You can’t convince otherwise – Everything You’ve Come To Expect is Humbug Part 2. Everything about it, from the desert-rock sleaziness that’s straight out the Queens of the Stone Age textbook, the more surreal lyrics, the hazy atmosphere. Let’s backtrack a second. The Last Shadow Puppets first album, The Age Of The Understatement came out a year before Humbug, Arctic Monkeys’ (AKA. Alex Turner – one half of the Puppets) weirdest album by far, so that first album was not inheriting the same influences that this one does. Humbug is Arctic Monkeys’ greatest album, but its a hard sell and most will tell you that their first album or their more recent AM is. But it’s that one album that has the most touchstone moments on Everything You’ve Come To Expect, which was described by Turner and Miles Kane (the other half) as more of their Scott Walker-influenced grand pop, although this time it has the weight of a David-Lynch-indebted-LA-vibe all over it, instead of the French Riviera stylings that their first album cribbed from. We didn’t expect this album to exceed expectations, after all, it was a supergroup that nobody was crying out for the return of, especially when both main members are so busy with their respective main projects. But, maybe ironically considering the title of the album, we’ve underestimated what we expected from this duo. Everything You’ve Come To Expect is a dark and exciting experience.
A lot of where this album goes right is that it doesn’t try to completely abandon the template they set on their debut. It wasn’t a perfect album, but it was an interesting and original set of influences which introduced both Turner and Kane’s audience to another side of what they could write. And they still write differently to their main projects. There’s more ballads, which is where Turner has more recently turned his lyrical expertise to. A lot of these tracks, ‘Dracula Teeth’, ‘Pattern’, ‘The Bourne Identity’ (which is technically a bonus track) have a sweeping, cinematic, Bond-soundtrack-esque quality to them, from ‘Dracula Teeth’s spaghetti western guitars and string section and ‘The Bourne Identity’s crooning grand balladry. In ‘Dracula Teeth’ Turner strings out gothic imagery with garish neutralisers to the surrealism like ‘You’re hovering above my bed looking down on me / Haunted house sound effects’ and ‘I wrote your name in white emulsion’. He’ll constantly go for a 60s pop cliche and then throw in the most obscure references to the Rolling Stones (‘Why colour in the lines if you’re just painting it black?’) or septum piercings on ‘Sweet Dreams, TN’. It’s not surprising that Turner operates the vocals of the best songs, he’s got an infinitely better vocal for these kind of performances and Kane drags himself around like a squawking dead horse trying to keep up with Turner. The only time he ever truly steps out of line is ‘Bad Habits’, the poorly chosen lead single which says very little about the themes and quality of the rest of the album. Turner can croon, Kane can’t.
Turner, for all of his ‘lyricist of a generation’ tags, has recently fallen into a few cringe-worthy traps when it comes to his words, and Everything You’ve Come To Expect doesn’t escape some of the awkward one-liners of AM. He’ll sing ‘Let me know when you want your socks knocking off’ like he’s trying to repeat the kitchen sink romanticism of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut, but now it just comes off as less heartfelt and more like a turn of phrase he’d use in one of those infuriating interviews. When he’s at his most direct, it’s astounding what he can write. On ‘Sweet Dreams, TN’, one of the best songs on the album due to its classic crescendo and Turner reaching for a more confessional approach. Yes, he sings ‘I ain’t got anything to lick without you baby’, which is probably the creepiest thing he’s ever sung, but as the track mounts he sings ‘It’s love like an ache in the jaw’ and ‘And as your shrinking figure blows a kiss / I catch and smash it on my lips’. Those lyrics wouldn’t have fitted on fidgety indie-rock but on this grand pop you just have to accept this is Turner now, and to some extent he’s doing a solid job of it. Owen Pallett has to be given credit for his screen-worthy arrangements, especially on ‘Sweet Dreams, TN.
Now, back to Humbug. ‘Used To Be My Girl’ and ‘She Does The Woods’ might be some of the lower profile tracks, but they scream out desert-baked psychedelia. ‘Used To Be My Girl’ has a sleazy guitar solo and funky bassline, whilst ‘She Does The Woods’ has a similar lolloping freakiness to ‘Fire And The Thud’. Even better, Kane is hardly seen or heard. However it’s a different kind of psychedelia than Humbug, even if it’s influenced. Due to Pallett’s Hitchcockian-horror orchestra it contributes to Everything You’ve Come To Expect sounding like a freaky soundtrack to a 60s horror film. I’d almost bet there’s some kind of Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz Psycho linkup.
Everything You’ve Come To Expect was nothing like we’d come to expect. If The Age Of The Understatement was the sun-kissed Riviera, then this album is the thick blanket of night over L.A. when all of the monsters come out to play. Think David Lynch, think Hitchcock, it’s in that theme. Turner and Kane might still exist in the land of rock ‘n’ roll cliches, but this is a restoration of faith for anyone who was turned off by AM and injects some much-needed variety into Turner’s career. Kane, on the other hand, once again gets to put his name on a project that has significantly more weight to it than his lacklustre solo career. Is it a solo project? I guess you could call it that, though Kane, Pallett and Zach Dawes (bass) have all had enough of an input to not make this the Alex Turner show. This album is a surprising success and proof to completely ignore lead singles.
Funnel Recommends: Aviation / Sweet Dreams, TN / She Does The Woods