While his Arctic Monkeys bandmate Matt Helders is off playing in Iggy Pop’s band, Alex Turner has retreated to the familiar embrace of his old friend Miles Kane and reignited their 2008 side project. Kane has so far proved something of a liability – in one of the duo’s most significant comeback interviews, the journalist spent half of her article debating whether he had sexually harrassed her – plus he takes lead vocals on their worst song, the incongruously shouty Bad Habits. But otherwise the compositions on this week’s second album are even more sumptuous than those on their original pair-up.
If Arctic Monkeys and Kane’s indifferent solo career are their day jobs, this is their sandpit. They arrived together in coordinated grey suits, Kane the open necked lothario, Turner with his jacket cut high like a matador. They played their dual frontman roles with theatricality, introducing songs in ironic “rock star” voices, Turner stepping aside after one conclusion to comb his quiff flamboyantly. Even on the love song Sweet Dreams, TN, Turner’s overegged delivery felt insincere, but at least he strode to the centre to push his increasingly soulful voice to its limits.
Old songs such as Standing Next to Me and the galloping drums of The Age of the Understatement owed a lot to Scott Walker. Before covering the raw late period Beatles of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), which they also did eight years ago, Turner asked: “Who’s got a Mojo subscription?” The second time around, the concept seems less like pastiche. New songs Miracle Aligner, a melodic delight, and the funk approximation of The Element of Surprise, still qualified as retro but possessed much more of the character of their creators.
A string section added richness and drama, but those mocking speaking voices and the cocked Elvis legs kept undermining the effect. If they could give the impression that they believe in this frequently moving music, these Puppets might really come to life.