Review: The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect

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For the uninitiated, the Last Shadow Puppets are a side project of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner and former Rascals frontman Miles Kane. If you haven’t heard their name recently or even at all, that’s understandable given their last release The Age of the Understatement came out eight years ago. This album was also their debut, and for several years it seemed like the Last Shadow Puppets were a one-off project.

Had this been the case, they would have been a fairly legendary side project along the lines of the Postal Service, because The Age of the Understatement was an excellent album. It combined 60s garage rock stylings with the modern British post-punk revival that Turner and Kane are known for, and added in a heaping portion of old James Bond themes for good measure. This last part shouldn’t be understated (no pun intended) – the track “My Mistakes Were Made For You” would have made a better Bond theme than any of the recent songs, while the opening notes of “In My Room” beat you over the head with the Bond influence. The sophisticated British feel of the album was aided by the band’s image as two shaggy-haired lads with thick north English accents occasionally donning mod fashion and appearing in Beatles-reminiscent videos. Musically, they got help from producer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco and string arrangements from none other than Owen Pallett, who has done similar arrangements for seemingly every successful indie band in the past decade. All of these factors combined to make a real winning formula for the Last Shadow Puppets.

The eight years since The Age of the Understatement have seen some major developments for the band’s members. Alex Turner has since released three more albums with Arctic Monkeys, who are easily among the most popular indie rock bands today.  Their 2009 album Humbug showed some of the Last Shadow Puppets’ influence with its milder sound before the band released the psychedelic Suck It And See in 2011 and the hard-rocking AM in 2013. Turner also released a solo acoustic EP called Submarine that served as the soundtrack for the film of the same name, and appeared on Queens of the Stone Age’s 2013 album …Like Clockwork.

Miles Kane, the lesser known of the two, has traversed a quieter path. When The Age of the Understatement was released in 2008 he was known as the frontman for the Rascals, yet this band broke up one year later having only put out one full length album, Rascalize. He has since released two solo albums, The Colour of the Trap in 2011 and Don’t Forget Who You Are in 2013, both of which featured retro stylings that seemed to heavily tie in to the Last Shadow Puppets.

Clearly, Turner and Kane are different musicians now…well, moreso Turner than Kane. Even their earnest, shaggy-haired personas are different now; Turner has started to sport a greaser look complete with a slick pompadour, while Kane’s shaved head means he no longer can win Paul McCartney lookalike contests. When Everything You’ve Come to Expect was announced it late 2015, the initial publicity photos showed Turner and Kane donning track suits and chains, apparently having gone from mods to seedy club owners. Would the album really be that much different?

The answer is yes and no – a significant amount of Everything You’ve Come to Expect does replicate The Age of the Understatement’s winning formula, but several tracks also push the duo in new directions. However, the tracks that fall into the former more familiar category generally outshine the album’s more inventive tracks.

Opening track “Aviation” is a great example. It’s an all-around brilliant song, but it doesn’t fall too far from The Age of the Understatement. Twangy, 60s guitar giving it a James Bond feel? Check. Kane singing in a thick accent while Turner chimes in at the chorus? Check. Owen Pallett’s string arrangements adding dramatic effect? Check.

 

Elsewhere, “Miracle Aligner” features some of the least subtle lyrical come-ons imaginable (“he was born to blow your mind- or something along those lines tonight”), but is saved by Turner’s vocals, muted plucking throughout, and an especially pronounced twangy guitar at the middle and end. “Dracula Teeth” and “The Element of Surprise” could have been on The Age of the Understatement if not for their muted vocals, familiarly sung in unison by Turner and Kane. “She Does the Woods” sounds like a combination of earlier songs “Only the Truth” and “Wondrous Place.” While none of these are as strong as “Aviation,” each utilizes the previous album’s formula to their benefit and makes Everything You’ve Come to Expect both an apt and welcome album title.

Interestingly enough, the tracks that contradict the album’s title don’t fare so well.  The first single “Bad Habits” is arguably the worst track on the album. Punctuated by Kane’s howls and horror movie-esque strings, it should have become a Kane solo release b-side. Everything You’ve Come to Expect’s title track is driven by synthesized organ alongside the full orchestra, but mostly serves to show Turner and Kane should avoid falsetto. “Used to be My Girl” isn’t bad on its own, but is too awkwardly American-sounding for the album.

Perhaps the most notice difference between the two Last Shadow Puppets albums is actually how disjointed Everything You’ve Come to Expect feels in many parts. The Age of the Understatement featured both Turner and Kane either swapping vocal duties or singing in unison on every track to the point that their voices were regularly indistinguishable. Now, there seems to be an added “Turner track” or “Kane track” dichotomy on most tracks. Kane, given more prominence this time around, holds his own on songs like “Pattern” and the aforementioned “Aviation,” but can’t compete with Turner songs like the standout “Sweet Dreams, TN.” Turner also closes the album with the piano-driven “The Dream Synopsis,” which strongly evokes his solo song “Stuck on the Puzzle.” Describing a dream Turner had, it’s oddly endearing when he sings “it was you and me and Miles Kane” before asking “isn’t it boring when I talk about my dreams?”

Although there is a great deal of distance between the Turner and Kane of 2008 and their current counterparts in musical direction, experiences, and personas, there is an odd familiarity to much of Everything You’ve Come to Expect. Mostly, this is due to the fact that even at its most different, the music falls somewhere within the band member’s now-extensive repertoires. This is somewhat disappointing, considering how novel and ambitious The Age of the Understatement seemed for two budding indie stars. Now, the Last Shadow Puppets seem to be at their best when playing it safe.

Rating: 6/10