Luke Haines - mastermind behind The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder and a number of solo projects. A misfit, an outcast, a social commentator, a man who brushed with fame but lost it. Haines has in the past come across as one of the most arrogant but also absurdly loveable songwriters the UK has ever produced. If you haven’t read his book Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall and have even the slightest interest in music, put it on your Christmas list. It’s caustic, hilarious and brutal in its assassination of the leading Britpop cast and shows how his own ego, paranoia, drugs and alcohol led to The Auteurs failing big time. It is a brilliant read.
Yet ironically after the Auteurs Haines achieved critical and commercial success with Black Box Recorder. He even scored a bona fide hit with the song The Facts Of Life. Whilst his new solo album 21st Century Man will never return him towards the mainstream or the charts, it has many aspects to it that make it worth parting cash for.
From its opening line of “It’s the same old story we’ve all heard before, about the Satanists who moved next door, they met their match they didn’t stay for more,” on Suburban Mourning you know that this is not going to be your typical singer songwriter album. David Gray or James Blunt, Haines is most certainly not. There’s a song about German actor Klaus Kinski coming back from the dead where Haines whispers softly “Who needs people? Who needs friends? They only drive you round the bend.” Other titles include Russian Futurists Black Out The Sun and White Honky Afro. It’s fair to say that with songs like these Haines is putting his name up for the title of one of the great British eccentrics. Whilst the singer may be endearingly odd, it isn’t always loveable stuff. The savagery of his words are turned on himself for the song Our Man In Buenos Aires when he sings “Looked in the mirror, I said who’s that fucking freak?” We wouldn’t want to meet him on a bad day. However when he is being a little less acidic he sings of southern suburban heaven - a land of milk and honey, which he references as Guildford. But even then he can’t but help mention the Guildford IRA pub bombings of the 70’s and the fact that part of The Omen was filmed in the towns cathedral.
With such entertaining lyrics it’s easy to be distracted from the music. Generally, the tunes and melodies are solid with some variation. There’s a glam rock stomp on Peter Hammill and Wot A Rotter and an almost Ray Davies sixties influence on Love Letter To London. The best two songs however are those that bookend the album. The opening aforementioned Suburban Mourning brings a lush electric twang and acoustic strumming that sounds like a long lost Black Box Recorder tune. Then the near seven minute title track features gentle orchestral strings laid to an opus about Haines life which concludes that he is a 21st century man, because that is the century in which he will die. The irony of Haines singing that he is a 21st century man is that there really is nobody writing songs quite like Haines these days. His music is deeply unfashionable and out of time, and all the better for it.
This album is a welcome addition to the Luke Haines catalogue. Musically it is sound, often seeming from another time, but lyrically Haines frequently gets close to the levels of greatness. 21st Century Man will not reach any sort of mass consumption, but for long term fans or for those who have discovered him through the Bad Vibes book, there is much to delve into and enjoy.