Last Shadow Puppets
The Age of the Understatement
Label ©  Domino
Release Year  2008
Length  34:45
Genre  Indie
Personal Star Rating [1-5]  
  Ref#  L-0100
Bitrate  ~198 Kbps
    Track Listing:
      The Age of the Understatement  
      Standing next to me  
      Calm like you  
      Seperate and ever deadly  
      The Chamber  
      Only the Truth  
      My Mistakes were made for you  
      Black Pant  
      I don't like you anymore  
      In my Room  
      The Meeting Place  
      Time has come again  
    Additional info: | top
      Famous for demonstrating how less is more when it comes to publicity, it comes as no surprise that The Age of the Understatement, the first side project from Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, should appear to no great fanfare. The Last Shadow Puppets are Turner and Miles Kane, formerly of Monkeys tourmates The Little Flames and now in the Rascals, aided by producer (and here, drummer) James Ford, also of Simian Mobile Disco. Inspired by the widescreen orchestral Sixties pop of Scott Walker and legendary arranger David Axelrod, they enlisted the London Metropolitan Orchestra under the aegis of Canadian Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy and an erstwhile member of the Arcade Fire's string section). The result is entirely successful, owing as much to the romanticism of Richard Hawley and the eclectic approach of the Coral as any sixties precursors. The thundering title track is pure Scott though, "I Don't Like You Anymore" is twisted pop in the best Cosmic Scouse tradition and the beautiful "Meeting Place", brilliantly enhanced by Pallett's orchestration, already sounds like an old classic. "Standing Next to Me" is genuinely exciting, "Calm Like You" is a new take on Turner's familiar style while "The Chamber" even sees him crooning. The Age of the Understatement is a fine, convincing album that proves Turner's talent is truly adaptable and marks Kane out as a talented songwriter too. --Steve Jelbert

      Review by Heather Phares

      It's not that often that side projects are more ambitious than the players' main bands, but the Last Shadow Puppets, the collaboration between the Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and the Rascals' Miles Kane, is one of those rare birds. With their day jobs, Turner and Kane are revivalists of different strains of "angry young British man" rock, but with the help of drummer/producer James Ford (also of Simian Mobile Disco), arranger Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), and the London Metropolitan Orchestra, on The Age of the Understatement they revitalize the lush, symphonic pop of early Scott Walker and David Bowie, when they needed an orchestra to express just how sweeping their feelings were. The title track's galloping strings-and-timpani drama begins the album, making it readily apparent just how ironic The Age of the Understatement's name is, and just how well the Last Shadow Puppets have recaptured that lavish late-'60s/early-'70s sound. The main update to it comes from Turner and Kane's voices; stark and suave like Walker and Bowie they are not, but that's a good thing -- their boyish, unpretentious voices and brotherly harmonies keep the album from dipping into kitsch. Instead, a surprising urgency runs through The Age of the Understatement, most noticeably on the taut "Calm Like You" and "Separate and Ever Deadly," but also on softer moments like "The Meeting Place" and the extremely Walker-esque "My Mistakes Were Made for You." Whenever the drama threatens to become too monotonous, the band knows when to change things up: "I Don't Like You Anymore" brings in more of the Arctic Monkeys' spit and spite, building up to a livid guitar solo that practically shakes with loathing, while "Standing Next to Me" and "Time Has Come" rein in the bombast. Despite all the intensity, the Last Shadow Puppets have a light touch -- their songs are short and don't overstay their welcome, and the whole affair is just arty and indulgent enough to make it special. It's not an overstatement to say that The Age of the Understatement is a likable, accomplished working holiday.

      The Last Shadow Puppets:
      The Age of the Understatement
      [Domino; 2008]
      Rating: 7.7

      Alex Turner has spent most of his short career trying to prove he's not whatever people say he is. Or else, trying to prove he can live up to it. At the height of Arctic Monkeys mania in late 2005, the Sheffield, England quartet followed their first UK No. 1-- post-punk dervish "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"-- with one of Turner's most vivid character sketches to date, red-light vignette "When the Sun Goes Down". Which also went to No. 1. More importantly, it hinted that all the hype, most of it from the excitable British press (Terris? Gay Dad? Razorlight?...Coldplay?), wasn't all hype. The next single's B-sides included a cover of 1965 r&b oldie "Baby, I'm Yours". When it came time to pick a lead single for fine 2007 sophomore effort Favourite Worst Nightmare, the Arctics went with the one that didn't have a chorus.

