The Last Shadow Puppets – The Dream Synopsis EP

Album Review by Aidan Ryan | 02 Dec 2016
Album title: The Dream Synopsis EP
Artist: The Last Shadow Puppets
Label: Domino
Release date: 2 Dec

KY Jelly and cacti. Palm tree debris and a jar of coffee. High-wire existential crises met with a sprezzatura sex appeal, strings'n'saxophone and shadow puppet play. We’re dreaming again with Miles Kane and Alex Turner.

The Dream Synopsis opens, boldly -- or perhaps not boldly enough -- with the same song that opened this year's long-awaited second LP Everything You’ve Come To Expect. Fans will argue over whether the LP or EP version of Aviation is superior, and they’ll be arguing over subtleties: Kane’s delivery is breathier, the strings slightly more dramatic, and it ends with a bit of studio banter to puzzle over (“How was that, Yoko?” Alex might be asking, after a moment of silence), but this Aviation doesn’t seem distinctive enough to be repackaged and sold.

After this, though, it’s hats (and probably shirts) off to some of the band’s personal pantheon of influences, in a rousing round of covers reminiscent in their range and attitude of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Les Cactus, penned in 1967 by the French singer-songwriter Jacques Dutronc, is a great addition here. The band swings and scratches on this one, putting a harder edge on the mod original, as Turner sings about sitting down on cacti everywhere.

It’s as appropriate a comic-protest song as it was in ‘67, the year Che Guevara, John Coltrane, and Woody Guthrie died; the year Pink Floyd and the Doors debuted; the year the US bought into pre-Tet Offensive optimism that the Vietnam War was ending, while the UK applied to join the EEC. Behind the groove, Turner sings, 'To defend myself from their cactus / In my turn I took cactus / In my bed, I put cactus / In my underwear I put cactus.' Je me pique!

The Last Shadow Puppets, photo: Marie Hazelwood

Next comes their creatively faithful cover of the The Fall’s intellectual-industrial anti-anthem Totally Wired. Sonically it’s far from Les Cactus, but the sentiment is more or less the same: 'My heart and I agree,' Kane howls: 'I’m irate… No, I’m peeved.' Swap Mark Smith’s amphetamines for Adderall, Modafinil, single-origin coffee beans, and early mornings compulsively scrolling through yer Insta and the song sounds so fresh it might have been written tomorrow. Actually, the original sounds tame in comparison to TLSP’s sped-up arrangement and Kane’s snarling hellcat delivery.

This Is Your Life is likewise a reverential update of Glaxo Babies’ original; a dark rocker with lyrics pared down to perfect and terrible simplicity. You can’t listen to it – especially this rich baroque pop treatment – without feeling Nosferatu’s shadow inch over you. Or is that just another ugly skyscraper? Turner then returns with his fine-tuned croon pointed at Cohen’s subtle Is This What You Wanted: it's playful, fearlessly sensual, enigmatic. Strings triple the original tune’s wingspan and the band soars.

Given the spirit of tribute, fans who caught the boys on tour this summer and heard Moonage Daydream, their 21-gun salute to the departed David Bowie, might wish that number had been added to this eclectic covers collection. It’s been well-documented in concert footage, though, and we’ll be happy if it makes it onto a live album some day.

Still, any disappointment won’t last past the first bar of the closer: a redux of The Dream Synopsis, slower and more intimate, with Turner accompanied by Jordan Pettay’s sultry saxophone and a more tender arrangement of strings. The transformation here is more profound than on the opener, and we realize how much ground we’ve covered in six short songs.

None of these covers would have fit Everything We’ve Come To Expect, and neither does it feel like they ought to have saved the material for an LP; these six songs hang together with a real emotional coherence. Turner is in top form, Kane’s vocals have never sounded more outrageously appropriate, and The Last Shadow Puppets do what they do best: ham it up so much – and so well – that you might just might believe that they're deadly serious.