Luke Haines: Luke Haines Is Alive and Well and Living in Buenos Aires
You don't know it, but you really need 79 songs about faded English wrestlers in a '70s glam style, with the occasional traditional folk song thrown in for good measure.
In a flat in London, on the bad side of town, Luke Haines scowls while he tunes an unsuitable electric guitar and wonders why his Moog sounds weirder than usual. He’s working on a musical which somehow links Sir Alec Guinness with Little Jimmy Osmond and Iggy Pop, but he’s flustered as Doug Yule is popping in any minute to overdub some backing vocals and he’s run out of biscuits…
None of that happened, but like Luke Haines, why should I let the truth get in the way of a good story?
Is the world waiting for a four-CD, 79 track retrospective from an artist 999 people out of 1,000 wouldn’t be able to pick out of a police lineup? Probably not, but is the world a better place for having Luke Haines Is Alive and Well and Living in Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz -- The Solo Anthology 2001–2017 in it? Yes. Definitely.
Haines has been carving out a living on the outskirts of the music industry for more than 30 years -- he’s even sold a few records -- but to the general public, he’s invisible. His profile isn’t helped by his esoteric choices of subject matter. Haines ignores the lingua franca of pop and, as this collection demonstrates, he crafts songs about British wrestlers from the 1970s, members of Van Der Graaf Generator, glam rock, Alan Vega, and the Incredible String Band. And that is by no means an exhaustive list. If some record company lackey were sent to him, demanding a hit single, Haines would send him away with a flea in his ear, then write a song about the incident, which would, of course, result in him getting kicked off the label. So, what’s the big deal? Well, the vast majority of tunes on this enormous, sprawling thing are great, and even the not-so-great ones are, at the very least, interesting. But you need to be on his wavelength -- and there’s the rub.
The disadvantage of doing just what the hell you want in the wacky world of the “music biz” is that not everyone is going to get it. Track nine on disc two of this collection is called “Big Daddy Got a Casio VL Tone”. Hands up if you understand that sentence? Just as I thought… not many hands. Stumbling unprepared into this collection may result in hundreds of Google searches. You’ll learn a lot though.
So what do you get? Well, the liner notes are worth the price of admission alone. Moving past the printed word, you get an exhaustive retrospective of his solo repertoire, along with a healthy selection of previously unreleased stuff. You get music for bizarre musicals, film soundtracks, songs by imaginary British actors and loads of glam rock and NYC punk rock references. When Haines isn’t channeling his inner Mott the Hoople, he can create lovely pastoral material: “Bugger Bognor” has a string arrangement which wouldn’t be out of place on a Nick Drake album; “Satan Wants Me” could be a lost Joe Meek production... well… almost. For a music geek, it’s fascinating; for the average man in the street, well, who knows?
This is a great collection from a unique artist. Haines is a dazzling songwriter who, although he loves rock 'n' roll, feels no need to endlessly recreate the same timeworn material until he finally succumbs to the supper club circuit. “68p in My Pocket” is a slice of really nasty punk rock, but in his rush to finish it, Haines forgot to put any drums on it. Other songs have inexplicable kazoo solos where the acid rock guitar freakout should be. Sometimes you might raise an eyebrow and think “Really?”, but other times, you’ll laugh out loud. Or be confused. Or wonder where he stole that glam rock riff from, or what he really thinks of Lou Reed. But you’ll never be bored.
To misquote Don Henley: “Luke Haines is a very interesting bunch of guys.” His new rock opera Jimmy O and Iggy P at the Met opens in November. Not really.