No one knew quite what to expect when Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner and Miles Kane teamed up to form The Last Shadow Puppets in 2007. Arctic Monkeys could do no wrong at the time and had just headlined Glastonbury Festival on the back of two UK Number 1 albums. Meanwhile, Kane was better known for playing guitar on the Sheffield quartet’s song 505 than he was for his bands, The Little Flames and Rascals.
The end result was a record that was a world away from the adrenaline-infused indie rock of the Monkeys. Instead, the duo’s debut, The Age Of The Understatement, captured their mutual fondness for Scott Walker and late-1960s symphonic pop with the help of Owen Pallett’s grand string arrangements and producer James Ford. Its charm won over critics and fans alike, and Turner and Kane were rewarded with a Mercury Prize nomination.
Such was the success of their début, the clamour for the pair to reunite their partnership has been ever-present in the eight years since. Yet other obligations got in the way as Kane forged a blossoming solo career – including his Top 10 charting second LP Don’t Forget Who You Are – while Turner was busy conquering the world with three more Monkeys records. And that remained the case, until now.
After years of teasing a second LP, the duo are finally back with Everything You’ve Come To Expect. Written sporadically over the past two years, the new album finds the Puppets in a completely different place to where they were when …Understatement was released, as evidenced by lead single Bad Habits. The song is effectively Kane’s baby, combining his snarling vocals with an unnerving bassline for three intense minutes.
It sounds like a natural extension of Kane’s solo material, while also hinting at a rockier direction for the Puppets following AM – the Monkeys’ heaviest record to date. But Bad Habits proves to be misleading in the grand scheme of Everything You’ve Come To Expect, with confirmation coming in the form of the divisive title track; a psychedelic, multi-layered slice of dream pop focused around an eerie circus melody.
In fact, expectations continue to be defied throughout the run-time, with album opener Aviation the only song that bears a resemblance to their début. Originally written for Kane’s solo project, it was the trigger for the duo to start writing as the Puppets again and it’s easy to see why – a slick guitar hook and rumbling beat combine with Pallet’s theatrical strings as Turner and Kane launch into one of the catchiest choruses on the record.
Miracle Aligner, which follows quickly on the tail of Aviation, is much more indicative of the Puppets’ second LP. “Often the humble kind but he can’t deny/ he was born to blow your mind/ or something along those lines,” Turner croons, as he takes lead duties on the vintage, melancholic pop track, which is reminiscent of Monkeys’ fourth record, Suck It And See. The same could be said of Dracula Teeth thanks to its cool-as-ice, sultry bassline.
Then there’s the magnificent Sweet Dreams, TN, which is Turner’s dramatic ode to his model girlfriend Taylor Bagley (“I just sort of always feel sick without you baby”); complete with a balero-esque stop-start rhythm and soaring chorus. It is followed by the more sinister Used To Be My Girl and She Does The Woods, as Turner and Kane throw another couple of curveballs into the mix on the homeward stretch.
For all its merits, though, there are tracks that pass by without making any significant impression. The Element Of Surprise and The Dream Synopsis are two such examples, with the latter bringing the record to a poignant, if slightly underwhelming, conclusion. As such, it is unlikely to be held in the same esteem as its predecessor, even if there is enough here to confirm that The Last Shadow Puppets are more than just a side project.