The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You've Come To Expect
There is no lift-off: we're only aware that we've been flying. The sound that opens Everything You've Come To Expect, the long-demanded follow-up to The Last Shadow Puppets' 2008 debut, is a conscious callback to The Age of the Understatement's eponymous opener, which sounded like the gathering of a locust plague and set a pace sustained through the rest of the album. Aviation, by contrast, is part slasher flick lurch and part jet engine thrum, which leaves space for the strange shapes and sounds to follow. The opener is a masterclass in pop seduction, with chord changes unexpected and inevitable, classed up in Owen Pallett's strings – you barely notice the prick of TLSP's needle, nor the warm rush: you're hooked, and your addiction will be ruthless and simple.
The Age of The Understatement was not this well constructed. The debut of the Kane-Turner super-side-project got an audience already enamoured with Alex and then-Rascals frontman Miles Kane hipped on galloping 60s symphonic pop, and was wildly compelling, as perhaps only a pair of talented 20somethings steeped in Bowie, Scott Walker and doo-wop, and given an orchestra to pal around with can be. But Turner and Kane (now co-directors of the recently founded T&K Recordings, Ltd, along with with Wildlife Entertainment CEO Ian McAndrew ) matured as songwriters and album-shapers while waiting for the headspace to make this: a measure of what we expected and a double of what we didn’t.
There's a dash of Desolation Row-Dylan, shavings from a Shangri-lemon, a more colorful merry-go-round menagerie of stylistic influences, and one or two beats that could make any of today's top rappers sit up and start spitting bars. Some of the chord changes on this record would be literally inconceivable on an Arctic Monkeys' LP (even more so on a Kane record), but plenty of moans are pure AM-era Alex Turner, and some lines (like on the chorus of Miracle Aligner) will give you a justified sense of déjà entendu.
While The Age of the Understatement's exuberant candescence came from just a few very obvious influences tossed together (and was then pigeonholed as a Scott Walker tribute by the music media), this record ranges wider and finds new pockets of surprise while paradoxically seeming less out-of-the-blue. Everything You've Come To Expect feels like a roundhouse follow-up to the Puppets' debut and to certain Arctic Monkeys records at the same time: there are savoury songs like The Element Of Surprise, which seems to stem from Alex's beatmaking experience on the Dre-inspired AM (and benefiting here from Zachary Dawes on bass), and the Spirographical She Does The Woods, which could have been a Humbug B-side.
This second movement in the Shadow Puppets' ongoing symphony allows for more and more varied experiments – so one of its sustained charms is that each track comes as a surprise, a slow-burn, a new flavour of seduction. The title track is intriguing (imagine Kane playing on a cheepy church organ in a North Vegas quik-wed chapel populated by Roxy Music flower girls, Turner standing at the altar behind a beaming Bigfoot, the latter awaiting his approaching bride, Madame Blavatsky) but there isn't much to hold on to. It sits runtily and forgettably in the middle of the LP, despite Turner's spotlit soundbite: 'As I walk through the chalet of the shadow of death.'
Standout tracks include Dracula Teeth (Barry White style sex-soul squeezed through fuzzy speakers, rain sliding silently down low-emissivity windowpanes), or the powerfully paradoxical Pattern. From the deeply satisfying chord progression of The Element of Surprise to the atonal string shrieks on Bad Habits, there are too many individual delights to number.
All parties are experimenting here in ways they haven't allowed themselves on their own. Take Miracle Aligner: if Roy Orbison and a heavily tranquilized David Bowie ever passed each other in a lower Manhattan crosswalk, Turner is singing from the spot where their shadows crossed. He's having even more fun on Sweet Dreams, TN, an achingly vivid death-march ballad – although take out the soaring strings and damning drums and it's just Alex singing in his kitchen as he makes his morning frittata in tube socks. "You're the first day of spring, with a septum piercing," he professes, exhibiting his inexhaustible ability lyrically to pin his half-imagined character sketches like a professional lepidopterist. So, they've grown up and spread out. That Skyfall and Spectre passed without a theme song from The Last Shadow Puppets disappointed those who thought they were tailor-made to set the tone for a Bond film, but this broader scope makes that wish feel a little small.
Three of the contributors here – James Ford's compelling rhythms and distinctive production, Pallett's powerful arrangements, Turner's poetry – make it hard to pinpoint exactly what Kane brings to the project. The Merseysider's vocals have always blended well with those of his Sheffield counterpart, which have mellowed from the acidic bite of older songs like Separate and Ever Deadly. Here he leans into Turner's range more and picks up some of his phrasing, though he still can spit lines (most notably an angina-driven 'sick puppy!' on Bad Habits) as he did eight years ago – and when he takes the lead here, it feels right. But this album has little trace of the conventional post-Oasis rock he peddles, and the lyrics are so far from the Quaker Oats he offered on his unremarkable Don't Forget Who You Are opus that it's obvious the curious dreamscapes here are mostly Turner's. Still, we needn't know what strange powders and veggies each cook brings to this curry: if Kane's contribution is only white rice, so be it – it's clear the whole thing wouldn't work without him.
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As for what exactly is 'working' in this second act, The Last Shadow Puppets might best be understood as a machine generating the most vivid of present moments, and subsequently reminding us of their ephemerality. They reinvented symphonic pop; they made fans wait eight years for a follow up; now they've crafted an album that, when each song fades into silence, tears you between pressing rewind to feel again what's fading fast, or to let yourself be carried into the next moment.
So they deliver psalms to the present and its permeability – the way lovers can move between their own Now and someone else's Past, with lines like: 'The here and now so suddenly became a different world / Finally I slipped out of reality / It must all be imaginary,' and 'My heart melted yesterday, like yours.' No single song captures this as well as the penultimate Pattern, an enjambement between yesterday and the approaching midnight. 'Sunlight banging on the wall, begging me for more promises,' Kane sings. But he wonders 'whether I’ll grow curious when old Dr. Dusk comes to call for me … Midnight has got the hots for me and I’m about to be born again.'
And so, wondering whether 'the old boots remember the steps,' the Puppets lead us into a closing track that sounds like Bob Dylan's 115th Dream (or, Turner claims, Miley Cyrus' Twinkle Song) re-worked into something that might've missed the cut for the Submarine soundtrack. They sweep us through Los Angeles and Sheffield on a nostalgia trip that, intentionally or no, conjures every Monkeys album, calls up Submarine, and echoes with the roaring, tambourine-heralded revelation of their debut – as well as the pop-heydays they've tried to reinhabit via album-length séance, and a carnival of their and our own loves and losses. We have excellent guides for this tour: 'It was you and me and Miles Kane and some kid I went to school with,' Turner tells us of his 'dream.' Simultaneously taking the piss and the closest thing to an artistic statement that we've heard from him (or Kane), it is part mock-apology and part apologia, evoking Iñárritu and the end of James Joyce's The Dead, again straddling past and future while French-kissing the present.
Turner has said that The Last Shadow Puppets planned a trilogy, and we may have to wait a while (we hope not eight years) for the 'final' movement. We're left with these words: 'Visions of the past and possible future shoot through my mind and I can’t let go / Inseparable opposing images / When can you come back again?'