The Last Shadow Puppets “Everything That You’ve Come to Expect” Album Review – Electrifyingly Striking Sonic Cinema

 

Following on from the unanimous success of Miles Kane and the Arctic Monkeys’ prismatic discographies; comprising the lo-fi Beach Boys-esque magnetism of “Suck it and See”, the mellifluous minimalism of “Humbug”, the mod-leaning “Colour of the Trap”, the symphonious rock and roll stylings of “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”, the hip-hop infused hypnotism of “AM” and the post punk revival of fan favourite “Favourite Worst Nightmare”; and almost a decade since their platinum debut, “The Age of the Understatement” – selling a staggering 300,000 copies worldwide; The Last Shadow Puppets miraculously return with their sophomore album, entitled “Everything That You’ve Come to Expect”.

Since the release of their ebullient first album the British supergroup have undergone an enormous transformation, both sonically and physically, replacing unkempt bangs for slicked pompadours and buzzcuts, politically-leaning chamber pop with psychedelic dream pop, and the native soil of British Grove Recording Studios for the sunny stateside of Malibu’s notorious Shangri La Studios.

Similarly to the puppy-eyed innocence and messianic zeal of “The Age of The Understatement” – leaving critics in awe of the unexpected; Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s cinematic sequel paradoxically juxtaposes what their album title suggests.  If “The Age of the Understatement” is a Siberian Arctic Expedition, “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” is an adventure into the Amazon Rainforest with David Attenborough.

“Everything That You’ve Come to Expect” is a lavish Californian Confectionery, packaged with whimsical anecdotes, suggestive innuendos and voyeuristic romanticism.  This is showcased in the form of superlative single, “Aviation”, a blistering blockbuster baroque-pop thriller which is as mouth-wateringly memorable as the opening credits to Sam Mendes’ “Spectre”. Woven with Ennio Morricone guitar twangs and seductive brass embellishments, Aviation’s rich instrumentation and textured production makes it the perfect composition to represent Daniel Craig’s tetralogy of James Bond films – urbane, laboured and with a weakness for temptation – much like our two frontmen. However, the songwriting often feels forced and derivative, as Alex Turner swallows an entire Oxford dictionary in a desperate attempt to sound sophisticated and grandiose.

“Miracle aligner” is a sensual ballad which feels as strangely halogenic as the opening sequence from Terry Gilliam’s cult classic, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Flourishing with transcendent orchestral string sections and choruses which are as addictive as recreational drugs; “Miracle aligner” is thought provoking and enigmatic – highlighting The Last Shadow Puppets most experimental work since Arctic Monkeys’ 2011 LP, “Suck it and See”. However, although the production is glossy and colourful, yet again, the duo’s substandard songwriting feels more like a bad trip. This becomes noticeable when the showmen softly chant “So what’s the wish, he’ll make it come true/ Simple as a line out of a Doo Wop tune” – demonstrating lyrics which are as metaphorical as they are carelessly lackadaisical.

As gripping as vampire fangs, “Dracula Teeth” is more irritatingly infectious than a petulant lovebite. From cacophonous West-end cabaret horns to tumultuous Mini Mansion-inspired synthetic tiffany bass drums, “Dracula Teeth” bleeds style, substance and class – a resoundingly beautiful triumph. However, unfortunately, this contagious composition isn’t complete without setbacks, as the song’s narrative feels as two dimensional and cartoonish as 60s horror shows, such as Bewitched and the Munsters. This becomes explicitly evident when Alex Turner compares a suffocating relationship with a woman to the fear of sanguivoriphobia, by suggesting “You’re hovering above my bed looking, Down on me, Haunted house sound effects, Dracula teeth” and “Lipstick on my pillow via my cheek, The full moon’s glowing yellow and the floorboards creek” – delivering countless nightmare analogies.

