Few people know and few people care, but Luke Haines may well be the best British songwriter of the last 20 years. His career has been ideal so far: one classic rock group (The Auteurs), one classic pop group (Black Box Recorder), brilliant solo albums, a couple of worthy left-field detours (Baader Meinhof, Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry). That it rarely translated into commercial success has resulted in lots of bitterness, spite, and estrangement (check out his two recently published memoirs). But, oddly enough, this state of things suits Haines just fine. You see, he’s not bothered anymore. He’s a true contrarian, and in today’s reality it’s someone who knows that it’s artistic success that counts.
Whereas Haines’ previous album, Outsider Music, was limited to just 50 copies (a disgrace, if you consider the quality of the songs), 9 ½ Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970’s And Early 80’s is a more straightforward release. Except a concept album about British wrestling is probably not what the world is dying to hear. But once again – here’s a man who’s not bothered. The album is an homage to Luke’s childhood obsession, and if that is what is inspiring him these days, then why not? Lyrically, we are deep into all things wrestling, with Kendo Nagasaki being a particularly prominent character on the album.
Throughout most of these dark, charismatic pop songs sung in his trademark sinister croon Haines displays his consistent melodic brilliance: from the infectious opener, ‘Inside The Restless Mind Of Rollerball Rocco’, to the ridiculously catchy ‘Big Daddy Got A Casio VL-Tone’ (complete with some of the most irresistible Casio hooks you’ll ever hear), to the glammy stomper ‘Linda’s Head’, to delightful acoustic strummers like ‘Gorgeous George’ and ‘I Am Catweazle’. In fact, the album’s only misfire is the deliberately pretentious piece called ‘Rock Opera – In The Key Of Existential Misery’, which shows some dangerous signs of self-indulgence.
The whole thing’s a whim, really, but the fact that it’s so good is a testimony to Haines’ amazing songcraft. Quite simply, no one does intelligent pop better than him. Still, the record is unlikely to win him any new fans or chart success. Which is a shame: with just the right amount of “art” and “pop” thrown into them, these songs should be hits and all over the radio. They aren’t, tragically. But maybe somewhere, in Heaven or (Haines wouldn’t mind) in Hell some perfectly sober DJ does indeed play ‘Unsolved Child Murder’ on every Christmas Eve. Now that’s one comforting thought.
Released on November 7th 2011 by Fantastic Plastic Records