Already performing, often simultaneously, as lead henchman in The Auteurs, Baader Meinhof and Black Box Recorder, musical polyglot Luke Haines' first solo album is, as its title baldly suggests, the soundtrack to imminent Britflick "Christie Malry's Own Double Entry", based on the novel by the cult poet and author B S Johnson, who committed suicide in 1973. There's hardly anyone more qualified in modern rock than Haines to orchestrate a film about a lone terrorist inspired by a monk/accountant from Renaissance Italy to take revenge against his enemies: although he'd hardly welcome the comparison, having crossed swords when The Auteurs were dumped from a support slot on a The The tour many years ago, Haines is probably the only British lyricist to home in on the sick, depraved and downright wrong of modern life with the acuity Matt Johnson demonstrated before he bumped the anger treadmill in favour of Hank Williams covers. Eminem with a philosophy degree? Well, maybe.
Musically "Christie Malry's Own Double Entry. OST" is a bitty affair, perhaps of necessity. A recording of "In The Bleak Midwinter" by Winchester Cathedral Choir gets brutalised by Haines singing over it, there's a lengthy, if leaden, electro cover of Nick Lowe's "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass", and much sloganeering (i.e. "Art Will Save The World", "How To Hate The Working Classes"). Nevertheless it's still streets ahead of his career low-point, the eponymous play-once-and-destroy Baader Meinhof album, and less of a disappointment than the last Auteurs album.
Still, it's almost worth the price of admission for the booklet notes alone, a boiling stream of vituperative bile entitled "Luke Haines in account with Them", divided into the columns "Debit/Aggravation" and "Credit/Recompense". In the former oh, where to begin? we have "Prines (sic) William and Harry not being in the Merc", "Mojo", "The Idler. Waste of fucking time" and "The Great British Public; a nation of Blue Peter presenters". And in the latter, the sole entry, "Christie Malry's Own Double Entry. Original Soundtrack Album by Luke Haines". Fair exchange, at least someone will think.
LUKE HAINES The Oliver Twist Manifesto (Hut)
Released merely weeks later, Haines' second solo outing, "The Oliver Twist Manifesto", is similarly saturated with slogans: it carries the subtitle "What's Wrong With Popular Culture", and the disc itself bears the legend "This Is Not Entertainment", just in case you were going to foolishly attempt to enjoy it or anything. The booklet contains another of Haines' hitlists: although the purpose is unclear, inclusions such as Myra Hindley, Anne Widdecombe and Neil & Christine Hamilton suggest that it isn't his Christmas card list.
Herein Haines is as vicious as he's ever been, but this time it's personal. You might like to speculate why these songs haven't surfaced on albums by The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder or Baader Meinhof. I think it has something to do with the fact that Haines is writing the most direct lyrics of his career, no longer couching his words in the velvet glove of metaphor, shrouding them in layers of protective irony or assembling a riot-shield of concept around them. A song like "I Shot Sarah Lucas" is about as blunt as popular music gets; to bring him up again only Eminem seems to be writing songs of comparable naked honesty. And like Eminem he seems to detest just about everything within tongue-lashing distance, here being rants against modern art (don't get him started on the subject!), early 80s discotheque patrons, labour relations and religion, amongst myriad other topics.
Not all of "The Oliver Twist Manifesto" is terrific, but when it hits home its lacerating power is undeniable. "The Spook Manifesto" is one such highlight: over a luxuriant electro groove so obviously indebted to the work of Dr. Dre you worry that Haines is lining himself up for some kind of terrible drive-by execution, laced with an insistent, if nonsensical, "Rebecca, Rebecca, put me on the other line now" hookline, it's a genuinely chilling, jawdropping piece of music. The title track follows a similar blueprint to similarly fine effect, and with lines like "I'm the brightest thing on the roster" and "You gotta believe me I never wanted to be liked" it's a kind of stiff-upper-lipped terribly English equivalent of Marshall Mathers' obscenity-strewn bravado. "What Happens When We Die" is an icily dispassionate examination of death, with shades of the Harold Shipman case in its cryptic references to "A doctor from the North". And how about the line, in "Christ", "Do I have to end it all like Billy MacKenzie to get out of the contract?", he being the Associates singer who took his own life. At times this sounds less like an album and rather more like a psychological case study in the making.