Revved up with the same theatrical intensity as “Aviation”; album title track, “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” and “Used to be my girl”, are as suspense-driven and filmic as a Quentin Tarantino classic. With fleeting baroque as moving as a Philharmonic Orchestra and silky soprano-esque vocals redolent of George Michael’s “Outside” – it’s The Last Shadow Puppets’ chromatic quality to sift between musical styles which are so reflective of their vintage sound.  Focusing on Miles’ obsequious obsession with a past lover, the starlet pleads “I’m a liar, I’m a cheat, a leech, a thief, The outside looks no good and there ain’t nothing underneath” as he attempts to win her back – gifting his most candid performance to date. However, my only criticism is that both these songs’ themes offer little to no scope other than stories about desire and heartbreak – a notion which remains ubiquitous throughout.

Opening with piercing violin stabs and bellicose-tempered guitar riffs, lead single “Bad Habits” is punchy, oppugnant and energetic – a certified lad’s anthem. From its dark and ominous interjections to honey-tongued harmonies heard throughout the choruses; “Bad Habits” paints a vivid painting of nymphomania and sexual gratification. However, much like bad habits themselves, Miles Kane’s wines of “Bad habits, Sick puppy, Thigh high, Knee deep” are irritating and feel annoyingly repetitive and unrehearsed.

“Pattern” witnesses Turner at his most pensive, fretting over the fragility of his psyche during a torrid comedown, confessing, “I slip and I slide like a spider on an icicle” – offering a rare glimpse of Turner’s adept lyrical talents. Mirroring the orch-pop often favoured by Iggy Pop on his latest star-studded project, “Post Pop Depression”, “Pattern” is emotionally terse and as structured as aesthetically pleasing symmetry. However, occasionally, the duo’s collaborative crescendos fall flatter than a horizontal line.

Laced in poetic promiscuity and suggestive stanzas, “Sweet Dreams, TN” is a sadistic slow burner – a monogamous medley filled with modern tales of lamenting love and feeling. Written as a love letter vying for the attention of girl at the heart of his objectifications, Turner pries “It’s just the pits without you baby, It’s really just the pits without you baby, It’s like everyone’s a dick without you baby, Ain’t I fallen in love” – showcasing Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze. Unfortunately, the hopeless romantic’s affections share more similarities with poorly written excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey, as Turner’s typically witty and poignant librettos are non-existence – failing to live up to the high standards displayed throughout his oeuvre.

“She Does The Woods” and “Element of Surprise” are by-products of the same blueprint used throughout the entire album. With fictions of failed intimacy and classically-imbued musical arrangements, every song features the same failsafe chronology and misses the originality and contextualisation of their previous solo work.

Channelling the fairylike fantasia of Matt Demarco’s “Another One” EP and the ethereally ambient nuances of Damian Rice’s “O”, comes the remotely tranquil album closer, “Dream Synopsis”. Philosophically deciphering the mechanics of a nonsensical dream, Turner questions “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?”, gifting his most mystifying and convincing vocal performance on the album. With insipid piano keys which emphasise the emotional prowess of Miles raw staccatos, and an introspective writing style which pays homage to Richard Ayoade’s Sundance festival film, “Submarine”; “The Dream Synopsis” is sonically mesmerising and visually stunning. However, occasionally, the simplistic nature of the track becomes as paralysing as sleep paralysis, as the choruses lack finesse and fail to reach a definitive climax.

To conclude, although “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” is dynamic, temerarious and transcendently beautiful, the songwriting feels lyrically trite and offers very little in contrast conceptually. In addition, apart from “Aviation” and “Bad Habits”, the stylisation of this record becomes monotonous and predictable – and as a result, the rest of the album feels like a transitional period to tie fans over until the release of new material from The Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane. If everything’s what you’ve come to expect, don’t expect anything revolutionary.

 

6/10

 

Written and published by James Macdonald.

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R E D // 02-05-16

 

Centuries have,

Conditioned us,

To think,

In brown,

And pink

Identities branded,

Barcode black and white,

By origin of ethnicity,

Or the pigment,

Of our skin

If the colour spectrum,

Shines a thousand shades,

Of you & I,

Inconceivable to human eyes;

Prejudice is ultraviolet,

Racism is colour blind.

Written and published by James Macdonald