The age of the understatement must be 22

By • May 12th, 2008 • Category: Columns

Alex Turner is 22 years old. That’s important to remember when thinking about the Arctic Monkeys front man. He’s not a youngster anymore.

Although his quick rise to international stardom after his band’s debut, and all the hoopla surrounding the circumstances of that immediate success, seems destined to stunt the perception of Turner’s growth. He’s like the neighbor child from down the street, who – no matter how old they get – never will crack the image of being so much younger, so immature, so frozen in time. That is, until the realization strikes that they now are in their 20s. And worse, they’re a record-setting musician in their 20s.

The tale of the Arctic Monkeys reads like Cliff Notes to the age of Internet buzz. The band’s 2006 “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” became the fastest selling U.K. debut – a title at one time held by bands such as Suede, Oasis and Elastica. Released by Domino Records, the album also is the only album in British history to enter atop the charts without major-label backing, en route to winning that year’s Mercury Prize. And despite such breakout acclaim, last year’s also-Mercury nominated “Favourite Worst Nightmare” garnered even greater instant returns in becoming the first album to have every song premiere on the singles charts. The feats weren’t lost on the musician, evident by his speech at that prestigious award show. In what would be one of many acceptance moments to come, a sheepish Turner looked almost embarrassed while admitting “and um … ‘cuz normally … this don’t go to a band that, I supposed,” he said, pausing for several seconds and turning to his band mates for help saying the right words, “sold as many records as we have, to put it bluntly.”

By 22, Turner has accumulated unprecedented accomplishments. Of The Beatles, only George Harrison’s success by this age could parallel the Monkeys’ vocalist. In 1965, the youngest member of the Fab Four was preparing to record “Rubber Soul.” However, not even that classic, perfect LP would match the historic sales figures to which Turner has become accustom. A more telling comparison would be to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Blur/Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn, who combined released a grand total of zero albums before age 22. Come to think of it, neither had Elvis Costello, Eddie Vedder, or Billy Corgan. Even Kurt Cobain and Iggy Pop reached the “big two-two” in the same year that they later would release “Bleach” and “The Stooges,” respectively.

But Turner also is the same age as many college juniors. And right about the time that countless students are sitting up in their dorms, contemplating whether to switch their majors from journalism to nursing, from history to English, or to scrap the university setting and join the Peace Corp., Turner is undergoing his own quarter-life crisis. Much like Harrison wanted to do shortly after those legendary “Rubber Soul” sessions, the young-but-not-really-all-that-young-anymore performer is branching out.

This month, Turner released “The Age of the Understatement,” the first album from his side project The Last Shadow Puppets. Joined by fellow British vocalist Miles Kane, the dozen songs meld the acidic guitars and stop-on-a-dime changes that give Arctic Monkeys the band’s urgency, with the plush string arrangements of Kane’s full-time band, the Rascals. The combination butches up Kane’s swooning melodies while indulging Turner’s theatric side, a card that he rarely plays with his band.

It won’t break any sales records. That will be a first for the Sheffield songwriter. However, this LSP album solidifies his role as genuine rock performer. No longer should questions linger whether the hype surrounding Arctic Monkeys enhanced Turner’s songs. Instead, with each move, it becomes increasingly clear that Turner’s songs, in fact, were responsible for the fever pitch of Arctic Monkeys. It never was the other way around.

But most importantly, “The Age of the Understatement” secures more Turner material. Someday, Arctic Monkeys will break up. It’s what bands do. Yet, The Last Shadow Puppets gives a glimpse into the mind of a songwriter who quickly is becoming one of the world’s most prolific – not to mention one with nary a bad song in his recorded catalog.

Which bodes well for fans of smarmy rock ‘n’ roll, or mellower balladry, or whatever else he has stashed away beneath that mop top. After all, Alex Turner only is 22 years old.

Northwest Herald, May 12, 2008

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