Published in FasterLouder, 4 April 2016
Alex Turner and Miles Kane make an interesting couple. The Arctic Monkeys frontman and his best mate are near-criminally pleased with themselves, a double-act of rock star douchebaggery filled with endless in-jokes, obscure references and obnoxious jack-the-lad repartee, gift-wrapped in admittedly top-notch threads. People talk about it as a bromance, but their relationship lacks the charm implied by that term. Their thing is grander and more grotesque – a self-actualising rock ‘n’ roll myth, a near-parody of young, cool, creative success. They’re not interesting because they make each other laugh. They’re interesting because everything they do together is done to excess – including their latest album.
Kane and Turner met in 2005, when Kane’s now defunct band The Little Flames toured as a support act for the Arctic Monkeys. They toured together again in 2007, jamming backstage in between their respective sets and developing material of a non-Monkeys bent. The boys went into the studio soon afterwards and their side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, was born.
The Arctic Monkeys are amazing, but there was something really left field magical about The Last Shadow Puppets’ 2008 debut, The Age of the Understatement. A paean to Scott Walker’s lush orchestral pop, the record relocated Turner’s wry voice to this quixotic, retro landscape, with remarkable success. In a tsunami of string arrangements, without much hint of irony, The Last Shadow Puppets made an entire record in the style of a classic Bond theme. Kane and Turner were play-acting the sixties, but the strength of their songwriting made it work.
Eight years (and three Arctic Monkeys records) later, The Last Shadow Puppets are back and more excessive than ever. They’ve presented themselves to the world in matching velour tracksuits and heavy gold rings; a private members club with only two members who are emboldened by money, accolades and age; bearing a record brimming with ridiculous drama called Everything You’ve Come to Expect.
Much like The Last Shadow Puppets’ debut, the new album is steeped in nostalgia, but the references are wider this time around. It wraps funk, disco and new wave in with the crooning sixties sound, as well as harder-edge rock – a bit of sneer within the sultriness. The through line is Owen Pallet, who came in to do the string arrangements for a second time, but joined the band much earlier in the process. Pallett’s presence in the studio has forged a slicker, deeper interplay between guitar riffs and violins, with even greater orchestral ambition. Sometimes lush and romantic, sometimes shrieking with the tension of a Hitchcock score, the strings are the thing that gives The Last Shadow Puppets shape.
What’s most different, what’s more intense about Everything You’ve Come to Expect, is the lyrical tone. The record is full of sleaze. Out of the gate, on Aviation, Turner sings, “Where do you want it? It’s your decision honey. My planet or yours?” On Miracle Aligner, Kane invites a girl to, “Go and get ‘em tiger, get down on your knees again” while Turner tells another on The Element of Surprise, “Just let me know when you want your socks knocking off.” Dracula Teeth, with its high camp take on teen boy fantasy, doesn’t bear explaining.
When they’re not being predatory on this record, Kane and Turner are expressing love in epic, idealised, nostalgic ballads – a lamenting lothario mode that is almost as crass as the near constant come-ons. They pay homage to a pastoral manic pixie dream girl in She Does The Woods (“She’ll jump in the river, you’ll wish you’re the water”) and deliver a keening John Waters-esque torch song with Sweet Dreams, TN (an ode to Turner’s model girlfriend, Taylor Bagley), tumbling around in their own sardonic melodrama.
The thing is, all this rich, thick silliness is what makes the album great. For Turner, The Last Shadow Puppets is a flamboyant alter ego, a place where he can spread his peacock feathers and channel a river of rock ‘n’ roll history into bolshy, beautiful, epically charming tunes. And the music is the perfect expression of Kane and Turner’s relationship, a natural extension of their aesthetic project. Everything You’ve Come to Expect is stylish, self-satisfied, smug, sleazy, cocky, crass and confident. It is completely, utterly over the top and that’s just where these boys want to be.