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Music Review

The Last Shadow Puppets: 'The Age Of The Understatement'

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The Last Shadow Puppets: 'The Age Of The Understatement'
Released on Monday, Apr 21 2008

Alex Turner is a tough cookie to get your head around. One day he's the stereotypical northern lad, reliably grumpy and steadfastly refusing to enter the tabloid media circus, the next he's gallivanting around London town with a pretty T4 presenter on his arm. His lyrical narratives on the Arctic Monkey's first two albums saw him labelled "the poet of his generation", but others complained that the backing music was little more than meat 'n' potatoes rock. Consequently, when Turner revealed that he was working with best buddy Miles Kane on a Burt Bacharach-inspired side-project, it didn't raise too many eyebrows. In fact, it added to the mystery surrounding him. Was Turner really a closet crooner who loved nothing more than lounging around a grand piano with a glass of chardonnay and a cigarette? Or was this just a cheeky vanity project from a bloke so loved that he could release an album of his own bottom burps and receive critical acclaim?

Thankfully for fans and critics alike, The Age Of The Understatement goes some way to answering these questions. Dragged out from behind the protective cover of the Monkeys, Turner shows there's more than one string to his songwriting bow. He's cherry-picked the best bits from his parents' record collections (Scott Walker, Ennio Morricone, David Bowie) and added a contemporary twist to proceedings. There's no mimicry or anything remotely approaching pastiche on this album; it's a record created by two young men who appear to have a genuine love for this music. Lead single 'The Age of the Understatement' served as an excellent introduction, but its spiralling blend of spaghetti western melodrama and galloping psychedelia is the most OTT moment on an album that's full-to-bursting with musical gems.

To single out individual tracks doesn't seem fair, because each song is positively bristling with tension and intrigue. Many commentators sniped that Turner's trembling vocals wouldn't stand up to full orchestral backing, but actually it's his occasional frailties that make this album so sublime. On the wistful album closer 'The Time Has Come Again' he brings a fragility and empathy that a more polished performer would have missed - so much so, in fact, that it's hard to not let your heart flutter as he whispers: "From folded notes in envelopes, meet me beneath the moon, don't go too soon, she went too soon." Equally sublime is Bond-theme-in-waiting 'My Mistakes Were Made For You', a song that features more dramatic twists than an entire season of Lost.

It isn't all old-fashioned romanticism, either; there's also the zig-zagging spy movie excitement of 'Separate and Ever Deadly', a song that reveals there's more to Turner's lyrical game than ain't-it-grim-up-north observations. 'The Meeting Place', with its delightfully deadpan refrain of "I'm sorry I met you darling, I'm sorry I met you", has a Richard Hawley-esque quaintness, while 'In My Room' boasts the sort of lush orchestration that Brian Wilson took 37 years to produce on his Smile opus. As a complete work, this LP matches the Arctic Monkeys' debut and exceeds their sophomore release. Turner has proved that there's a beating heart and musical drive beneath his average-man persona - one that embarrasses his less adventurous contemporaries.


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