YOU CAN’T ACCUSE The Last Shadow Puppets of not putting their best foot forward. “Aviation”, the power house track that opens the baroque Brit-pop duo’s second album, Everything You’ve Come to Expect, is also the LP’s most satisfying listen. Its opening moments of dissonance give way to a sly guitar riff and a dramatic string arrangement that drive the song and give it an almost cinematic quality. It sounds like the kind of thing that used to get written for Sean Connery-era Bond films, the kind of track that would be the centerpiece for a mid-90s spy movie, back when such things could be big budget productions.
The remaining songs on Everything You’ve Come to Expect spend their time trying to chase that opening high. The Last Shadow Puppets—dual songwriters Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys fame) and Miles Kane (formerly of The Rascals, who are probably best known as “one of the bands to open for the Arctic Monkeys”)—get a lot of help from indie-rock violin freelancer Owen Pallett. His string arrangements give the songs an added layer of depth; tracks like “Dracula Teeth”, with its just-on-the-right-side-of-cornball theatricality, and “Used to Be My Girl”, with its Nick Cave-for-dummies temperament, are elevated and amplified thanks to his flourishes and deft interpretation of what the songs are intended to deliver emotionally. His parts are the high points of the album’s best tracks.
The album very much feels like a throwback to a more performance-based time—an era when singer songwriters weren’t afraid to swing for the fences and look foolish in the process. Even beyond the strings, the album feels very much like ballroom music—not quite rock, not quite straightforward pop, undeniably British. Though the group is ostensibly an equal duo, those familiar with Turner’s previous band will hear his familiar love of complicated hooks and progressions on “Bad Habits” and “Everything You’ve Come to Expect”.
Beyond the moments in which the album transcends its estimated promise of “slightly sexy music for dramatic people,” Everything You’ve Come to Expect can drag. It’s hard for an album this well-produced and arranged to sound tossed off, but the group manage it with lyrics like “Goosebump soup and Honey Pie/Piggy in the middle I’m the baddy’s daddy” and “Hot procession/Gloomy Conga of glum looking beauties.” When the music works, like it does with the latter’s lyrics on “Aviation”, the gibberish doesn’t matter as much as it becomes a texture of the whole. When the music doesn’t hit, which it doesn’t on “Everything You’ve Come to Expect”, lyrics like the former become harder to ignore.
While there are elements within that suggest a compelling cocktail of high-drama and low self-awareness, Everything You’ve Come to Expect is more dour than it needs to, or should, be. In a world in which Mark Ronson can land a number 1 hit in America and Meghan Trainor can win a Best New Artist Grammy on the back of 60s pop revival, there is a line for this kind of gloomy, theatrical brit-pop exploration. This is a shiny, well-produced record that sounds immaculate and gives talented, established musicians a free box to play in. Pallett spoke highly of the arrangement, saying it’s a venue for him to “cut loose a little bit and just have fun.” I have no doubt working on the record was a good time, I just wish I could share in it more. If you’re going to be dramatic, at least try to act. B MINUS