Review: The Last Shadow Puppets / by Sam Abelow

This promotional images is a cheeky reference to the cinematic quality of their album.

Eight years ago, when I was 16, I was not aware of The Last Shadow Puppets first album. But, lead singer, Alex Turner, was famous for his work with the Arctic Monkeys.

At the time, I was aware of that young British band for their fierce energy and worldwide popularity. I never thought of Alex Turner for his songwriting or vocal abilities, but with The Last Shadow Puppets second album, titled "Everything You've Come to Expect," he has proved himself a true master of the craft.

Retro Revival

The arrangements and vocal performances are reminiscent of Roy Orbison's 1961 hit "Only the Lonely." Throughout the record lush, cinematic orchestral swells, like something out of a James Bond movie, highlight the dark and deeply British mood.

Although Turner's personality stands out, this record is written in collaboration with fellow Brit-rockers, also now living in Los Angeles, Miles Kane.

The songwriting and production brings into a time-capsule of a bygone era. For the majority of the record, I'm never to sure, or very interested, in what they're singing about. Instead, the rich and perfectly recorded sounds propel forward, in a twisting car-chase scene.

The artistic vision that they put into this album is commendable. The series of eerily connected music videos are a sort of dark acid trip, placed on the set of a Mad Men episode. I appreciate originality and performance art aspects of their dreamy music video series.

It seems they've created a soundtrack for some imaginary film in Turner and Kane's mind. Either way, the purposeful drums are impeccably performed and recorded. Everything from the acoustic guitars, organs and string sections are produced in a timeless fashion.

Perfect Production

I haven't heard a record that is produced in such a stunning way since Jonathan Wilson's work for Father John Misty. It's incredible to discover that the drummer of The Last Shadow Puppets is also the producer. This talented individual, named James Ford was part of the electronic music duo Simian Mobile Disco. This is even more surprising, because the aesthetics of his latest project, couldn't be further from the early House music he established with.

But, a further look into Ford's work as a producer reveals work with HAIM, Florence and The Machine as well as Mumford and Sons. And he is a complete master at the craft of recording rock music. The natural sounding drums on "Dracula Teeth" bite with sticky vinyl.

Track by Track

Title track, "Everything You've Come to Expect" puts the spotlight back on Turner's vocals, which saunter with heaps of confidence. It's interesting how conceptually similar this album is to, Dan Auerbach's latest venture, The Arcs, who released their album just last year.

Turner sing's "The Dream Report" live in the UK: his slicked back hair and shirt tucked into high waisted pants reflects the music he is performing.

This condensation of the most brilliant aspects of historic songwriting and production into a modern masterpiece is a rarity, but to me these are the records that will last for the next decades.

The spotlight shifts momentarily as Kane has his moment on "Bad Habits." His rock vocal abilities shine forth, with a sort of glorious John Lennon growl. Here some of the strings seemed forced, as it could've easily been a simple rock track.

"Sweet Dreams, TN," is a high-point of the album. Turner's vocals are absolutely incredible. So maybe these two tracks exemplify their shallow lyrics, but it is sung with such conviction and skill they can get away with it.

For me, the latter section of this album seems to repeat itself. It's almost like their efforts towards making a highly cohesive, conceptually record locked them into autopilot. I seemed to be hearing a relentless wall of strings and intricate rock patterns.

I could've used more songs like "The Dream Synopsis," which lay back on the film-scoring strings and driving drums.

This is also Turner's best song lyrically. The irony of how "Boring it is when [he] talks about his dreams," really connects with me. And I love how he depicts the details of the strangeness of our nightly hallucinations.  Turner's little recollection dreaming and aimless longing is perfection in songwriting.

I decided to cover the second single off the album, "Miracle Aligner." It took me about an hour to learn to play; not the easiest song to sing though.

I must say that the album ended anti-climatically and this unmemorable culmination reminds me, as a listener, that the album did at certain points seem to be a cycle of formulations, based on a stilted theme.


If you like The Last Shadow Puppets, you may enjoy my original songs. Download my debut album free: 

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