Luke Haines has had a pretty interesting and varied musical career. Almost winning the Mercury Prize and recording with Steve Albini as The Auteurs, twisted pop as Black Box Recorder, a concept album about terrorists, a very variable solo output and ‘Bad Vibes’ the best book ever published about the Brit Pop era. 21st Century Man, his 2009 album, was a return to musical form that showed an artist with a warmer, more nostalgic, approach to music. Even given all of this it would have taken Derren Brown to predict that his next album would be a concept piece about the classic era of British Wrestling that was watched on ITV’s World Of Sport on a Saturday afternoon through the 1970s and early ’80s.
You have to wonder what the young Luke Haines would have felt about his older self producing music as nostalgic as this. Despite the typical bile filled vocal delivery this is a loving depiction of an era, warts and all. The lyrics are typically brilliant and anyone who grew up in Britain during the period will be able to identify with his depiction of Saturday afternoons spent with liver sausage sandwiches, broken boilers and the Big Daddy splash.
Each song is a picture perfect vignette of the era and every significant figure of the time gets a mention from ‘Bomber’ Pat Roach to Giant Haystacks and Gorgeous George. The songs manage to be simultaneously warm, affectionate and sinister in a way that only a songwriter as skilled as Haines can pull off. There is a lot of humour here (a song called ‘A Rock Opera: In the key of Extistential Misery’ can’t be taken seriously) but you never get the sense that the era is being mocked. It is an affectionate tribute to a period in time that Haines misses but would never wish to return to.
“Egg and chips from the transport caff was the worst food that I’d ever had. Do you want some more? Oh dear god no.”
It is an old fashioned album in other ways, it is a 10 song cycle that works brilliantly when listened to in one sitting. That isn’t to say that individuals songs don’t work on their own but the whole album experience is when it hits near perfection. In an age where single track downloads become more and more common this is as much of a nostalgic relic as the British wrestling scene recorded in the album’s songs.
Musically it covers themes that will be familiar to anyone who has listened to Haine’s previous output, and carries on where 21st Century Man left off. On the glam rock stomp of ‘Linda’s Head’ Haines sounds eerilylike a sinister Marc Bolan. The synth pop of ‘Big Daddy Got A Casio VL-Tone’ tells the brilliant imagined story of the man himself trying out his musical ideas on the synthesiser of the title.
I have to admit that I came to this album with a positive frame of mind. I love a lot of Luke Haine’s previous work, and the subject matter appealed to me enormously. Even taking that into account I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the album and it is possibly my most repeated album of the year in a very short period of time. Witty, concise, well executed and completely unlike any other album I’ve heard this year. This isn’t just one of the best albums by a British artist that has been released this year, it is also one of the best albums by an artists with a pretty impressive back catalogue.
By Dorian Rogers