❉ This is a gorgeous, lush, funny, layered record, of the kind that only Luke Haines could make.
“While other Haines albums have been clever and witty, by turns moving and arch, the entirety of this album strives for and reaches new levels of inventiveness, and ends up more like a Blu-ray than a record: the core content is superb, but it’s also packed with hidden Easter Eggs for those who care to look for them.”
There’s a very lazy way to review Luke Haines records. What you do is you listen to the record, jot down the names of a handful of famous English eccentrics and then, regardless of how much the first sounds like the work of the second, just chat about them for a few hundred words, much like wine critics ponce on about boysenberry flavours and smoky odours.
So, for instance, Setting the Dogs on the Post Punk Postman is reminiscent of Syd Barrett, contains echoes of Vivian Stanshall, and would not look out of place slotted into the discography of Ivor Cutler.
Actually, all three of these claims is true. Shit, sue me. I’m as lazy as the next man. But even if they are true, if you, as a listener, simply accept that’s all there is – that it’s mere homage and mimicry – you risk missing out on so much.
It’s a gorgeous, lush, funny, layered record, the sort of record – for all those names I just listed – that only Luke Haines could make. But then again, he’s been making gorgeous, lush, funny, layered records for decades.
Quick Haines primer, for those not in the know…
No stranger to We Are Cult, Luke Haines is an English musician, who first popped up in excellent but unsuccessful English indie band The Servants, before finding greater success and fame in The Auteurs, a band who should have been at least as big as Oasis, but who ended up not being, primarily due to recording better, but also dangerously original, songs. After The Auteurs, Haines formed Black Box Recorder, who released three albums (all great – but check out the first one, England Made Me, for a taste of Haines circa 2000). When BBR went onto hiatus (so far as I know they, a little like The Auteurs, are not officially dead), Haines went solo and, over the past twenty years has released albums of varying degrees of oddness and brilliance, peaking, in this writer’s humble opinion, with the double whammy of 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s & Early ’80s in 2011 and its follow-up, 2013’s Rock and Roll Animals.
Well, I say peaked… Don’t get me wrong, there’s been a lot of good stuff since then such as 2016’s critically acclaimed Smash The System, but there’s nothing since to surmount those two records. Post Punk Postman, though, may be the record to do it.
While other Haines albums have been clever and witty, by turns moving and arch (who else could write a song called Unsolved Child Murder which is both genuinely upsetting and which also makes you laugh?), the entirety of this album strives for and reaches new levels of inventiveness, and ends up more like a blu-ray than a record: the core content is superb, but it’s also packed with hidden Easter Eggs for those who care to look for them (you can have the background chant of ‘Rama Lama Lama Fa Fa Fa’ on U Boat Baby to get you started).
It kicks off in grand style. With R.E.M’s Peter Buck on guitar (Haines’ last album was a collaboration with Buck) on a song about an eponymous Ex Stasi Spy “paid by the state to keep the dream alive”, Haines revisits the surveillance state concerns he first poked at on Baader Meinhof. Here, he lays down guidelines for listening from the start: Glory in the music, enjoy the singing, but pay attention to what’s been said.
Next up is a warning that you should forget any whimsical Barrett stylings here (and this is one of the real strengths of Haines’ song-writing; he’s happy to mine the back catalogue of anybody, not just the cool kids); U Boat Baby is proper glam rock (a sound he’s been fond of as far back as The Auteurs – check out Lenny Valentino for an early example) but rather than just mimic the pop rock guitar of The Sweet and Mick Ronson, he crashes it full speed into the proto-metal of the MC5.
Never Going Back to Liverpool is an ode to the lack of crowds at gigs in that city, reminiscent of the series of thumbnail sketches Haines created for 9 ½ Psychedelic Meditations. Funny, but not necessarily essential Haines.
His strength (and range) as a song-writer, and a lyricist, is summed up by a quick summary of the next half dozen tracks, every one of which could have been a single, back in the days when that meant something:
- A song about owning a scarecrow (When I Owned The Scarecrow)
- A song about being on the bus with Ivor Cutler (Ivor on the Bus)
- A song about murderous pumpkins (Yes, Mr Pumpkin)
- A song about the filmmaker Shuji Terayama (Two Japanese Freaks Talking About Mao And Nixon)
- A deliciously one-track-minded song about zombies and the attractions of the female form (I Just Want to be Buried)
- A song about Andrea Dworkin’s knees (Andrea Dworkin’s Knees – you can’t complain Haines doesn’t lay his stall out in his song titles)
Every one of these songs tells a tale and has a clever, funny lyric tied to great music and a great melody (one of the accusations sometimes made of Haines is that he’s not the world’s greatest singer – and while it’s true that he’s not exactly Barbra Streisand, he has got an uncanny knack for a catchy melody line, so it’s a moot point, really). And they’re all very different, yet at the same time work beautifully together – you can tell care has been taken over the order of songs here. The press blurb that accompanied the CD says it’s not a concept album, and maybe it’s not, but there’s more to this than just a random collection of songs (one very minor complaint is the lack of a lyric sheet in the booklet which comes with the CD, but I suppose that just means you need to listen to the lyrics all the harder.)
Perfectly, the album ends with the title track, in which Haines chants the names of industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle and Swells Maps’ drummer and postpunk icon, Epic Soundtracks. Seriously, is it possible to finish on a better note?
Turn this up loud and put it on again – you’re bound to have missed something.
❉ ‘Luke Haines: Luke Haines in…Setting The Dogs On The Post-Punk Postman’ (CDBRED833) is released April 30, 2021 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records. | Buy it together with the vinyl edition to receive a selection of exclusive Luke Haines Digital Download ‘Cover Versions’ on Release Day.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas