The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the Understatement
Those who wrote Alex Turner off as a one-trick pony, albeit one with a flair for searing modern-day poetry that spawned lesser imitators, will undoubtedly be a bit befuddled by his latest venture. Swapping teddy pickers and blokes called Brian for orchestras and a previously hidden Scott Walker obsession, the Monkey man's new 'side project' with the Rascals' Miles Kane has won the support of fans, with this debut currently sitting pretty atop the album chart. I wonder though, how many of those folks who rushed out in their thousands during that crazy week to buy the Arctics' debut followed suit with this, only to be a bit disgruntled at the fact that, unwillingly, they'd been transported from Turner's previous world and into a wholly different era.
Everyone's banging on about the '60s so I'll try not to follow suit too much here. However, while Turner carries over his talent at turning female subjects into great songs (Mardy Bum, Fluorescent Adolescent), this time it happens to be wrapped up in the bombast and romance of a bygone musical heritage. The excellent title track sets the standard, rather than being the crazy spaghetti western epic of an exception, with tracks like Only the Truth sharing excessive flourishes such as an overblown string section and galloping drums. As expected, there's a track that suggests the team behind The Quantum of Solace should put Amy Wino in her place and opt for this pair; In My Room's obvious debt to Bond themes past suggests Turner and Kane are the boys to write the signature tune for Daniel Craig's second 007 adventure.
One has to wonder whether the boys are revelling in this cod-theatricality, recognising the pompousness of the endeavour compared to the 'indie' dayjobs, and I should hope so. Tongue surely has to be in cheek during the final two ballads; The Time Has Come Again is the sparsest thing here, despite featuring lush strings weaving around acoustic guitar, while Meeting Place will shock the skinny-jean crew who danced like robots from 1984 and never expected a U-turn into Burt Bacharach easy-listening territory. Gayest gay in the music biz, Rufus Wainwright, would soar on this unlikely track, suggesting the pair's grasp at a 'classic' sound has, on some songs, resulted in 'camp'.
Despite some missteps, Turner should be applauded for risking his reputation on a personal project that could have fallen flat. When Kane's band have yet to release a full-length album, let alone reach Arctics' levels of hysteria, one can't really judge his contribution based on past endeavours. His distinct Scouse-flavoured vocals counterpoint Turner's own Sheffield twang, delivering lines that could sit easily on a Monkeys' album (e.g. 'Now the pavements have nothing to offer/And all the faces seem to need a slap') with as much confidence as his partner. It's impossible to tell whether some songs feature Turner's songwriting input more than Kane's, and vice versa, implying a truly collaborative process. If this is true, then they both had an equal interest in turning their hand at a widescreen Coral on Separate and Ever Deadly, shaping their respective indie sensibilities into the closest thing to a shouty festival chorus on I Don't Like You Anymore, and simultaneously mourning and villifying their mystery scarlet women on, erm, pretty much every song. It's one of many but here's a choice lyric: 'It's a lot to ask her not to sting/And give her less than everything/Around your crooked conscience she will wind.' I wonder what Alexa Chung makes of that?
Indeed, I wonder what everyone in possession of a copy of this Number 1 album makes of it. I get the feeling this may fly over the heads of at least 50% of Turner's fans, and be embraced more so by a generation who hate Arctic Monkeys or aren't even aware of them. It will be interesting to hear what the third Arctic records will sound like in wake of this, as well as to hear Kane fronting his 'proper' band. In the interim, this is a fine stab at taking the path less travelled. Then again, it's an even finer stab at indulgence.