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The long-awaited second album from the Last Shadow Puppets is a lavish California confection, with strings by Owen Pallett. Like Zayn Malik’s Mind of Mine, it makes very clear that frontmen Alex Turner and Miles Kane are sexy men with sexy lives having lots of sexy sex with their sexy girlfriends.
After the flammable tracksuits and leering interviews, it’s easy to forget that in 2008, the Last Shadow Puppets were two shaggy-haired 22-year-olds sweetly in thrall to girls and Scott Walker. The Age of the Understatement was more ambitious than anything Alex Turner and Miles Kane had attempted before, but its lavish strings and Morricone twangs shrouded earnest devotion and no shortage of anxiety over paling in comparison to the next, more consummate lothario. “Please don’t tell me, you don’t have to, darling/ I can sense that he painted you a gushing sunset and slayed a few panthers in your defence,” Turner sang on “Separate and Ever Deadly.” By the final song, “Time Has Come Again,” he found himself heartbroken and weeping in the street. This bold record was a cover for a severe case of imposter syndrome, which Kane evoked in a lovely turn of phrase on “Separate…”: “Can’t you see I’m the ghost in the wrong coat, biting butter and crumbs?”
Eight years on, the starting blocks are very different. Arctic Monkeys are five albums in, and Alex Turner could feasibly lay claim to being one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Miles Kane could feasibly lay claim to being friends with one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Both artists now live in L.A., and their long-awaited second album, Everything You’ve Come to Expect, is a lavish California confection, featuring a 29-piece orchestra recorded at Hollywood’s storied United Recording, and arranged by Owen Pallett. His work here puts him on a par with Jean-Claude Vannier, the man behind Gainsbourg’s …Melody Nelson: The first five songs at least are totally gorgeous, the strings glassy, the tone all understated seduction, the structures fluid and surprising. Dusty opener “Aviation” could be Calexico playing backing band to some tortured crooner; “Miracle Aligner” is a fever dream of the Replacements’ “Swingin Party,” while the title track turns French carousel organs into a captivating narcotic spiral. It’s the perfect music for the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films: sophisticated, tortured—and with a weakness for temptation.
Like Zayn Malik’s Mind of Mine, Everything You’ve Come to Expect makes very clear that Turner and Kane are sexy men with sexy lives having lots of sexy sex with their sexy girlfriends. The only difference between them is a seven-year age gap. Sometimes they still sound as awestruck as on their debut. On “She Does the Woods,” ostensibly a song about shagging in the bushes, Turner is dazzled by the girl looming above him, behind her, “a spirograph of branches that dance on the breeze.” There are numerous songs about fucking—”Just let me know when you want your socks knocking off,” “Baby, we ought to fuck seven years of bad luck out the powder room mirror”—and, with grim inevitability, songs about how girls have fucked them over. “Bad Habits” truly establishes Kane as the Austin Powers to his mate’s Bond, as he yelps over blood-red bolero that he “should’ve known, little girl, that you’d do me wrong.”
By the Homme-tinged desert rider “Used to Be My Girl,” misanthropy has set in. “Gimme all your love so I can fill you up with hate,” they ooze. One of the inspirations for Everything You’ve Come to Expect was Isaac Hayes’ glorious Hot Buttered Soul, but that’s not the first thing that comes to mind here. There’s a scene in 1967’s Bedazzled where Dudley Moore, as part of his deal with the devil, wishes to become a pop star so that girls will love him. Wish granted, he immediately finds himself eclipsed by his rival, played by Peter Cook, who has formed a band called Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations. Their deathless hit track, in hock to 1960s English psychedelia, goes, “I’m fickle, I’m cold, I’m shallow/ You fill me with inertia/ Don’t get excited.”
For a few years now, Turner has sported a well-greased quiff and an obscure attitude (“invoice me for the microphone”). You suspect he adopted the rock star posture as a protective mechanism to deal with his massive profile, while for Kane, every middle-aged dad’s favorite Paul Weller substitute, it’s a retrograde aspiration. They expose the dark side of their Faustian pact for fame and fortune towards the end of the record, where inspiration dims. “Pattern” sounds like the kind of orch-pop move that was often favored by Britpoppers to show that they were real artistes with longevity beyond the movement, and has similar subject matter—though Turner, no less a gifted lyricist than ever, manages to imbue the comedown with a little poetry, admitting, “I slip and I slide like a spider on an icicle.”
He’s at his most lugubrious and lizardy on “The Dream Synopsis,” a silky string-laden number where he reminisces about flirting with a girl who worked in a kitchen, when the most danger going was getting caught kissing by the pans. Curiously, “The Bourne Identity” comes back to imposter syndrome, in a violin-heavy hero’s lament peppered with plenty of great lyrics. Turner’s got a “glass-bottomed ego,” he’s “the sequel you wanna see but you were kinda hoping they would never make,” “haunted by the sweet smell of self-esteem.” It’s hard to think of more perfect descriptions of feeling insufficient. But Turner and Kane are so convincingly cocksure elsewhere, it’s hard to feel too sorry for them. As the Last Shadow Puppets make abundantly clear on their second album, they made their own bed.