Stateside fans of Alex Turner know him best as frontman of the Arctic Monkeys, the Sheffield quartet and poster lads of neo-punk and pub-crawl rock, which shot to post-Oasis, post-Libertines Britpop fame after their 2006 debut. For his second act, Turner takes a giant leap backward, about four decades, and teams with Miles Kane, singer of Liverpool’s the Rascals, former tour mates of the Monkeys, to form this two-man side project known as the Last Shadow Puppets. And the result has the duo kicking up musical dust in a ’60s cinemascopic spaghetti Western, tumbleweeds and all.
“Our friend was making shadow puppets,” says the 22-year-old Kane, in a Liverpudlian lilt that would make any girl gush, from the band’s tour stop in Copenhagen, “and we thought that would be a good name as a band. We got in our heads that it sorta meant that being in a shadow was like being in a band blah blah blah. But that’s a load of bollocks, really. It’s just a good name.”
Turner and Kane bonded over their shared love of Oasis, early Bowie and Scott Walker, the Ohio-born crooner who became an elusive superstar in the U.K. in the ’60s and ’70s. “There’s this [Walker] compilation called Boy Child,” says Kane, “and it’s got [these songs] on it called “The Old Man’s Back Again” and “The Plague.” The lyrics and melodies and the reverb vocals, the drum sound and obviously the strings, just really get you. And Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel — that’s when I really got into the rhythms of all them Westerns.”
While the Arctic Monkeys have made a big enough bang in America two albums into their career, the Rascals are mostly unknown. And the fact that Kane’s band hadn’t even released its debut didn’t stop him and Turner from stepping into a studio in France for two weeks last summer to record The Age of the Under-statement. The ironically titled album was recently nominated for a Mercury Music Prize (a distinction that went to the Monkeys in 2006) for its 12 Morricone-lite epics for the indie crowd.
After finishing the guitar tracks with producer and drummer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, Turner and Kane sent the songs to Owen Pallett — the in-demand Canadian violinist and arranger who has worked with Arcade Fire and Beirut — who added an orchestral score with the help of the 22-member London Metropolitan Orchestra. “It was one of those weird fate things. We sent him the tunes and were saying, ‘We’re into these records and wanna sound like this,’ and he knew exactly. He’s amazing.”
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Turner and Kane ride in on galloping guitars like boyish twin gunslingers (their vocals are nearly indistinguishable) looking for gold on the album’s title track and first single, an updated “Knights of Cydonia” channeling “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Calm Like You,” “Separate and Ever Deadly” and “Only The Truth” share a similar bombast: horns, military drums and swirling strings that sound like a swarm of killer bees. “I Don’t Like You Any More,” however, hearkens back to the Monkeys’ attitude, with a blood-curdling guitar solo and venomous lyrics like, “the sound of your voice is piercing my patience.”
There are lighter moments among all the weighty arrangements. On “My Mistakes Were Made for You,” Turner and his lone guitar call his blunders “about as subtle as an earthquake” and “as solid as a rock rolling down a hill,” while “The Meeting Place” is a stunner of a little ditty that would fit neatly on any Bacharach-Warwick record. Sure, this is still shameless revisionist rock, but it completely flies in the face of all the ’80s, post-punk minimalist gloom (“I foockin’ hate that,” Kane says) currently riding the zeitgeist, and it’s a lot more fun.
And don’t even try to resist the simple charm and unabashed romance of the band’s second single, “Standing Next to Me.” If the hipster descendants of Sinatra and Clint Eastwood ever met, the Last Shadow Puppets would be the soundtrack to their love.
The Last Shadow Puppets play the Mayan Theater on Nov. 3.