Friday, May 28, 2010

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement


Oooh, more British music - but this time a very different affair to Jamie T.  This semi-supergroup featuring Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys has turned out an album of movie music.  And it's funny but the cover photo gives a glimpe into what movie they might be scoring.

The lush arrangements and northern-English accents made me visualise some gritty black-and-white kitchen-sink British drama - maybe from the late 50s or early 60s - full of rainy streets and probably starring Albert Finney and Diana Dors.  There'd be adultery and maybe an unwed mother and some barely-restrained threats of domestic violence.  Perhaps some scenes at a beach holiday setting, with pebbly beaches and donkey rides, featuring drunken husbands, bitter wives and bawling, filthy kids.

I found something uplifting but at the same time undeniably real about this sound.  No Hollywood airbrushing, just a sweeping soundtrack to a bleak landscape.  Mesmerising.



The accolades surrounding Artic Monkeys and particularly chief Monkey Alex Turner are deserved, as far as I'm concerned.  So this side step he's taken, with friend and collaborator Miles Kane, whose band The Rascals is decidely less well-known, is both a surprise and a delight.  James Ford, of Simian Mobile Disco, rounds out the band as both drummer and producer.

The Age Of The Understatement comes off sounding more like a Phil Spector-produced album from the late 60s than anything else and on which the 'Puppets have woven a clearly reverent tapestry of influences.  The tracks are beautifully arranged, both individually and as a sequence while the production is suitably lush, resplendent with vocal harmonies and gorgeous string arrangments.  While this might get a little bit tiresome if over-played, the band, in their wisdom, have kept the album short enough to leave a lasting, positive impression.

Surprisingly, Turner and Kane's vocals are well suited to this stylistic exercise and harmonise very well with each other, even to the point where the casual listener wouldn't be able to tell whose voice had the lead, although Turner's is clearly prominent, more due to his lyrical turn than anything else.  But it's the 'Puppets dedication to their version of the wall of sound that elevate this album above the ordinary.  From the titular opener, The Age Of The Understatement, through to the acoustically-driven closer Time Has Come Again, the band don't drop the ball once. 

Rumour has it the trio will be teaming up again in the not-too-distant future.  I think it would be a sad mistake to see them try to repeat the pastiche of this debut.  But personally, I'm looking forward to hearing the results of whatever direction they choose to go.


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