Eyeing the break in last year's hectic Arctic Monkeys touring commitments, no one would have faulted frontman Alex Turner for issuing a small sigh of relief and then scurrying away someplace warm.
But, instead of taking that well-deserved breather, the prolific songwriter and his friend, Rascals' vocalist Miles Kane, saw the two-week opening in the Monkeys' schedule as the perfect opportunity to flex their musical chops in a different direction.
"I met Miles three or four years ago on my first ever Monkeys tour," Turner says from his cellphone in the backseat of a London taxi. "He was in a band called Little Flames and we became fast friends. We have a lot of similarities and when the opportunity arose, I suggested we do something together.'"
"Forget the musical connection," Kane adds, checking in from his garden. "Just even hanging out, before we talked about doing music, we became best mates. Before the music, the mates thing came first - food and drink and all that shebang."
Dubbing themselves the Last of the Shadow Puppets, their debut album - "The Age of Understatement" - was recorded in a rural studio in France with producer James Ford behind the drum kit. Not too shy to show off their nostalgic ambitions, the pair intertwines slinky acoustic riffs with grandiose strings and strident horns to sum up the universal condition of being young and jaded.
While a blizzard of violins and guitar squish up against a curtain of swooning brass, Turner and Kane make cryptic, late-in-the-evening admissions: "Summertime made promises/ It knew it couldn't keep." But it doesn't take long to realize that most of the album's tracks are just shimmering pop songs - the kind you might hear if Sinatra and Dusty Springfield knocked boots.
"It was just an opportunity to try and capture grand-sounding songs that were different to what is going on in music," says Turner, dismissing the notion that the record is his attempt to conquer the British charts yet again (which, incidentally, he did last month when "Understatement" shot straight to No. 1 following the Monkeys' sparkling debut - "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" - and last year's "Favourite Worst Nightmare").
The duo developed their sound after sampling early David Bowie, and rather than try and sandwich LSP's sassy strut onto a Monkeys album, Turner thought it best to do his own thing.
"It's nothing against my band," he says, letting slip that the Arctics plan to start work on their third album this summer. "It was just Miles and I had an idea for a record and rather than try and crowbar that into the Monkeys, it made more sense to do this collaboration."
It might seem pretentious: two twentysomethings tacking symphonic rhythms to their twitchy rock vibe. Kane maintains that the pair wasn't even sure it would work.
"I didn't expect it to do what it has," he says. "Frankly, when we were recording it, we didn't know what to expect. We were just happy to be working together."
"There was definitely an uncertainty to each song," Turner agrees. "We were trying to avoid making it too nostalgic, but we wanted it to sound like nothing else on the radio right now. We didn't know if that was even going to be achievable."
Wanting to elevate the disc's 12 tracks above a retro-soul pack that includes Amy Winehouse and newcomer Duffy, LSP stripped the songs down to the barest elements before approaching Toronto-based conductor Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) to colour their three-minute reveries in shades of Beatles soul and Beach Boys harmony.
"Even without the strings, it sounded amazing," Kane assures. "But when Owen added the orchestra, it was just the cherry on the fucking cake."
Turner adds: "We definitely had to have the strings on there. I don't think there would be any point in doing it if you weren't going to bring the strings."
Handled by a 22-piece orchestra, Pallett's arrangements situate Turner and Kane's supper-club scenarios inside a tripped-out '60s western. "She's playful/ The boring would warn you," Turner and Kane croon jokingly on the title track, a jaunty rocker that outfits intimations of doom amidst cacophonic surf rock.
"Actually, we watched tons of Pink Panther while we were recording it," Turner deadpans.
"I just love Peter Sellers mate," Kane echoes. "Have you seen them old Pink Panther movies? Man he's just so funny."
The Last of the Shadow Puppets' "The Age of the Understatement" is in stores now.
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