It seems somehow a dismal comment on the fast-shrinking oligarchy of reference points that is the contemporary UK indie scene that citing Scott Walker as a major influence on your new record should feel like a radical gesture.
Walker’s abstract musings – or rather, the run of late-‘60s albums that established his name as a serious solo artist – have long had currency in the mainstream indie consciousness: Suede and Pulp made plain their affections some years ago, the latter even roping the reclusive icon into producing their neglected swansong We Love Life in 2001.
So technically news that Arctic Monkeys mainstay Alex Turner was teaming up with Rascals frontman Miles Kane, along with violinist and sometime Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett, for a Scott-indebted foray should have been greeted with the kind of benign patience normally reserved for school kids telling their older brothers they’ve been getting into the blues – an encouraging step, certainly, but hardly the stuff of revelation.
Perhaps that’s overly high-handed: as moonlighting members of bands for whom sophistication has never exactly figured highly on the agenda, notionally at least The Last Shadow Puppets project displays commendable ambition and willingness to stray a little from the beaten path. And lest we forget, even Walker was panned as a second-rate Jacques Brel imitator once upon a time.
With that in mind, _The Age Of The Understatement _ is a record that rewards both performers’ and listeners’ curiosity in equal measure, exaggerating the pomp and rigour of its forebears whilst falling inevitably short of their technical eloquence.
For the first two tracks alone here that feels like a fair trade-off. Whatever the finer details of ‘The Age Of Understatement’’s cautionary romp, there’s a certain irony in the title given the song’s intoxicating pastiche, replete with smoking-barrel tremolo trails and thunderous, four-horsemen gallop. And 'Standing Next To Me' - mooted as a potential second single - recalls Love’s ‘A House Is Not A Motel’ as recited by a ‘50s high school teeny bop band, wind-scattered strings and tumbling snares spilling out all over the place.
Quite simply, The Age Of The Understatement represents the most ambitious music either musician has assailed, which is great: if the malnourished metal-and-funk thrash of Favourite Worst Nightmare is what passes for maturity these days, then the hell with it, I don’t wanna grow up.
Pallett’s clever orchestration buoys the troubadour funk of ‘My Mistakes Were Made For You’, which sounds like Walker’s neo-Stalinist tragedy ‘The Old Man’s Back Again’, and the excellent ‘Black Plant’ resembles John Barry conducting Serge Gainsbourg, strings making their dramatic presence felt like whooshing currents of air.
It’s not an unqualified success, mind, the band occasionally guilty of an ostentatious flailing that cheapens the effect somewhat and heightens the sneaking suspicion that the plaudits wouldn’t come raining down quite so thick and fast if The Coral or even The Zutons turned their hand to a similar project.
But the bottom line remains firmly in sight throughout. Namely, that The Age Of The Understatement is as solid an idea in execution as it is in concept; a record unafraid to reach beyond its obvious limitations and produce a swashbuckling end result that might even broaden a few horizons for fans and players alike.
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7Alex Denney's Score