So that's "The Oliver Twist Manifesto": Luke Haines writes songs about the kinds of subjects popular music takes great lengths to avoid, a hornet's nest of controversy that remains unstirred only because he chooses to work untouched and untouchable on the margins of the (anti-)entertainment industry. If Radiohead released an album like this questions would be asked in the House, but then again parts of "The Oliver Twist Manifesto" make "OK Computer" sound like the gummy mewlings of spoilt infants. If you think you can stomach something that potent, this is some strong medicine against the encroaching cultural sickness, a little silver antidote to a dumbed-down universe.LUKE HAINES AND THE AUTEURS Das Capital The Songwriting Genius Of Luke Haines And The Auteurs (Hut Recordings)
In which the ever self-mythologising Mr Haines surveys the fruits of his first decade of recording activity and, unsurprisingly, finds himself pleased with himself. On "Das Capital" Luke does his thing with strings, remaking key moments from the back catalogue accompanied by somewhat glutinous orchestral arrangements. The listener might wonder why, with the cover sticker promising "All the Auteurs classics re-recorded", Haines was content to tinker only with the 11 songs contained within rather than his entire back pages, although a Nymanesque classical muddley of further fragments, entitled "Das Capital Overture", is accessible if you keep your pinky on the rewind button after pressing play. Somewhat disingenuously, the directions to this hidden track are mapped out in the booklet notes: if its (and their) inclusion was intended as an incentive to buy instead of burn this CD more ample compensation arrives in the form of Haines' own booklet note appreciation of his career, in which all but two of the albums surveyed are awarded the maximum five stars. I particularly enjoyed his review of the deliriously inventive "Auteurs Vs µ-Ziq": "Remixes by some kid from Wimbledon for Ł500. A lot of money for a teenager. Never listened to it myself. Went on to sell well in America. 100% of the publishing goes to me."
As hinted at above, the musical fruits of this project are rather more mixed than Luke might have you believe. The Auteurs albums represent about as unsullied a catalogue of 90s rock music as you might hope to encounter, and little of the ladling here represents an improvement. At least "Baader Meinhof", the title track of the sole album recorded by his ill-advised terrorism-inspired eponymous side-project, is rendered a little more listenable here, and "Future Generation", a glorious sweep of anti-nostalgia in which he confidently predicts his mass appreciation in a future age, as his booklet notes note, "has been corrected".
More nourishing, though, are the three new songs, which chart a songwriting genius at the top of his game. Littlest and leastest is "Bugger Bognor", the gummy dribblings of an old curmudgeon that still packs in lines like "We put it on a horse called It's Grim Up North" and "Young lovers walking through a star-crossed night/Young lovers trying to flee the Isle Of Wight". "Satan Wants Me" is a galloping, glorious high density history of pop culture occult, peaking with a comparison of the relative bluesmanship of Jimmy Page and L Ron Hubbard. "The Mitford Sisters" is even finer: suggesting Elvis Costello's "Less Than Zero" remade as a picture postcard of plucky British wartime spirit: "Darling your voice is like the Home Service/I'm a test match commentary/And to quote a line from Sir Walter Raleigh/I'm a horny devil indeed". It reminds the listener of just how far Haines can stretch the parameters of popular song at his best, and why, sometimes, he earns all of the titular epithets he can throw at himself. We are not worthy: it's a shame that "Das Capital The Songwriting Genius Of Luke Haines And The Auteurs" is only sporadically.
