Ever since its long-anticipated release a few weeks ago, I’ve been listening a lot to The Last Shadow Puppets’ second album Everything You’ve Come To Expect, and felt compelled to write a piece on it.
A brief bit of background for those unfamiliar with The Last Shadow Puppets: they are a British rock duo (alongside a team of session musicians) comprised of Alex Turner, frontman of Arctic Monkeys (and if you’re unfamiliar with them, this review probably isn’t for you) and frequent collaborator and successful solo artist Miles Kane. Their first album, The Age of the Understatement, came out way back in 2008 and was loved by fans and critics alike, who have been waiting eagerly for a follow-up for all these years.
…Understatement was a bold musical departure for both Turner and Kane, their trademark indie-rock riffs replaced by a retro 60’s-inspired style backed with sweeping strings. Increasingly surreal lyrics were delivered back-and-forth between the two frontmen as if they were two brothers vying for dominance, yet with an unbreakable bond. All of this worked to great effect, and the songwriting partnership of Turner and Kane was unbeatable.
Eight years (and countless musical projects from both) later, The Last Shadow Puppets announced their return with a surprise new video for “Bad Habits”, a Kane-led track based around an infectious bass riff, minimal snippets of vocals, and screeching dissonant strings. While I was at first disappointed with the derivative nature and lack of complexity, when I later heard the album in full, I realised that it works much better when part of a cohesive whole. Over the next few weeks, the band released three more songs, building my anticipation to dangerous levels.
When the album arrived, I wondered if the title would be an accurate description of the music. The answer? Yes and no. Gone are the vocal back-and-forths of Turner and Kane, which I was sad to see go, as well as some of the more interesting lyrical themes. However, the band’s cinematic, “Bond-theme”-style arrangements are all over this record, and there are some interesting psychedelic-rock-inspired touches which add a new dimension to the band’s work.
Fantastic opener “Aviation” slinks along menacingly with a repeated guitar riff which becomes buried under layers of strings which grow in volume and tension, as Turner and Kane sing in tandem (a trick which appears on many of the songs here). “Miracle Aligner” continues the album in top form, its bright, reverb-soaked guitars and vocal harmonies sounding straight from 1967. Many of the songs fit predictably into the album’s established template, but are nonetheless tense, compelling, and perfectly arranged and produced. The band’s combination of rock guitar riffs and orchestral sweeps is just something I will never tire of.
The title track whirls along like a demented fairground ride, all organ stabs, dreamlike vocal refrains, and bizarre lyrical imagery and wordplay about “the chalet of the shadow of death”. So far, so good. However, my main criticism of this album is that the songs in the second half seem to blend into one (the rousing crescendo of “Sweet Dreams, TN” being a notable exception). While these songs are arranged expertly, and aren’t out of place for the band, there just aren’t enough melodic hooks or unexpected moments in them to grab my attention in comparison to the high points of the Puppets’ repertoire.
However, just when I thought that the album was going to end on an unremarkable note, they surprised me with “The Dream Synopsis”, a stone-cold classic Turner ballad which reminded me of why I fell in love with this man’s music in the first place. Musically and lyrically reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys’ criminally underrated 2009 single “Cornerstone”, it uses a beautiful yet simple and restrained piano chord sequence as the backdrop to a series of surreal stories, each ending with the question “Isn’t it boring when I talk about my dreams?” For a moment, Turner’s swaggering cool-guy image is stripped back to show the genuine vulnerability and hope of a man pining for something (or someone?) that he knows he can’t have.
Overall, I love this album, and I think that the weaker songs are more than made up for by the sheer brilliance of the album’s highlights. Although I would have to concede that …Understatement is better lyrically, Everything That You’ve Come To Expect is a more than worthy successor.