Mercury Prize shortlist nominees (number: 2008)
en: The Age of the Understatement [info]
Following a support slot by Miles Kane of the Rascal's previous band – The Little Flames - on the Arctic Monkeys' tour of 2005, his friendship with Alex Turner has now borne fruit. Likely to be tarred with the inane brush of 'side project', what the duo may well have done here is provide an escape route for everyone who worried that we're all stuck in an indie ghetto. The Age Of The Understatement is a bold and brave step forward.
Of course the title's ironic. The most obvious comparisons (by their own admission) are with classic Scott Walker. The existential MOR singer's grand, orchestrated statements are the starting point. Ok, perhaps My Mistakes Were Made For You is a little TOO like Walker's The Plague, but always Owen Pallett's arrangements for the London Metropolitan Orchestra are swooningly lush and inventive. Besides, for every Walker fan, there are ten younger Monkeys fans who'll be forever thankful for having their ears opened to this marvellous stuff. Until recently the idea of 'loungecore' or 'easy'had 'ironic' or cheesy/jokey connotations, but Turner and Kane's knowledge and affection lifts this way beyond parody. Besides, as we all saw at last year's Glastonbury – Turner can handle even a Shirley Bassey standard with ease (Diamonds Are Forever).
A couple of tracks vary the formula. I Don't Like You Anymore is a distorted nightmare of psycho guitar twang and vertiginous rush. The pair also claims that they share a love of the early, Deram-era work of David Bowie. For too long this stuff has been underappreciated. The arrangements (i.e. the parping tuba at the end of Black Plant) show the influence, but lyrically it's still Turner's domain. You'll find no Laughing Gnome or Rubber Band here. Turner deals in the knotty, metaphorical fare that concerns itself with the war zone of the heart. As such the torrid mariachi/spaghetti western ambience of the album (especially the title track and Calm Like You) suits the songs down to the ground. It's a potent cross breed of Ennio Morricone and Wally Stott (Walker's arranger of choice). Tangos, rhumbas, military two-steps – all handled with aplomb. And Turner's words will provide mental fodder for a long time to come, especially as the album comes with classy line such as: ''Can't you see I'm the ghost in the wrong coat, biting butter and crumbs?'' (Separate And Deadly).
With The Age Of Understatement, Turner and Kane shake off all those blatant copyists and stay at least three steps ahead of any competition. Wonderful...