      In between singing, playing guitar, and writing songs for one of the UK's biggest bands, Turner listened to some records. Old ones: Favourite Worst Nightmare finale "505" sampled Ennio Morricone, and in an interview at the time with The Onion's A/V Club, Turner touted everything from doo-wop and girl groups to late-1960s David Bowie rarity "In the Heat of the Morning". In retrospect, that's where Turner's latest project, the Last Shadow Puppets, begins. The other half of the duo, Miles Kane, played guitar on "505". The Bowie song, which the Last Shadow Puppets have since covered as a B-side, could easily have been their aesthetic template.

      Kane, formerly of 1960s-tinged English rockers the Little Flames and now with a new group dubbed the Rascals, is actually Turner's least well-known collaborator on the Last Shadow Puppets' full-length debut. Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett, who has arranged strings for the Arcade Fire, does so here with the 22-piece London Metropolitan Orchestra. Simian Mobile Disco half James Ford, who produced Favourite Worst Nightmare and the Klaxons' debut album, produces again and serves double-duty on drums. Together, they've helped create Turner's most impressive album-length statement yet, one that strives, musically and lyrically, for the epic grandeur of an era before GarageBand or MySpace, and avoids lapsing into pretentiousness by dint of its own headlong enthusiasm. As Turner's granddad might say, "You've overdoon it." Again.

      Ford may be better known for his work in unfortunately nicknamed subgenres like blog house and nu-rave, but on The Age of the Understatement, he oversees a remarkably vivid 1960s symphonic-pop pastiche. The title track and first single opens the record at a gallop, stretching the baroque-pop of early Scott Walker-- the Jacques Brel-translating, Ingmar Bergman-feting crooner, not the avant-gardist from Tilt and The Drift-- to the dramatic mariachi brass of Love's Forever Changes, or one of Morricone's Sergio Leone scores. Or Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich's "The Legend of Xanadu". "About as subtle as an earthquake, I know," Turner concedes on "My Mistakes Were Made for You", which settles into a regal symphonic-funk groove befitting David Axelrod (the producer for Cannonball Adderley and the Electric Prunes, not the adviser to Barack Obama). Pallett's contributions range from the jittery waltz fanfares of "Calm Like You" and whip-cracking horse race of "Separate and Ever Deadly" to the downy romance of "The Meeting Place", which could've fit on an album by the Arctics' fellow Sheffield son Richard Hawley.

      So obviously the biggest difference between the Last Shadow Puppets and Turner's main gig is in the lyrics. Though less immediately noticeable than the majestic production, the change in the scale of Turner's songwriting is ultimately more profound. The video for "The Age of the Understatement" is set in Russia, and compared to the Arctics' insider-ish dispatches about Life Among the Chavs or Life As the Biggest New Band Since Oasis, these songs are Tolstoy in their bird's-eye omniscience. "Burglary and fireworks, the skies they were alight," Turner sings on "Calm Like You", describing a once-exciting city and the bitter romance that took place there. Brisk, timpani-rumbling "Standing Next to Me" is just conventional love-triangle stuff, but it finds Turner moving from his anthropologically detailed Arctics brushstrokes to bold, cinematic gestures: "You want to have her/ Two years have gone now/ But I can't relate." And on stinging recrimination "Black Plant": "He's got papercuts from the love letters you never gave him."

      Turner wisely decides not to compete in the crooner sweepstakes, letting his voice retain its usual charming grittiness. Kane, from near Liverpool, sings in a voice that blends in as naturally as if they were brothers. So if you hear only the caustic vocals and lavish arrangements of faster-paced tracks like "Only the Truth", the Last Shadow Puppets are exactly what you'd expect Arctics-with-strings to sound like. This single-mindedness hampers songs like "The Chamber" or "I Don't Like You Any More", which work fine on their own but offer little to distinguish themselves when following The Age of the Understatement's stirring first half. As on both Arctics albums, though, Turner keeps a tender surprise up his sleeve. The first minute of finale "The Time Has Come Again" strips away all but neatly picked acoustic guitar and a 22-year-old's panging nostalgia for a few years earlier. "Don't go too soon/ She went too soon," Turner and Kane harmonize, as strings rise up to meet them, whatever people say they are, and everything else.

      - Marc Hogan, April 22, 2008
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