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The Last Shadow Puppets
The Age of Understatement Alex Denney , April 25th, 2008 00:00

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of Understatement

“Quite good.” It’s as eloquent a summation of the music of Alex Turner and his ubiquitous Arctic Monkeys as I’ve heard in the past three years’ of slavering press about this latest in a long and increasingly tedious succession of Great New British Songwriters.

Not the words of a stony-faced refusenik, either, but of Jarvis Cocker, the man whose skills of social critique Turner has apparently inherited. Well, sod that.

Like a replacement hamster bought for a sensitive child whose pet has recently passed away, Arctic Monkeys filled a void in British pop culture left by The Libertines’ demise. Turner’s slang-ridden hooch has served its purpose passably well, but really " pop heavyweight? From a group whose recent ’money’ single, ’Fluorescent Adolescent’, was naught but a pootling slab of aural doggerel brimful of dodgy rhyming couplets along the lines of ’tabasco/rascal’?

Lyrical wunderkind? Acknowledging even the fact that comparing heroes old and new can be a dispiriting and altogether reactionary exercise, I’d suggest that the gap between ’Common People’ and lyrics along the lines of “Bet she's delighted when she sees him / Pulling in and giving her the eye / Because she must be fucking freezing / Scantily clad beneath the clear night sky”, from their kerb-crawling lament ’When The Sun Goes Down’, is nigh on unbridgeable.

’Quintessentially English’? Oh monsieur, with these stupefyingly dull clichés you are really spoiling us| you get the general idea.

But! Before you find yourself nodding off amidst a sea of qualifiers and light admonishment, here’s a newsflash: namely, that The Age Of The Understatement, Turner’s much-discussed Scott Walker and David Axelrod-referencing duet with Miles Kane of The Rascals, might just be the best thing that the errant monkey’s turned his paw to.

That implicit ’he’ should be an explicit ’they’, of course: in a recent interview Kane correctly guessed that Turner’s favourite record of all time was Rubber Soul - quelle fucking surprise " while Kane himself chose a Scott Walker album, leading one to question who exactly is pulling the Puppets’ strings in this relationship.

Either way, the point remains " by forcing him out of his stodgy riffs and “owt/nowt” rhyme-scheme comfort zone (Turner admitted to Stool Pigeon this month that the record was written in a more ’traditional’ manner than the Monkeys’) Turner has expressed willingness to stray a little from the well-trodden path of influences in a UK music scene currently in danger of asphyxiating on its own canon-scented leavings.

And while no-one with brains or ears is likely to argue the Last Shadow Puppets hold a candle to the sophistication of their forebears, you’d be hard pushed to deny tracks like ’Standing Next To You’ and ’Black Plant’ aren’t great, compositionally astute pop pieces. To the pair’s endless credit, they’ve managed to enlist the services of the London Philharmonic " albeit under the direction of collaborator Owen Pallet - without coming across as a preening pair of tosswits.

That’s not to say the record comes without its fair share of duds. It’s just that, as much as all this might sound like damning with faint praise, The Age Of The Understatement may just be the first evidence to suggest Turner has legs as a songwriter after all.