The Last Shadow Puppets | WIG208 | Released: 19/04/08
The Age of The Understatement is a collaboration between Alex Turner – with whom you’ll be familiar – and Miles Kane, frontman of upcoming Wirral-based group The Rascals.
Firm friends ever since Arctic Monkeys toured with Kane’s previous group, The Little Flames, the pair, now calling themselves The Last Shadow Puppets, were so inspired by listening to Scott Walker, early Bowie and David Axelrod amongst others – "it was dramatic", Turner says’ "it filled the senses" - that they hatched a plan.
The result is an album of 12 full-blooded songs, bold and brassy, full of drama, wit and melody, that source the past but avoid falling into pastiche. Both Alex Turner and Miles Kane are 22, and this is a youthful record, full of life and the sheer pleasure of music making: "it’s not a chore, it’s enjoyment," Kane says, "it’s great finding that with someone else, a dead good friend".
The Age of The Understatement began after Kane played some guitar on Arctic Monkeys’ second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. In early 2007, the pair began to trade songs: "a couple were already written," says Kane; "like 'Standing Next To Me' and 'In My Room'. The first one we did together was called 'The Chamber', and we took it in turns to do the vocals. It’s good to sing with someone else. It was just dead easy".
"We used a few half-hatched things," says Alex Turner. "It was three-thirds: one third of the songs we started and completed together; one third of the songs Miles started and we finished; one third of the songs I started and we finished. The fact that we were writing together seems to make it stronger. You’re not as exposed as you are if it’s just you on your own. I do like the partnership thing".
The project quickly snowballed: "we wanted to do an album," Turner says, "so we knew we had to get other people involved. It was obvious that it would be James Ford; he’d worked with me on the second Arctic Monkeys record. It be-came obvious that we could do it with just us three. James is a drummer, we knew he’d be good. We really didn’t want to get a band together".
It’s a big feature of the record that the two voices are intertwined, sometimes in harmony, sometimes swapping the lead. "You can tell that your voices are different," Turner says; "but you can’t tell when it changes. You don’t notice when one drops out and the other comes in."
They found singing in a different style to their respective bands easy: "if you’ve written the songs," says Kane, "you’ve lived with them." "I enjoyed singing different," Turner says; "the harmonies were fascinating. I was having discussions with my dad about harmony. He’s a music teacher. This record has really given me a desire to sing more, to practice. I feel like I hold notes for longer now."
Snatching days and weekends, the trio wrote twelve songs and went to Black Box studio in France to record them. "The time we had there was fabulous," says Turner; "I remember arriving and thinking it was perfect. Little studio with fields all around it, cut off from everything". With James Ford playing drums, Kane and Turner swapped bass and guitar duties – whatever the songs needed.
It was decided from the start that the songs would have strings: "It’s a dangerous game," admits Turner; "we could have almost ruined it if it all got too lush. Laurence Bell found this guy, Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), who came to meet us when Arctic Monkeys played in Toronto. He was a bit nervous – he’s young and hadn’t done something like this before – but that added to the record. I think the strings are terrific, they’ve really brought the songs to life."
"I walked into the studio when they were doing 'Meeting Place', adds Miles Kane; ‘this little song you’ve written in your bedroom is being played by an or-chestra! I went cold".
The sweeping strings underscore these songs of characters and relationships, from "the girl with many different strategies" in “Only The Truth” to "this relentless marauder" in "Age of the Understatement". Basically, it’s about the female of the species, as Turner admits: "I didn’t realise it while it was going down but listening after we finished it I realised that it says 'she' so many times. It’s all centred around this one girl who is the heartbreaker".
The Monkeys-approved The Age of the Understatement – "they’re all into it," says Turner - is a voyage of discovery for all concerned, and you can hear that sense of wonder, of enthusiasm, of sheer rightness. Reinvigorating the past, it sounds just right for now: "usually you collaborate when you’re older," says Kane; "but we thought, let’s do it while we’re young. It’ll have a different edge. It’s a dead natural thing: that’s always the best way".