LUKE HAINES Luke Haines Is Dead (EMI)
Except he isnt; or if he is, hes curated this triple disc set subtitled with complete accuracy A collection of A sides, B sides, rarities, sessions, unreleased and classic tracks from Luke Haines, Baader Meinhof and The Auteurs from beyond the grave. Still, its telling that its billed as a Luke Haines album despite the fact that over two-thirds of its 63 tracks are credited to The Auteurs modest to the end. Haines own sleevenote commentary is as illuminating as ever he comes across as a clear-eyed, coherent Mark E Smith in reminiscences about a decent rhythm guitar player, had the distinction of being sacked twice - but Paul Morleys companion piece, 63 Ways To Begin An Essay On Luke Haines, is likely to have you reaching for the firelighters in exasperation.
The fun begins with the grandiloquent Das Capital Overture, an orchestral reprise of his greatest hits previously hidden (although not too well, given that the small print on the cover explained exactly how to locate it) on 2003s back catalogue remake project Das Capital, an appropriate scene-setter for these three acts of knowing folly. Then its heads down for a rat-tat-tat run through the songs that sealed The Auteurs early reputation (it barely seems credible in retrospect, but in early 1993 the NME was awash with speculation as to whether it would be The Auteurs or Suede that the public grasped to their collective bosom first) and installed Haines as the Chris Morris of Britpop. What seeps from these songs is Haines utter conviction and diamond-hard self-belief singing Your fanbase must have got stuck in the mud on Staying Power, b-side of their debut single - as if hes turned correctness into a career. Yes, on occasion these versions dont present the songs in their best light an unreleased version of Bailed Out tries too hard, bettered by the sparser album version; a BBC session Junk Shop Clothes seems cluttered and imprecise but overall that crisp, crunchy, chiselled early Auteurs sound predominates.
Following its uncomfortable outfitting with strings and saxophones on Das Capital, How Could I Be Wrong is tough, sinewy and visceral again, as the artist writes his own epitaph. Versions of Starstruck and Home Again from a French concert offer the full Auteurs live revue experience, Luke practically spitting out the chorus on the former, the latter displaying Haines whole galaxy of star quality; oh to see him on Celebrity Big Brother! Is that him skewering grunge on American Guitars? He certainly gets in touch with his country side during Wedding Day, replete with painfully out-of-tune accordion. Lenny Valentinos slashing Psycho strings find Luke at his most urgent, hustling the whole out of the door in under two-and-a-half minutes. He recalls how Im A Rich Mans Toy was written for and presented to a successful diminutive pop songstress. Luckily I never heard back; he might not name names but maybe he couldve stolen a march on IndieKylies later Nick Cave collaboration.
Mirroring their second album, Now Im A Cowboy, if anything even more acrid than New Wave, and its broadening of sonics and subjects, a BBC session version of The Upper Classes has its languid, lounge-y beginning lightly dusted with bile and vitriol and a touch of laryngitic Rod Stewart to the vocals (or maybe Lukes just singing through gritted teeth), a fairground fuzz of guitars winding the song to its conclusion. Brainchild is caught up in a meta-web of its own making especially in the context under discussion with its references to great lost albums, no outtakes. Modern History is slowed down and stripped out, it moves with barely detectible delicacy, like an insect stalking its prey, though it misses the album versions skull-crushing coda.
Where their second albums songs accumulated their heft through repetition, the After Murder Park material is a rollercoaster ride from the start, the dynamics plunging and twisting wildly, perhaps due to the production presence of sonic simplifier Steve Albini. In a typically perverse tactic, the single take of Light Aircraft On Fire is peppered with airtime-scuppering profanity where the album equivalent has none. Lost b-side Carcrash is a delight, playing almost like a succession of Morrissey parodies. On Tombstone The Auteurs sound like the worlds most erudite, vitriolic garage band: the flat clatter of drums, a spongy, grungy surge of guitars, handclaps that seem to have been pressganged in from another song entirely and Lukes howled anti-mission statement, I wanted glamour/Not tragic rock and roll. Unsolved Child Murder and After Murder Park pit Belle And Sebastian-style chamber pop against Watching The Detectives-esque noir nastiness, the storylines dovetailing disturbingly. The swampy A New Life A New Family, well, it seems wrong to call it unappealing because theres so little in the Auteurs catalogue that right-thinking folk could classify as appealing, but its certainly towards the bottom of this particular barrel. At around the same level lurk tracks by Haines international terrorism-influenced Baader Meinhof outfit. Heavy on Fender Rhodes, fuzz guitars, strings and bongos, when not consumed by migraine-inducing remixes, many will view the whole experience as a rare and puzzling musical misstep. Its influence lingers on in songs from an abandoned Auteurs concept album about feral gangs of telekinetic youths (ESP Kids, Future Generation), on which Haines once again attempts to cement his own reputation (The next generation will take me to their heart).
