In 2008, the world was a different place for Alex Turner and Miles Kane. Turner was a shy lad, still getting used to the stardom accosted onto him after two hugely successful Arctic Monkeys albums. Kane was exiting from the Little Flames, a venture that failed to produce even a debut album, and touring with his new band, the Rascals, alongside the Monkeys. Perhaps as an escape from their main storylines, Turner and Kane began playing together backstage: a pair of gentle, romantic boys almost clinging to each other in a turbulent and uncertain time of their lives. This side project, dubbed The Last Shadow Puppets, culminated in a baroque-pop testament of drama and nostalgia entitled The Age of the Understatement.
A lot has changed in eight years. As Turner said in an interview with British late night host James Corden, TLSP seems to serve as an octennial documentation of the duo’s personal and professional lives. After five successful Monkeys albums, Turner has taken on a stereotypical rock-star persona (whether affected or real is still a matter of contention among fans). Kane has transformed into a modish cad, dating an array of models on both sides of the pond and attiring himself solely in razor-sharp silhouettes. Even in a very literal sense, both men have moved away from their roots in northern England to hedonistic mansions in LA. In a sense, Everything You’ve Come to Expect feels like a reconciliation between the 2008 versions of the two men and their 2016 versions.
This sense of reconciliation can be seen (as is often the case with pop stars) in their songs about girls. In 2008, Turner and Kane mainly wrote songs about wooing girls, in a tone that can best be described as early-Beatles-esque naivete. In 2016, the duo mainly writes songs about girls that have done them wrong, girls that are ill-advised pursuits, girls that are no more than that night’s entertainment, and so on.
In first single “Aviation” (about getting high, get it?), the narrator tries to convince a druggie girl with colorful eyes to start a casual relationship with him. In the eponymous title song, the narrator speaks of getting cheated on by a girl who liked him only because he was part of TLSP. “The Element of Surprise” takes a slightly different route; Turner talks about his rustiness at the wooing game, after meeting a girl who has caused him to fall in love after a long string of seemingly casual relationships. “Sweet Dreams, TN” is the thematic next step: an ode to his current girlfriend Taylor Bagley, who’s a Tennessee native with a septum piercing just like the girl in the song. Even though Turner’s friends and fans think of Bagley as a Yoko Ono of sorts in the Arctic Monkeys universe, Turner feels that he’s truly in love with her. It’s only on the album closer, “The Dream Synopsis”, that we see a glimpse of the old Turner. On that song, he reminisces to his new girl (probably Bagley) about his simple, pre-fame life in Sheffield – and immediately takes a self-conscious step back into nonchalance (“Isn’t it boring when I talk about my dreams?”).
Even though they have changed dramatically, one cannot underplay Turner’s signature lyrics. The Transylvanian descriptions on “Dracula Teeth” (“The full moon’s glowing yellow and the floorboards creak/C’est horrifique!”) paint a horror-movie setting for a girl that haunts the narrator like a ghost. On “She Does the Woods”, Turner speaks of a “spirograph of branches” behind the girl he’s shagging in the woods. On “Pattern”, he describes his complicated relationship with an ex as a spider slipping and sliding on an icicle. It’s the kind of intuitive imagery that we’ve come to expect from Turner’s words.
On a practical note, Everything You’ve Come to Expect does have everything you’d expect from a Puppets album: lyrics that smoothly roll off the tongue, the genius of Owen Pallett’s arrangement, the famed Turner-Kane chemistry. On a philosophical level, however, The Last Shadow Puppets no longer exists. What exists in its place is another side-project by an eight-years-later version of the same two men: a real-world example of the Ship of Theseus. The Age of the Understatement was a collection of lushly orchestrated novellas, created by two boys who wrote tender love letters in the age of Tinder and text message hookups. Turner and Kane are no longer those boys. In fact, they are now the very playboys that represent the “understatement” of modern-day romance. Understatement felt like a natural outlet; this album feels like more of a forced output. Still, it’s worth a listen, if only for Turner’s lyrics.
Best song: “Dracula Teeth”