by Todd E. Jones
A myriad of albums in 2007 possessed an insightful focus on England. Although not outwardly popular, Luke Haines uses his United Kingdom heritage as the backbone of his latest album. Recently, many artists have been sharing their view of England in their work. Front man from Gorillaz and Blur, Damon Album created a super group and released “The Good, The Bad, & The Queen”, an album that attempts to display a musical picture of contemporary life in England. Lily Allen’s debut album represents London (especially on her single, “LDN”). Respect them or not, other popular British artists who showcase their English background are Robbie Williams, Damien Rice, and Kasabian. Like any major city, there are the dark streets, sinister stories, and underground legends. Former lead singer for The Auteurs, Luke Haines is the epitome of England’s intelligent underground pop/rock music. He is not some bubblegum pop singer or boy band member. He is one of the most underrated artists of the time. His sharp wit is complemented by his knowledge of interesting subjects and clever lyricism.
Impressively prolific, Haines has been in multiple groups and has released a plethora of albums during the past decade. Originally, he was the front man for The Auteurs. Their bewildering albums include “New Wave”, “Now I’m A Cowboy”, “After Murder Park”, and “How I Learned To Love The Bootboys”. Some classic Auteurs songs include “Showgirl”, “The Rubettes”, “Everything You Say Will Destroy You”, and “Chinese Bakery”. While a member of the group, Haines also created a brilliant side-project titled Baader Meinhof, based on the 70’s German terrorist organization led by Andreas Baader. The concept album, “Baader Meinhof” is an under appreciated classic. Haines also formed Black Box Recorder with John Moore and Sarah Nixey. Black Box Recorder possessed all of the intelligent themes and vibes of The Auteurs, but Nixey’s commanding vocals created a wonderfully sexy sound. As a solo artist, Haines released “The Oliver Twist Manifesto” LP and the official soundtrack for the film, “Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry”. His discography became enormous. A magnificent collection of b-sides, outtakes, and radio sessions were compiled for the excellent 3 CD set, “Luke Haines Is Dead”. In 2007, Haines left Hut Records and signed to Degenerate Music. His new solo album, “Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop” is a collection of songs that represents England in a multitude of ways. While other British artists sing about the obvious elements such as poverty, drugs, war, and social life in England, Haines sings about England’s history, artists, and underground scenes. Although his references are not particularly well known, a little research proves that his topics are wonderfully fascinating. Basically, every single Luke Haines album is both entertaining and educational.
“Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop” adheres to the Luke Haines style and formula of his past work. Short and sweet, the album is comprised of 10 relatively tight songs. Some are very catchy, but others require repeat listens to gain full appreciation. All of the songs display his historic knowledge weaved together by a sharp sense of dark humor. The opening title track is a solid representation of the album’s sound. The guitar hook is hard yet not simple or annoying. The up tempo electronic rhythmic beat creates a somewhat dance-friendly atmosphere. In the chorus, Haines sings, “Can you feel the beat of my art?” The following track and 1st single, “Leeds United” is remarkably British. The arena rock style of the chorus displays an intense pride for Leeds. “The Heritage Rock Revolution” is the album’s only disappointing track. Haines uses his shadowy lyricism to express his love for rock music, “â€¦I love rock and roll / I hope it never dies / Put it in a chocolate box / Wrap it up in cotton wool / and bury it aliveâ€¦” Another song with deep British undertones, “All The English Devils” is surprisingly catchy and deliciously twisted. The bouncy melody truly makes the song multidimensional. Haines sings, “â€¦All the English devils / Scourge of the little man / my beautiful devils / Just want a little romanceâ€¦” As a lyricist, Haines always had a fascination with the villains of the world. In this song, he sounds so proud of his country’s treachery. “The Walton Hop” is a song about a popular Thames club that ran from the late 1950’s to the 1990’s. The upbeat track has a driving guitar melody with a bouncy chorus. The album’s finest moment, “Fighting In The City Tonight” is wonderful single. “â€¦I’m so in love with you / I’ll never fall in love again / I’m a lover not a fighter / Our love I will defendâ€¦”, sings Haines during the chorus. The track perfectly captures the romance of violence. Towards the end of the song, his love for England is displayed again as he lists parts of Great Britain where he will be “fighting”. “Fighting In The City Tonight” is a perfect Luke Haines pop song that includes his menacing humor, an English grace, a masculine aggression, and a little romance. “Here’s To Old England” is another track that toasts his country. The song is overflowing with astute references about the country’s definitive attributes. Haines sings, “â€¦Here’s to old England / Sliced white bread and milky tea / Sarcasm, a well developed sense of ironyâ€¦” The odd track, “Freddie Mills Is Dead” continues to display his fascination about death and celebrities. The change in melody and tempo that occurs during the song’s bridge is a refreshing surprise. Another excellent song, “Secret Yoga” is somewhat reminiscent of “Sick Of Hari Krishna” (from “How I Learned To Love The Bootboys” LP). Hypnotically mesmerizing, “Secret Yoga” has melodic mantra for a hook, “Mountains are not mountains and the sun is not the sunâ€¦” Atmospherically wondrous, the song is open to multiple interpretations. The album’s closing track, “Bad Reputation” is not as powerful as the other songs that have closed his past albums. Melodically, the chorus has a magically lush sound. Lyrically, Haines sings about the horrible Garry Glitter and how he destroyed The Glitter Band.
England should be proud of Luke Haines. There will never be anyone like Luke Haines. Some hard rock artists sing about gloomy topics like murder and revolution, but their music can be blatantly noisy and obnoxious. In contrast, Haines sings about his dark topics over his graceful music. His music has an intelligent structure and sound but maintains a powerful edge. The guitar melodies and drum rhythms are hard enough to be aggressive, but the music is also sleek and stylish. This whole package accentuates the sinister beauty of his art. “Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop” by Luke Haines is another fine collection of addictively rich songs. Unfortunately, the LP does not possess the same sinister potency of “The Oliver Twist Manifesto” or his soundtrack for “Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry”. Although the sinister themes and astute wit is evident, “Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop” is not as deliciously evil as his previous solo work. Luke Haines uses obscure yet interesting references known by few people. Could Luke Haines become like one of those people he mentions? Will there only be a few people who are familiar with this artist’s amazing work? Regardless of fame, Haines is a brilliantly unique artist who creates enthralling and timeless British indie-rock music. Any fan of his music will appreciate his latest solo effort. “Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop” represents the true underworld and unpublicized side of England. Cheers to Mr. Haines!