It has been eight years since The Last Shadow Puppets‘ mesmerising debut record The Age of the Understatement was released, but now the duo of Miles Kane and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner have finally reunited. Today, Howl & Echoes revisits the startling debut and examines what could be next for the band, as they prepare to release their sophomore effort Everything You’ve Come to Expect.
“There may have been one or two other moments when we considered it. We worked together on his [Kane’s] first solo record and I remember around that time there was a discussion, because we were writing together, about ‘should we do it again?’ It was pretty soon after the first one and it just didn’t work out, didn’t feel right.”
“The thing with this time was, we were working together again on what was going to be his next solo record and we wrote a song called Aviation. I tried a harmony idea and, hearing the two voices together coming back at us, it was like ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking!?’” Turner recently recalled in an interview for Live4ever when he was asked about why The Last Shadow Puppets had finally returned.
The two best friends first met way back in 2005 when Kane’s former band The Little Flames supported Arctic Monkeys on tour. As the story goes, the two then-22-year old’s bonded over Scott Walker and David Axelrod, and later decamped to the South of France to record an opulent album that was their take on the songs which they adored at that time.
Looking back now, it is easy to see that The Age of the Understatement was the sound of two twentysomething’s pushing themselves further than they had ever previously done before. Musically, it was a step towards something new, something grand. Gone were the kitchen vignettes of Turner’s earlier lyrical focus and Kane’s frantic guitar freak-outs. They were instead replaced with abstract storytelling, galloping rhythms and a 22-piece orchestra.
The buzz around Turner and his main band at the time was already reaching ridiculous levels though, as the NME pumped them up beyond measure and everyone clambered for a piece of them. Arctic Monkeys’ maiden effort had become the fastest selling debut album in British chart history, and they quickly followed this up with the equally acclaimed Favourite Worst Nightmare. Kane was in a new band called The Rascals at the time, but they had yet to release their debut album.
In a way, the project was an opportunity to distance themselves away from all of the media hype and get back to the basics: writing songs. The two week recording process was undertaken with producer James Ford, while Owen Pallet provided the strings that came to signify their new direction. The first song they wrote together was The Chamber, but from there it quickly snowballed.
Lyrically, the album concerns itself with the familiar themes of love and heartbreak, but you find that the image shifts focus regularly as it fixates itself within vast cityscapes and sprawling thoughts. There’s talk of “feather boas, parades, and a relentless marauder,” and that’s just within the title track.
Playful women who could never bring anything but trouble roam freely around as the city comes into view. There’s never-ending games which are being played, while mistakes are seemingly being made at regular intervals. But somehow this all seems to happen without the inevitable pangs of regret that usually comes with these circumstances. It is fierce, spiteful, adoring and romantic all at once. The polar opposites of tracks I Don’t Like You Anymore and My Mistakes Were Made For You emphasising this difference greatly.
The sense of delusion with love courses through a number of the songs, but perhaps none more so than on Calm Like You. The first line is a biting observation of how, “I can still remember when your city smelt exciting.” Despite the frustration though, it is sometimes difficult to sympathise with the character as Turner goes on to sing, “He was young in the frost, no regard for the cost, of saying his feelings in the moment they were felt.”
It’s the continual struggle, the push and pull, which is perhaps what is so fascinating about the record. “Cornered by yourself, you must admit that you are the instigator,” Turner sings ruefully in The Chamber. But when this self-doubt is coupled with the persistent problems of love, like in Only The Truth, when a woman is declared as being, “in the one by the riverbank so it’s easier for her to drown you,” you can’t help but emphasise with the rattling self-doubt and the paranoid associations that come along with it.
“It was the first time I’d really thought about ‘singing’. It was definitely access to a different part of my voice that I hadn’t tapped into before. And the first time I’d started to write lyrics that weren’t so temporal or story-telling,” Turner admitted recently.
The band’s debut stands as a collection of tracks which fidgeted relentlessly between pleasure and pain, while simultaneously carving a new identity for its two creators. It opened new doors to vocal harmonies and abstract storytelling, while also pinning a strong focus on the decadence and troubles that went along with them within a new found songwriting frame.
It has been a long time in between releases and, of course, much has changed in those years. But you get the sense that the Puppets’ return this year is based on the same feelings, the same hunger, that prompted their debut all those years ago. The women may have changed, the setting may have been switched from London to Los Angeles, but it is still the same two best friends writing their songs together.
This time around, they also gave free reign to Pallet as he worked alongside them in the studio, as well as enlisting the help of Mini Mansions bassist Zac Dawes, and sought to change their direction slightly. The sound could easily have been repeated in their eagerly anticipated follow up, but instead they have decided to use the album as a way to reinvigorate their songwriting once more.
“I think we really felt comfortable jumping into this, because with the last Puppets record, it was a bit of a splash in the face towards our main projects. It was like tossing a bucket of water over the head, and I think this is just us doing that again… with a bigger bucket,” Turner told QRO Mag.
Everything You’ve Come To Expect is out via Domino on April 1.
Image: Sidewalk Hustle