Sunday, December 24, 2006

Luke Haines & Richard X

I feel I ought to post something else before Christmas, even though I don't really have time to write it. So here's the video for Luke Haines' last single, since I've had it on repeat the last couple of days.

Arguably the UK's most curmudgeonly singer-songwriter, Luke Haines used to be the man behind the Auteurs, who were briefly tipped for mainstream stardom at the dawn of Britpop. But Luke Haines is not a marketable man. He doesn't do love songs and he doesn't do politics. He does enigmatic bitterness, obscure references, and sardonic contempt.

Haines' back catalogue reads like the work of somebody almost desperate to remain in obscurity. Having written the genuinely excellent and sensitive ballad "Unsolved Child Murder", he somehow got it into his head to release it as a Christmas single - as a double A-side with this.

He put out a concept album about the Baader-Meinhof terrorist movement. He formed a side project, Black Box Recorder, alongside a lesser-known member of the Jesus and Mary Chain, in which a middle class woman lectured the audience over a gentle musical accompaniment, and somehow persuaded his record company that this was the ideal lead single:-

Somewhere around here, there was a terrible lapse in judgment, and he actually had a hit single. This is it. It's great.

Clearly alarmed by the possibility of success, Haines quickly retreated into obscurity, releasing a lo-fi solo album, a third Black Box Recorder album which reportedly isn't much good, and a soundtrack to an unreleased film version of Christie Malry's Own Double Entry, featuring such surefire winners as "How to Hate the Working Classes" and a cover version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" which consisted entirely of a pre-existing record by a boys' choir, with Haines sneering additional lyrics over the top. He started making an awful lot of records about modern art, which he doesn't like.

Somehow, despite all this, he remains great. If you're interested, a good place to start would be his modestly titled Best Of album, "Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines", in which he re-records some of his favourite songs with the help of an orchestra.

His latest solo album rejoices in the unwieldy title "Off my Rocker at the Art School Bop", and it's a curious mix of utterly unmarketable subject matter with a hint of electropop and glam. This time round, the record company spotted a possible single in the lead track and had the good sense to hand it over to producer Richard X for a polish. X has dutifully turned it into an electropop stomper, but to be fair, 90% of this was in the original - he's just tightened it up a lot. There's a pop songwriter in Haines trying to get out, but he's too damn twisted to go there.