Judging by the title of his new side project’s debut, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner believes we’re living in a pseudo-Victorian era of restraint. Has he ever read one of his band’s wildly enthusiastic reviews? The Monkeys are emblematic of an epoch of exaggeration — hype-machine poster kids whose music reflects a culture in which the LOL has supplanted the sly chuckle.
Or maybe Turner is just being ironic, since these dozen tunes are the most over the top in his slim songbook. His partner is Miles Kane of U.K. upstarts and Monkeys’ tourmates the Rascals; the Last Shadow Puppets grew out of the pair’s shared love of Scott Walker’s late-’60s orchestral pop. They recorded Understatement with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford producing and playing drums, then commissioned Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett to contribute lush spaghetti-western string arrangements.
The result replaces the Arctic Monkeys’ circa-now cynicism with old-school romance; in “My Mistakes Were Made for You,” Turner sounds terribly impressed when he describes a lady friend as “innocence and arrogance entwined in the filthiest of minds.” The up-tempo numbers are great fun, but the Puppets excel on the ballads, which they croon in lovely tight harmony. The early Beatles would’ve admired “The Chamber.” That’s no overstatement.