A "micro opera" involving a Mark E Smith impersonator, caravan holidays, and British fascist punks upholds Haines's reputation as a singular songwriter.
After seven wildly different albums in seven years, it’s become quite apparent that Luke Haines has no desire to revisit the updated glam meets Go-Betweens with a sinister edge of his cruelly labeled Britpop band, The Auteurs. Haines may have never received the instant name recognition of some of his peers, but his inability to compromise or reunite his old band means his body of work remains unsullied, a near-perfect collection of expert songwriting and nearly unparalleled storytelling. Even his most Auteurs-esque release, the Cathal Coughlin and Andrew Mueller collaboration The North Sea Scrolls, carried the obscure referencing and '70s obsessing of Haines’ most current solo releases. Not every listener is going to care for a history lesson in British pro wrestlers from bygone that era, but it’s more than apparent at this point that Haines is making the albums he wants to make, and continues to be a refreshingly singular and uncompromising presence in doing so.
Haines’s newest offering, Adventures in Dementia is barely 15 minutes long, but an abbreviated Haines release is of course better than none at all. The release acts as a soundtrack to the "micro opera" Haines performed last July as part of artist Scott King’s Festival of Stuff, a two night event that presented itself as something like an analog version of disappearing down the YouTube wormhole. Haines’ micro opera chronicles an impersonator of the Fall’s Mark E Smith going on a caravan holiday. Even a 15-minute tale needs a conflict, and Adventures in Dementia’s comes with the entry of Ian Stuart -- he of the white power band Skrewdriver -- who collides with the Smith impersonator’s caravan. So, a bit more refined than mashing a few disparate late-night YouTube finds together, then, and more entertaining to boot.
Adventures in Dementia carries with it many references to the British way of life. The Fall has gathered enough global notoriety by this point that American bands such as Protomartyr are sighting the band as an influence, but even an Anglophile such as myself had to research the titular character in "I’m a Very Friendly Lion Called Parsley" (and I don’t regret the YouTube wormhole that ensued). Although not being clear on some references made me wish I had the visuals of Haines’ Festival of Stuff performance on hand, the songwriting here is solid enough for the listener to create her on visuals.
"Caravan Man" functions as a homage to the Fall’s "Container Drivers", a scene setter, and a jaunty stand alone number. "Regeneration" likewise feels instantly familiar and original at the same time, and "Adventures in Dementia" meditates on one of Haines's favorite subjects -- nostalgia’s ability to gloss over the darkness and violence of the past -- but backs it with a dubby beat, which must certainly be a Haines first. Adventures in Dementia’s highlight is "Cats that Look Like M.E.S.", which, beyond being a clever song and creative tribute to the Internet age, also acts as a far better reference to Smith than last year’s dimwitted "I Am Mark E Smith" by the Fat White Family.
Although Adventures in Dementia doesn’t quite have chart-topper written all over it, it just might be one of the more musically accessible Haines releases in these past seven years. 2013’s Rock and Roll Animals worked strangely well as something close to a children’s album, on top of all of its other genre achievements, but a few of Adventures in Dementia’s numbers could musically be conceived as slightly trendy, even with no intention of being so. It may be an overly optimistic observation, but if someone as curmudgeonly and singular as Mark E Smith can get his due, then one of these days maybe Haines will, too.