Because of the aforementioned, the final disc is the scrappiest of the three, forsaking quality and consistency for crazed variety, charting an uneven path through the protracted death throes of The Auteurs and Haines halting solo career. The Rubettes is the I Love The 70s theme that wasnt, a sickly-sweet blast of anti-nostalgia. Get Wrecked At Home portrays the artist as some shadowy Dickensian shut-in, retreating from the present day to listen to some mono wax. An alternate The Oliver Twist Manifesto is festooned with music and dialogue from its cinematic near-namesake; this abrupt 2001 solo return-to-form is a towering moment of Victorian values hip-hop, shrouded in fog and gaslight. This extensive survey closes with the three new songs first aired on Das Capital, at least two of which stake valid claims to being the most rounded and complete compositions Haines has yet recorded. Satan Wants Me is a pell-mell journey into the heart of darkness, and The Mitford Sisters encapsulates Englishness in 1940s sepia.
Luke Haines Is Dead isnt a perfect collection: theres nothing included by his pre-infamy band The Servants, the astonishing Auteurs Vs µ-Ziq remix album or his pop combo Black Box Recorder (in which, admittedly, he didnt sing, but whose music was certainly sufficiently informed by his rigorous worldview as to be essential to any career overview). Nevertheless, its a tarnished treasure trove for any curious newcomer or longstanding enthusiast of British pops greatest living grump.
LUKE HAINES Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop (Degenerate Music)
Luke Haines third solo album is a brief and slightly underwhelming collection that sidles closer to his Black Box Recorder material to his work with The Auteurs or, heaven forefend, Baader Meinhof. Musically its mostly rubbery, plasticized, poisoned pastiches of Seventies pop, excepting the drums and cello all played by Lukes own hands. Lyrically he seems to be mapping out his own, typically twisted equivalent of Billy Braggs reflections on England and Englishness, England, Half English, the results as superficially impressive as they are hollow.
Leeds United is a gruesome Frankenstein stitch-up of football, faulty Ford Cortinas and the Yorkshire Ripper; Bad Reputation considers the fate of the Glitter Band, besmirched by The Leaders criminality. You can probably reconstruct the skeleton of The Heritage Rock Revolution from its title, and Heres To Old England is an acidic inversion of The Kinks The Village Green Preservation Society. Meanwhile, any song about a Kray twins associate (Freddie Mills Is Dead) is almost inevitably doomed to sound like a leftover from Morrisseys gangland chic phase.
What renders Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop more disappointing is that the last few new compositions Haines favoured his undeserving public with (released on the self-glorifying album of Auteurs remakes Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius Of Luke Haines And The Auteurs) were amongst his strongest yet. Measured against them, it seems like particularly weak tea.
LUKE HAINES / VINNY PECULIAR Manchester Deaf Institute 2 November 2009
What a lovely venue The Deaf Institute is. A tiny room with a capacity of 260, it has artfully distressed décor (I’m particularly impressed by the decorative cluster of retired domestic loudspeakers covering the wall above the bar), spot-on acoustics and even a raised seating area at the back, from which everything that needs to be seen can be. I’m already looking forward to returning here someday.
