On its debut LP, 2008’s The Age of the Understatement, English baroque pop duo the Last Shadow Puppets crafted an infectiously melodic and luscious gem bursting with vintage ‘60s allure. Considering that its core members, Alex Turner and Miles Kane, hailed from two of the modern scene’s most respected bands (Arctic Monkeys and the Rascals, respectively), that wasn’t too surprising; still, the way they captured the British Invasion vibe so perfectly warranted plenty of acclaim. Fortunately, the same holds [mostly] true on its long-awaited follow-up, Everything You’ve Come to Expect. Favoring subdued romanticism over bombastic catchiness, this sophomore effort isn’t quite as striking or memorable as its predecessor, yet it still packs the sleek retro arrangements, endearing songwriting, and charming English feel fans adore.
Once again utilizing the skills of producer/drummer James Ford and string arranger Owen Pallett (as well as newcomer Zachary Dawes on bass), the Last Shadow Puppets aptly describes Everything You’ve Come to Expect as “a more open and expansive work… wearing its influences less obviously on its sleeve. By turns the album is soaring, snarling and breathlessly seductive. Specifically, they say that “while [their] sound remains anchored in ferry-‘cross-the-Merseybeat sweep and romance… their new songs [also] take us into the realm of Curt Boettcher and Roy Orbison…” As for why it took so long to release a proper successor, Turner admits that the rapid success of Arctic Monkeys played a part: “I wish I had a more flowery answer, but there just wasn’t a chance to do a second album before now.” Regardless of why fans had to wait for nearly a decade to experience new Last Shadow Puppets material, there’s no doubt that they’ll be quite satisfied with the end result.
Unsurprisingly, opener “Aviation” stands as one of the record’s best songs. It begins with a few seconds of swirling orchestration, yet instead of launching into a raucous rocker like “The Age of the Understatement”, it’s a softer, more regretful affair. Led by a mournful guitar riff, straightforward percussion, and wonderful balance of rebellious verses and nostalgic choruses, the track is bittersweet yet charged, with a subtle yet impactful use of strings throughout. As with much of the album, what “Aviation” lacks in superficial punch, it makes up with gorgeous textures and dazzling style.
“Miracle Aligner” is a bit more streamlined and upbeat, with production that conjures the Beach Boys’ seminal Pet Sounds. Actually, it harkens back a bit to the rock ‘n’ roll love songs of the ‘50s, while “Dracula Teeth” is more mysterious and biting, with faint harmonies and hypnotic rhythms that never fail to entice. Happily, the title track proves to be among the most unique pieces here, as its carnival-esque touches and vocal effects evoke the mystery and drama of a classic James Bond film. It’s also one of the most dynamic pieces here, with moments of tranquility scattered between fuller-bodied segments.
The centerpiece of the LP, “Bad Habits” is sublimely antagonistic, if not downright punky, in its mixture of aggressive vocals and frantic orchestration/syncopation. It’s a succinct explosion of unharnessed energy and wronged-lover warnings that also serves as a wise contrast to the lovesick ‘50s crooning of “Sweet Dreams, TN”, whose waltz foundation, coupled with Turner’s streetwise singing (like a mixture of Elvis and Billie Joe Armstrong), can’t help but draw you in. Later on, “Used to Be My Girl” conveys an overtly contemporary sensibility, and the various disco allusions (namely, the guitar timbres and strums) prove beneficial (rather than detrimental) to making “Pattern” one of the most tempting selections here. As for closer “The Dream Synopsis”, it’s fittingly glum and sentimental, with lovely strings accompaniment accentuating Turner’s fragile romanticism. His final line — “It must be torture when I talk about my dreams” — is especially poignant.
Everything You’ve Come to Expect doesn’t triumph over its predecessor, but it’s not necessarily trying to, either. Whereas the former record was a boisterous homage to a bygone era, this one is more plaintive and, somewhat ironically (I guess), understated, showcasing a wider array of panaches and temperaments without ever achieving the fiery magnetism of its precursor. As a result, it’s a fresher yet slightly less exciting and memorable effort. Still, it captures almost everything that makes the Last Shadow Puppets stand out, so devotees will likely have their expectations met nonetheless.