THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS - The Age Of The Understatement



Alex Turner has been borrowing his grandmum's record collection. Where else has this giddy enthusiasm for Brel, Scott Walker, John Barry, Wally Stott and Bowie (circa 1971) as well as Shirley Bassey, Dusty, Tom Jones and Gene Pitney come from? It's all there Alex, it's all there. I don't know...we get one 1980s themed collaboration (Neon Neon) and then along comes this 1960s one between Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and Miles Kane from The Rascals.

When I heard they were being heavily influenced by Scott Walker for this bit of mucking about I had a weird feeling they might try whacking a few slabs of meat and singing about Communism just for a lark and totally alienate their fanbases. But this 28 minute whirl through Ennio Morricone influenced troubadoring, spliced with the cantering thrust of Walker's Brel interpretations such as 'Mathilde', Jackie' and 'Funeral Tango', doesn't outstay its welcome. If they'd gone on for any longer then it would have descended into tedium. As it is, it's a great little chamber piece with some ravishing orchestral arrangements from the London Metropolitan Orchestra and from sometime Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett which actually don't have the precision of the arrangements on Scott 1, 2, 3 and 4 and are more akin to many of the brass and string pastiches on Marc Almond's 'Vermin In Ermine' or 'The Stars We Are'.

Turner's Sheffield drawl also marks out the difference here too. He's no Walker or Almond but he does actually have a good voice and his and Kane's voices mesh well, often create little sparks as they collide, and have a fullness that adds to the effect. I'm not a Monkeys fan at all but here Turner sounds good and the lyrics are suitably decorative in quality. It's all broken relationships, loneliness...exactly the existentialist subject matter that Brel and Walker cornered the market with. It often tips into an over-enthusiasm but let's give them credit for at least dragging certain musical forms back into focus as a set of galloping rhythm tracks, swirling strings and aching torch songs.

The standout tracks for me are 'Meeting Place', a soulful and yearning ballad with a stunning string and brass arrangement which is all remorse and regret that has an elegant elongated string coda; 'The Time Has Come Again' another ballad of doomed romance drenched in strings; 'The Age Of The Understatement' which sounds like 'The Las' meets Morricone and 'Black Plant' a shuffling tango that features a crashing organ section and lovely stabbing brass and sweeping strings with another Bernard Hermann like string coda.

This is a great big, blousy, widescreen, windswept pop record, perhaps rather old fashioned in its retro stylings, but it follows respectfully in a great tradition and does it without embarrassing itself.

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement (Domino WIGCD208 - Released 21st April 2008)

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