atmosphere where Turner and Kane seem to be just riding off into the sunset but looking back at you at the last moment to give you hope that they will return one day.

So, in the end the album does not disappoint with both Miles Kane and Alex Turner still being on top of their game lyrically and instrumentally. There hasn’t really been any development artistically in the last eight years, both men continuing to do what they did back then but with a bit more polish and a bigger ensamble. And what an ensamble it is! They deserve as much praise, if not more, than the lead lads, because without the help of Owen Pallett on the strings and Zach Dawes on the bass this album would have been 40 minutes of generic alternative rock. All that we can now hope for is that Turner and Kane haven’t really ridden off into the sunset for another eight years after this album.

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