Luke Haines -’21st Century Man.’ (Fantastic Plastic)
Luke Haines is unquestionably one of Britain’s greatest songwriters. Infused by a knowledge of history and popular culture, his wry observations of life in the UK and bitter melodies should, if life was just, see him as lauded as poet laureate. Though I suspect Mr. Haines wouldn’t accept the position. Few people would think to write a song called ‘Bugger Bognor’ and understand the reference (the dying words of George V) and no-one but Luke Haines could write a song called ‘Unsolved Child Murder’ and put it out as a single. The pairing with him and Richard X on the ‘Art-school Bop’ single in 2006 was inspired, and should have been a hit.
This is his fifteenth album as principle songwriter, and throughout his work with The Servants, The Auteurs, Baader-Meinhof (the group, not the German organisation), Black Box Recorder and solo as well, truly there is none other like him. At the end of ‘The Rubettes’ single in 1999, when he sang deadpan ‘Weren’t the nineties great?’ you knew he clearly didn’t think so, and would tell you exactly why.
There’s a story doing the rounds at the moment that he’s moved to Buenos Aires. The reason for this is that this is what he told a journalist, and there is no truth that he is living in Argentina. But what he has done is produce yet another masterpiece. If musicians’ oeuvres can be compared to films, then I think Haines’ work is comparable to Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Both masters quintessentially English and if Hitchcock hadn’t quipped about putting murder back in the home where it belongs, then I think Luke Haines would have done. Like Frenzy, there are few heroes here.
Despite being quintessentially English, this is also an album about being in exile and songs like ‘Klaus Kinski’ -‘Klaus Kinski went back to Germany after the war’ and Peter Hammill deal with this, as does ‘Our Man In Buenos Aires.’ But if you are in exile, your experience of where you came from and where you find yourself is shaped by what you have come from, the place you have left behind is going to bear heavily upon you. ‘I’m an exile in a foreign land’ he sings on the title track -and sometimes that place seems like the world in which he finds himself.
While I hope he will be with us for many years to come, ’21st Century Man’ might well be his epitaph eventually. With its’ line about ‘Suzy Lamplugh disappeared/David Bowie lost it for years/Died a death in the slap-bass phase/everybody else died of A.I.D.S.’ Whilst many people produce work that is autobiographical, few can do it like Luke Haines can, self-referential, knowing but never self-indulgent.
Long may he run.
This is just a still for the title track but it is SO worth hearing