Vinny Peculiar sounds like a mysterious melding of John Shuttleworth and “Hunky Dory”-era Bowie, the latter connection made explicit when he namedrops “The Bewlay Brothers” in one song and asks us to imagine The Spiders From Mars backing him on another. Flitting between acoustic guitar and synthetic piano, there’s also the slightest suggestion of Brett Anderson to his vocal delivery. Hardly deflated by a mid-set guitar lead-related catastrophe, his performance peaks, as it were, with “Confessions Of A Sperm Donor”, ripped, we’re lead to believe, from real life, but at no point during his 40-minute set do I think I’d rather be hearing less of it.
If Mr Peculiar is good, Mr Haines is a revelation. Preceded by a somewhat cranky live reputation – I would’ve seen his band The Auteurs supporting The The back in 1993 had he not been thrown off the tour a few dates earlier, and would’ve seen him play Manchester two years ago had he not cancelled the gig on the day – tonight he and his bass and drum cohorts play a 70 minute set, even engaging in cheery audience banter. (“Where’s the cellist?” enquires a wag after a mighty, albeit conspicuously cello-free, rampage through Auteurs classic “Showgirl”. “He’s in Broadmoor”, Luke replies, “He’s much happier there”, followed by a swift retraction for legal purposes.) The setlist balances his solo years with choice morsels of Auteurs-era brilliance, including “The Upper Classes”, “Underground Movies” (“Don’t worry, I’m not going to play all the “Now I’m A Cowboy Album”, he quips, despite being begged to reconsider by a right-thinking fan) and “Unsolved Child Murder”. There’s a bunch of material from new album “21st Century Man”, including songs uncompromisingly titled stuff like “Klaus Kinski” and “Peter Hammill” and a sort of “I Love The 70s” reflexive nostalgia-fest he claims to have co-written with Billy Joel, skewering himself with the lines “I was all over the 90s/I was all over in the 90s”. “Bad Reputation” is halted mid-performance to allow Haines to correct the many misinterpretations of this song written from the point of view of The Glitter Band, and an acoustic version of “Satan Wants Me” is appropriately thrilling.
Witty and personable, with a disciplined and flexible band, Luke’s performance far exceeded my modest expectations, something that rarely happens in my concertgoing experience, and puts some of the more ho-hum evenings out I’ve had recently in their proper context.
LUKE HAINES The Continental, Preston 21 April 2012
This is my first time dining at The Continental, and I can recommend the Pendle lamb highly. The food must be pretty good as Mr Haines himself was dining at the table next to us.
Advance publicity warns us to expect an acoustic set drawing heavily on latest album “9˝ Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s And Early ‘80s” (which, having been released only as a super-rare promo and download versions last year, makes its record shop appearance on this very Record Store Day as a CD/LP combo; its new cover art, featuring the fizzogs of some of the performers referenced in the songs, is projected above the stage for Haines to refer to in his introductory patter) and readings from his two published volumes of autobiography. All of which we gratefully receive. “Haystacks’ In Heaven” features organised community singing – crowd participation at a Luke Haines concert; lummy! – but I’m a bit disappointed that the VL Tone part (on the Rock 2 setting, we learn) of “Big Daddy Got A Casio VL Tone” appears to be pre-recorded. He reads a long and hilarious extract from his second book “Post Everything: Outsider Rock And Roll” concerning the 2001 National Pop Strike and how it didn’t quite measure up to his wildest expectations.
There are more tunes, including “Leeds United”, a “21st Century Man” which segues in and out of old Auteurs favourite “Junk Shop Clothes”, “Baader Meinhof”, “Showgirl” and something from an upcoming project co-written with Cathal Coughlan, “Enoch Powell - Space Poet”, which somehow imagines the eponymous bigot becoming a member of Gong, whilst namechecking the cast of “On The Buses”.
Generally, then, he’s great. The songs work perfectly well without the aid of electricity, and an undercrowded Continental makes a great venue, with both sound and vision being delightfully unimpeded; it’s a fine night all round.
Black Box Recorder