Sunday, April 27, 2008

Album Review: The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the Understatement (4/5)

The Arctic Monkeys took awhile to grow on me. At first, I felt like they were way overrated. Their songs were too short, too gritty, for me to really get behind them. Eventually I came around to seeing that was kind of the point--short bursts of raw, melodic rock about the life of twentysomething partiers.

So here we have The Last Shadow Puppets, the side project by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner and his buddy Miles Kane, from the decidedly less famous band, The Rascals (their first album is due in 2 months). Consider this like taking the Arctic Monkeys and parading them through Amy Winehouse and Duffy's recording studios, with a little does of John Barry for inspiration. Now you get short bursts of melodic rock blended with '60s pop influences. It's certainly less raw. "The Age of the Understatement" glides along with lush strings and mariachi guitars, but is as insistent as ever.

"Standing Next to Me" is quite good. Even more '60s-ish. The strings are even more prominent here, coming courtesy of the 22-piece London Metropolitan Orchestra. This is really a lovely track, over too soon, as many of these tracks are. "Calm Like You" is more rock-oriented, with prominent bass. There's a certain darkness to these songs, owing to their minor keys, but certainly everyone involved in having a good time. Even on something like "Separate and Ever Deadly," which sounds so Arctic Monkeys that its probably a Favourite Worst Nightmare leftover.

"The Chamber" is mellower, more meditative, with instrumentation that sounds inspired by James Bond scores. The song seems to start and stop about every 45 seconds. The western influence returns for "Only the Truth"; you can almost see the galloping horses from the credits of some old-time western. Pulp Fiction comes to mind too.

"My Mistakes Were Made for You" is quite a lovely blend of '60s guitars and sinister orchestration underscored with that fuzzy bass that plays in the Bond theme. It's another highlight, as is the following track, "Black Plant," which allows the orchestra to shine best among any of the tracks. It's the album's longest cut--almost four minutes! Both songs are deliciously steeped in drama.

"I Don't Like You Anymore" starts off quietly, before bursting forth. This is an odd one, and while some reviews I've read, like NME, praise this track, it's probably my least favorite. "In My Room" sounds like James Bond meets The Addams Family, with organ providing that "Halloween" effect, along with the yearning strings.

After these two odd tracks, the closing numbers are, by contrast, relatively restrained. "Meeting Place" is downright peaceful, with just enough swagger to remind us who we're listening to. "The Time Has Come Again" starts with just acoustic guitar and vocal, before adding strings and background singers. It's even more gentle than "Meeting Place," a nice closing track. Finally, it's worth mentioning that one of the B-sides from "The Age of the Understatement" single, "In the Heat of the Morning," is worth having too. It would have been welcome on the album, if it wasn't a David Bowie remake.

With few exceptions, understatement is clearly not on anyone's mind. Although it's hard to judge, since we haven't yet heard The Rascals, but this album is so Arctic Monkeys-esque that it's hard not to think that Turner is the more prominent player in this collaboration. Accuse them of jumping on the retro bandwagon if you well, but I rather like the results.

Best: Standing Next to Me, Black Plant, My Mistakes Were Made for You, The Age of the Understatement, Meeting Place, Only the Truth, The Time Has Come Again

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