It has been eight years since the duo of Arctic Monkeys front man Alex Turner and Miles Kane released their string laden debut, The Age of the Understatement, and much has changed in that time. The Arctic Monkeys released three more critically and commercially successful albums, while Kane embarked on a solo career that thrust him into the spotlight he so desperately craved. Or simply, as Turner put it in a recent interview, “our balls dropped.”
The two best friends have been eager to point out in their promotion of their sophomore effort, Everything That You’ve Come To Expect, that the influences aren’t worn so loosely on their sleeves this time around. Sure, the Scott Walker influence is still there- that much is undeniable. But this album does dart and weave unlike their debut, wilfully battling against the assumptions and trying to disprove its title throughout.
Aviation begins the record with a swarm of strings and then descends into the most “Puppety” song on the album. However, whereas the debut was set in the bright metropolis of London, the intervening years have seen the duo move across to America where they now reside in LA. And the opening gambit of, “Hot procession/ Gloomy Conga of glum looking beauties/ Strolling through the opening scene,” immediately evokes images of vapid women lost in the Hollywood Hills on their way into a party, while the city slithers by elsewhere. The decedent tone is only heightened further with references to a “Moonlight Drive” and “cokeheads” as it builds to an extravagant conclusion.
“All of our exchanges have been by candlelight, I just realised,” Turner professes on the jaunty Miracle Aligner. The restrained vocals, which at some points almost turn into a soft whisper, sink delicately into the rich guitar riff that Kane plays beautifully here. On Dracula Teeth, the sweeping orchestration collides with fuzzed out guitar, as Turner compares the feelings of being in love with being haunted in the middle of the night.
The syrupy sounds of the title track then waltzes into the picture. Somber strings trace around a delayed drum beat while a psychedelic tilt in the lyrics immediately grasps at your imagination. In a way that John Lennon purposely wrote I Am The Walrus to be nonsensical as fans had started to look too deeply into his lyrics, this feels like it’s been designed very much in a similar vein. The words are usually an integral part of Turner’s music, but here he played with them in search of melody. There’s mention of a “croc-skin collar on a diamond dog” and “goose bump soup and honey pie.” It could well be that they’ve been messing about in the medicine cabinet, but somehow the lyrics combine well with the dreamy track. The chorus seems slightly detached from the verses though as a sense of semblance creeps in upon the declaration that, “I just can’t seem to get the thought of you and him out of my head”. Yet, that only adds to the feeling that this song is like peering through the looking glass, and the image shifts constantly just as you think you have a grasp on what it is.
Ironically, Element of Surprise isn’t as hard to pin down as it delivers a punchy three minute pop tune. “Just let me know when you want your socks knocking off” Turner confidently poses half way through. Up until this point though, it has all been a bit dreamy- Bad Habits quickly brings a bit of menace to the proceedings. It lurches around in the background as the galloping rhythm takes over. Kane’s visceral delivery striking a counterbalance between the previous more Turner-orientated tracks. And when he talks about “bad habits”, you get the sense that he isn’t singing about the ones like talking with your mouthful or biting your fingernails.
“Making mad techno tunes on a speed boat,” was Turner’s joking reply to the question of where he imagined himself being in 30 years’ time. If Sweet Dreams, TN is anything to go by though, his vision couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, he’s a shuffle and a kick away from the type of territory that Frank Sinatra used to operate in. Think a midnight crooner, complete with smart dinner jacket, a perma-tan, and a big band backing him. The extreme excitement may have gradually dissipated from the kind of love he’s recalling here, but you’d think that there’d still be a glint in the eye at the mere remembrance of it.
Used To Be My Girl sees reflections on past love as a bare bones guitar riff rips by underneath. The slinking number nestles into the brain like dirt under the fingernails as Kane and Turner exchange verses. “I’m a liar, I’m a cheat, a leech, a thief, the outside looks no good and there ain’t nothing underneath,” Kane spits spitefully. While She Does The Woods continues in this dark and heavy way as Turner documents the joys of outdoor sex in a way only he could. “She turns my back to the earth and shows me that’s where I’m meant to be…I see her lit from behind looking down on me/ In front of a natural tapestry that’s like a Spirograph of branches that dance in the breeze.”
The Kane-led Pattern then comes in with playful strings and a hypnotic melody to match. There’s an opulent grandeur to it as, not for the first time during the record, late night interactions are put under the microscope. “And never in my wildest dreams has it occurred to me, to try to go to sleep,” Kane declares ruefully in a line that may well capture this record perfectly. It has a distinctly nocturnal element coursing through it throughout, to which the final song is even called Dream Synopsis as Turner grapples with his restless mind and images which make little sense.
There’s frequent references to night-time on the album and very little sunlight ever breaks through, despite the record being made in Rick Rubin‘s famed studio in Malibu. Over indulgent parties in Hollywood mansions, love, lust, bad habits, and sleepless nights seem to be the tapestry of which this record was made up from. There’s a resultant haziness that tucks itself beneath the melodies, which incidentally are some of the best of either’s careers so far, and seeps into the strings. It may not be everything you’ve come to expect, but that is a good thing.