LUKE HAINES – 21st Century Man.
Variously described as a national treasure and one of Britain’s greatest living songwriters, Luke Haines has been ruffling feathers and kicking against the pricks for almost twenty years now. Born, inappropriately enough, during 1967’s Summer Of Love, Haines learned to play guitar in Portsmouth’s red light district before studying music at the London College of Music. After a brief spell at the helm of C86 ne’r do wells The Servants in the late 1980s, he formed a band called The Auteurs who were quite plainly anything but. Flirting with infamy as the uniform daze of Britpop became a vapid dream (something Haines touches on in his best-selling autobiography Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall (William Heineman)), The Auteurs were always solely Haines’ mouthpiece and their debut album New Wave, released on Hut in 1993, could easily claim to have kicked off the whole movement. The record was short-listed for the “prestigious” Mercury Music Prize – although as Haines once remarked, “£25,000? Haven’t these guys ever heard of inflation?” Since then, Haines has released albums as The Auteurs (Now I’m A Cowboy, After Murder Park, and How I Learned To Love The Bootboys), and as Luke Haines (Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry, The Oliver Twist Manifesto, Das Capital). Another incarnation as the popular Black Box Recorder has seen Haines performing extracts from England Made Me, The Facts Of Life and Passionoia on Top Of The Pops and as the decidedly unpopular but no less magnificent Baader Meinhof on several stages several miles away from Top Of The Pops.
In 2001, Haines declared a National Pop Strike (some five years before the KLF’s Bill Drummond chose to copy him) but was then nominated for a British Independent Film Award (BIFA) for his score for the movie, Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry, which was Uncut magazine’s Soundtrack Of The Year. The film and indeed the legendary BS Johnson novel which inspired it, focussed on the angst-ridden travails of an outsider who felt there was more to life than office drudgery and, so inspired, resorted to anarcho-terrorism. It could have been a mirror to Haines’ own life. With typical poignant abandon, Haines then collaborated with playwright Simon Bent on a stage musical called Property that was taken to full workshop stage at the National Theatre Studio.
In 2005, Haines released a retrospective boxed set called Luke Haines Is Dead, a collection that included the extraordinary Future Generation, a new song that brought comparisons to Lou Reed and saw Haines himself catapulted into a different realm altogether – that of the timeless songwriter. The following year he came up with his best collection yet, Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop, which was hailed as “British pop at its best” (The Independent), “Album of the year!” (Gay Times) and conclusive proof that “genius and consistency aren’t mutually exclusive” (Observer Music Monthly). Not a concept album, though you could be forgiven for thinking so, the album contained some acerbic gems such as The Walton Hop which Luke had attended as an impressionable teenager (though not at the same time as Jonathan King) and Leeds United, an insensitively ironic take on an era when Leeds United were almost certainly great – although, brilliantly, Haines uses the Yorkshire Plod’s hapless Ripper investigation as a metaphor for 1970’s Britain as a whole. Haines was also no doubt the first commentator to express sympathy for the forgotten victims of the Gary Glitter saga – namely, the Glitter Band – on Bad Reputation.
In 2009 and with the release of 21st Century Man, Luke Haines has finally cemented his place as one of the greatest English contemporary songwriters. He may be equally at home writing about teenage sex, terrorism, pop/film stars, child murder or broken love affairs but he’s excelled himself on this, his fifteenth album as a principal songwriter. Essentially an album about “wilful exiles” (of which, Haines is surely one, tracks like Peter Hammill (“Gotta get myself together/Just like Peter Hammill”) and Klaus Kinski (“went back to Germany after the war”) indicate a rare warmth for their subject matter whereas Suburban Mourning is surely the best song Black Box Recorder never recorded. How can you not love an artist who one minute sounds like John Lydon on Wot A Rotter and the next has you thinking you’ve turned up in an episode of The Sweeney on Our Man In Buenos Aires, a song, no doubt, about Nazis on the run? (Incidentally, Haines recently told a journalist he had moved to Buenos Aires only for the Sunday Times to immediately report his emigration as fact.) And how can you not love an artist that comes up with a title like Russian Futurists Black Out The Sun as if it is the most normal thing in the world? The album’s title track – clever, poignant, funny and sad – is set to go down as Haines’ swansong as well as one of the finest songs of this or any other year. “Suzy Lamplugh disappeared/David Bowie lost if for years/Died a death in the slap-bass phase/Everybody else died of Aids” intones Haines in apocalyptic mantra, before concluding that “I was all over the ‘90s/I was all over in the ‘90s” and “I’m gonna die in the 21st Century ‘cos I’m a 21st Century Man.”
Luke Haines releases 21st Century Man as a limited edition digi-pack complete with a nine track bonus album Achtung Mutha on November 2nd 2009 on Fantastic Plastic (Cat no. fpcd025). He will be performing songs from this and several more of his great records at London’s Borderline on October 1st 2009. Cherish him now before he moves to Argentina.