Much has been made of the fact that Northern super-friends Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) and Miles Kane (Miles Kane) took eight years to produce a follow-up to their 2008 debut joint effort, as the globe-trotting super-group The Last Shadow Puppets. As the summer of their triumphant return draws to a close, was the eight-year wait worth it?
In 2008, Alex Turner, fast-singing polo-shirted singer of the Arctic Monkeys, teamed up with good pal Miles Kane of The Rascals to release an album of sepia-toned, ‘60s-throwback baroque pop, called The Age of the Understatement. Soaked in film-noir ambience and cinematic string orchestrations, it was as unexpected as it was revelatory, and indicative of the crooning, mellower songwriting to be seen on following Monkeys albums. Now, following on from the runaway success of Turner’s band, and Kane’s solo career, including co-writing songs with Paul Weller for his second solo album (2013’s Don’t Forget Who You Are), the two have finally teamed up again to bring us their second joint album, Everything You’ve Come To Expect.
While comeback single “Bad Habits” didn’t quite set the world on fire, with its slightly by-numbers strings and patched-together yowls (“thigh-high, knee-deep” etc. etc.), follow-up “Aviation” showed that the two songwriters, in the intervening years since their last collective effort, have done some growing up – the song (and marvellously-shot video) retains the pair’s playful humour while displaying classic sun-drenched lyricism strewn over delicate strings, a busy drumbeat and a repeating, almost Smiths-esque guitar line.
The full album, released April 1 (wry humorous touch, or innocent coincidence?), showed that there was plenty more where that came from. Album tracks range from the effortlessly louche, like title track “Everything You’ve Come To Expect”, with Beach Boys-esque organ underpinning misty-eyed falsetto vocals, to the cartoonishly overblown, such as Turner-fronted ballad “Sweet Dreams, TN”, a bolero-rhythm, smoky bar-room dirge, in which Turner unapologetically declares his love to be “the first day of Spring with a septum piercing”.
“[Aviation] retain[s] the pair’s playful humour while displaying classic sun-drenched lyricism strewn over delicate strings, a busy drumbeat and a repeating, almost Smiths-esque guitar line”
While it’s hard to tell if songs like “Dracula Teeth” or “Pattern” are trying a little too hard to be cool, this concern doesn’t matter when faced with the kind of masterful lyrical turns and detailed ‘70s-inspired Americana that’s easily found in every tune. “Miracle Aligner” is already a modern classic, with baritone guitar riffs which fail to outstay their welcome, and “The Element of Surprise” features some gorgeous wordsmithery: “The trouble with the chase is it’s so easy to crash – why colour in the lines if you’re just painting it black?” Album closer “The Dream Synopsis” is an intimate look into a songwriter’s nocturnal psyche, as Turner reprises the slow, quiet sound used on 2011’s Submarine EP, to share a dream in which he goes skiing down Los Feliz – “it was you and me and Miles Kane, and some kid I went to school with”. It’s harder to visualise “palm tree debris” in Sheffield, but given the song’s irresistible doe-eyes, not even the “Roman coliseum” seems too far-fetched.
“So what’s the wish, he’ll make it come true / Simple as a line out of a doo-wop tune“ – “Miracle Aligner”
The album’s translated beautifully to the stage, as each show in the band’s ensuing tour has been filled with improvisation and unique touches – Miles playing saxophone to Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” at Glastonbury was almost as unexpected as Johnny Marr joining them at Alexandra Palace to play “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me”. At their Bournemouth show (Jul 14), as well as playing album bonus-track “The Bourne Indentity” and Kane savaging a cover of The Fall’s “Totally Wired”, Turner captured the crowd’s attention by physically reclining on a stage monitor while singing “The Dream Synopsis” directly at Kane – Tumblr hasn’t given the pair the cute couples’ nickname “Milex” for nothing, you know. Each show full of surprises, and certainly not what we’ve come to expect.
In a year that’s already seen the passing of Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, and countless others, it’s perhaps not totally unreasonable to say that there aren’t very many icons left in music. Seeing young artists become rockstars overnight, and all the excess and rock’n’roll which goes along with the image, is a rarer thing in today’s stream-friendly, lager-sponsored musical climate. It’s forgivable, then, to view Turner and Kane as our generation’s premier open-shirted crooner-voiced slick-haired rock icons. Their return, as well as their affirmation that the summer’s end will be the end of their current escapade as The Last Shadow Puppets, is both reassuring and disappointing. Will we see them ride again? Based on the strength of the album, their live performances, and their considerable presence in modern rock, and based on The Last Shadow Puppets’ album release times, 2024 can’t come fast enough.
Josh Will Eden