And now the end is near……and I think it’s fair to say that this series has demonstrated that Luke Haines will do things his way.
I’m a fan going back decades, but there have been times in listening to the back catalogue where I’ve been bemused and borderline-bored and so my thanks to those of you who have refrained from offering up your words of criticism when confronted by some more nonsense on recent Sunday mornings.
2016 saw the run of concept albums come to a halt with the release of Smash The System. One of the most noticeable things about this collection of songs is the comeback for the singing voice – there’s hardly any mumbling or whispering and next-to-no spoken word. It’s an album that initially leans on electronica, but before too long the acoustic and electric guitars are picked up and deployed to great effect….only for it all to descend into what could be a parody or tribute (it’s hard to tell with Mr Haines) of folk rock. The album veers all over the place, often catching even the most keen interested listener off-guard, and as such it provides further evidence to those who don’t like his stuff that Haines’s head remains wedged firmly up his own backside.
Maybe I expected a bit too much from the album as I wasn’t entirely convinced by much of its contents on initial listens – but at the same time I felt there were a handful of outstanding efforts that would always find a place on the i-pod. Over the past couple of years, my tolerance levels have increased and I can now listen to all the way through without reaching for the skip button, albeit the temptation is still there.
I think that there’s just too much going on lyrically, with countless references to real people, some of whom have featured in previous albums recorded by Haines in one guise or other. The song titles alone namecheck Ulrike Meinhof, Vince Taylor, Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, Marc Bolan and The Incredible String Band, with many others featuring in the lyrics. As I mentioned earlier, the music is incredibly varied, ranging from experimental electronica to fill-on power-pop that, in a different period, would have earned regular exposure on the radio.
The title track was released as a single:-
I can’t, however, not let this review pass without drawing your attention to the best impression of glam-rock I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. If they still made the show Stars In Their Eyes, then Mr Haines would surely win…….
Smash The System got a few songs out of Haines’s system and it really was no surprise that he returned to the challenge of more concept albums about fantastical subject matters and situations with the release of I Sometimes Dream of Glue in 2018. In these situations, it’s best to let the record label PR provide the explanation:-
It started sometime after World War II – in the late 1940’s. A convoy of British Special Services trucks had been dispatched to RAF Middlewych, their cargo – 10 tonnes of experimental solvent liquid. Sticky and deadly. The mission – to drop the toxic liquid over Germany and finish the job of carving up Europe for good. The trucks never made it to their airfield destination, coming off the road – most probably helped by saboteurs – some five miles out of London…
Just off the Westway, in the motorway sidings, you can see a small sign. Actually you probably can’t see the sign as it is the size of a child’s fingernail clipping. The sign says ‘Glue Town.’ The name of a village. There is little or no documentation of Glue Town. You will not find any information about it on the 21st Century internet. Gluetown is a rural settlement born out of mutation. Of the estimated 500 or so dwellers, no one is thought to be over 2 1⁄2 inches tall. The citizens of Glue Town exist on a diet of solvent abuse and perpetual horniness. The residents only leave to carry out daring night-time ‘glue raids’ on Shepherds Bush newsagent shops. On a tiny screen in the town centre, an old Betamax cassette of ‘Michael Bentine’s Pottytime’ plays on a loop all day and all night. The reduced size villagers go about their daily business pondering whether the lessons of Pottytime can show them a way out of their drudge lives of sexual abandonment and human sacrifice…”
All of which means it’s no surprise that the album is a bonkers listen. 25 years on from The Auteurs bursting onto the scene and the frontman is regaling us with strange tales of the unexpected in which sex and glue sniffing feature prominently. There’s also another ode about football hooliganism, but in a surreal way in which the boot-boys are Subbuteo figures come to life, with everything sung over what some reviewers at the time perfectly described as pastoral music – the sort of stuff that, as a non-Englishman, I associate with Morris Dancing….of the type in the Smash The System video.
Only one of the fourteen tracks on ‘Glue’ extends much beyond a duration of two-and-a-half minutes which means everything skips along at a decent enough pace. It also means that just as your brain is coming to terms with what you’ve just listened to, it’s time for the next one to begin. Overall, it feels like a creepy soundtrack to an X-rated version of Camberwick Green, Chigley or Trumpton, a series of stop-motion animated TV series for children aired by the BBC in the 60s and 70s…..and it provides fans with another decent enough listen without ever threatening to make a high appearance in a rundown of favourite albums of all-time. Much like almost all of the Haines solo releases.
The year ended with a low-key digital only release of the Glue EP, three tracks that were possibly inspired by the process of piecing together the concept album. Here’s a fun filled few minutes from it:-
mp3 : Luke Haines – Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
There were no releases in 2019 but this year will see the release of an album on which Luke Haines has collaborated with someone fairly well known. Here’s the promo blurb:-
Beat Poetry For Survivalists is the new collaboration between Peter Buck & Luke Haines.
Peter Buck was the guitarist for the biggest band in the world – REM.
Luke Haines was the guitarist for the Auteurs. The Auteurs were not the biggest band in the world. They were pretty good though.
Luke Haines also does paintings of Lou Reed.
One day, Peter Buck bought one of Luke Haines’ Lou Reed paintings. They had never met before but decided that the fates had brought them together and they should write some songs together and make an album.
‘Beat Poetry For The Survivalist’ is that album. With songs about legendary rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons, The Enfield Hauntings (of 1978), a post-apocalyptic radio station that only plays Donovan records, Bigfoot, and Pol Pot.
Luke Haines and Peter Buck will be touring the UK in April 2020, including Hebden Bridge Trade’s Club on 13th April and two shows at 100 Club in London on the 15th and 16th April.
I’ve got tickets and made travel and accommodation arrangements to go to the show at Hebden Bridge, which happens to be on Easter Monday. Jacques the Kipper is coming along for the adventure. It was only after doing all this and paying for everything up front was it announced that extra shows were being added……including Glasgow on 12th April! Typical isn’t it???
That’s the end of this particular singular adventure series. I’ll be holding off starting a new one for a short while as Sundays, for the next few week at least, will become a day in which SWC’s 45 45s at 45 will feature….which I’m sure will come as a welcome change to most of you.