Eight years ago, the Last Shadow Puppets released their critically acclaimed album “The Age of Understatement,” which hit No. 1 in the UK album charts within a week of its release. The group, which consists of The Rascals’ Miles Kane, the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and producer James Ford, has remained relatively quiet ever since. Their new album, “Everything You’ve Come to Expect,” marks the group’s highly anticipated return to the music scene after its lengthy hiatus.
For the album, Kane, Turner and Ford brought back string arranger Owen Pallet and Mini Mansions’ keyboardist Zachary Dawes, both of whom worked on “The Age of Understatement,” the Last Shadow Puppet’s debut album in 2008. Although the lineup of the group remains largely the same, “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” is in no way a continuation of their previous album. With the new record, Turner, Kane and company take a step away from the Scott Walker-inspired ’60s pop rock found in “The Age of Understatement” in pursuit of a more diversified catalogue. At most points, this experimentation pays off, as with the title track “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” and “Dracula Teeth.” At other times, it falls short of matching the charm and vigor of their debut, as with the catchy yet unimaginative single “Bad Habits.” Overall, the record delivers a memorable listening experience. While it certainly is not perfect, the vast collection of successful tracks makes this release one of the strongest rock records of 2016 so far.
“Aviation” and “Miracle Aligner,” the first two tracks of the record, are most closely reminiscent of the style for which the group is known, perhaps to ease the listener into the more variant tracks found near the middle. However, each song is different and new in its own way, and neither one comes across as a relic to the group’s past. The reverb-laden guitar lick in “Aviation” fits well with Ford’s driving drums and the eerie elegance of Pallet’s string arrangements, seeming to come straight from a Bond movie. “The Colourama in your eyes, it takes me on a moonlight drive,” Kane croons, “It’s the way you wing it, while you’re figuring it out.” “Miracle Aligner” is an appealing pop-rock ballad lead by Alex Turner’s fluid vocal melodies. With more acoustic elements, this particular track provides a refreshing contrast to the brisk pace within Kane’s “Aviation.”
“Dracula Teeth” is yet another strong addition to the album. The creepy vibe is supported by Kane’s heavy use of whammy bar with each chord he strums, a characteristic that has always been a prominent element in the group’s works. The strong bass line is another key feature of the track, echoing those in their previous songs “Calm Like You,” and “My Mistakes Were Made for You.”
“Everything You’ve Come to Expect” is perhaps the most divergent song of the entire record, highlighting Kane and Turner’s exponential growth in skill and style during the span of the eight years since their last record. The harpsichord-tinged track and psychedelic influences seem to blend well with the esoteric lyrics crafted by Turner: “Ghost riders and the rat and parrot / Croc-skin collar on a diamond dog / Dirtbag ballet by the bins down the alley as I walk through the chalet of the shadow of death.” The melody of the chorus combined with Pallet’s fitting orchestral arrangement provides perhaps the most satisfying experience of the entire track. Each verse in between comes across as tedious and slightly dull, yet the hook of the chorus and the overall buildup of the track pulls the song out of mediocrity and into a higher echelon of musical experience.
Other standout tracks include the staccato “Sweet Dreams, TN” and the lofty and refined “Pattern.” “Sweet Dreams, TN,” is the gem hidden deep within the record. Its marching instrumental style blended with Turner’s impressive vocal range is surely one of the most memorable anthems of the group’s catalogue. “You’re the first day of spring,” he sings, “Little miss Sweet Dreams, Tennessee.” “Pattern” features vocals by Kane and flanging electric rhythm guitar by Turner. With nimble violins in the background and catchy vocal melodies, this song also stands out as one of the most robust tracks within the second half of the record.
The album’s weakest track, “Bad Habits” is also one of its the first singles. Its disappointing lyrics and the driving rock feel lacks the charm and elegance that makes the group stand out from the rest of the British rock scene. “She Does the Woods” and “The Bourne Identity” both lack standout moments as well. Although their respective sounds blend well with the album as a whole, they fail to leave any lasting impression upon the listener.
After eight years of silence, the Last Shadow Puppets do not fail to impress with their latest release. “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” is a diverse and entertaining album, featuring everything from slow pop-rock ballads to driving garage rock anthems. Although the album features a different style than their previous work, the experimentation pays off in creating a memorable experience for the listener, while still retaining the elements that set the group apart.
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