There have been some unlikely collaborations in the pantheon of rock and roll. David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue – and who can forget, as much as we’d all like to: Lou Reed and Metallica. The results of these peculiar unions are a mixed bag, to say the least. So is it pure bloody-mindedness that galvanizes these pairings to work together? You could ask Luke Haines and Peter Buck. They’ve done it twice. Compared to Bing and the Thin White Duke, Haines and Buck aren’t a particularly outlandish prospect until you dig a bit below the surface. Both are alt-rock icons, but in terms of temperament, they seem a world apart.
When one thinks of Luke Haines, your mental picture is probably one of a bitter misanthrope, crafting twisted, bile-filled ditties in a foul-smelling back bedroom in the worst part of town. Peter Buck has the easygoing air of a man who travels everywhere with a selection of guitars in the trunk of his car, just in case there might be a chance of a quick strum. Let’s face it, if Justin Beiber tweeted that he was a fan of R.E.M., Buck would be knocking at his door, Rickenbacker in hand, eager for a jam within the hour. They may live on the same street, but Buck lives in the house with the nicely trimmed lawn and the three-car garage, and Haines lives in the dingy flat above the funeral parlor.
All the Kids Are Super Bummed Out is album two by the dynamic duo. Beat Poetry for Survivalists (2020) suffered slightly from being released at precisely the wrong time, about 48 hours before the world was sentenced to lockdown for a year. That first record, loaded with dark humor, obscure references, and a wilfully perverse raison d’être was greeted with raised eyebrows and pained expressions. The 2022 offering offers twice as much as the previous version but with more of everything that made the first album so unsettlingly great. Sonically, All the Kids Are Super Bummed Out recalls Document/Green era R.E.M. with Baader Meinhof era Haines at the helm.
The formula seems to be Peter Buck (ably assisted by long-time alumnus Scott McCaughey and Linda Pitmon) gently steering Haines through the murky backroads of alternative rock. The opening track, “The British Army on LSD”, twists and turns in a very appealing manner, with Haines intoning the words “feeling groovy” in a manner that would have given Charlie Manson nightmares. “The Skies Are Full of Insane Machines” is even better than the title would suggest – all brutal guitars and pounding drums. Haines is clearly relishing singing the title, bullying the words into a memorable chorus.
Luke Haines loves British glam rock. He spends a lot of time sneering at 95% of modern pop music, but if it was recorded between 1971-1973 by a gang of shifty-looking 20-somethings in silver trousers and poorly applied eye shadow, it’s probably on his Spotify playlist. “Subterranean Earth Angel Stomp” lurches along with a textbook glam backbeat and entry-level barre chord guitar abuse. It’s an irresistible combination. That’s followed by a slab of 1977 punk rock ramalama, “The Commies Are Coming”. There’s a whiff of Brian Eno in the way that the guitar solo is modified into something spikey and unusual. For Your Pleasure era Roxy Music jamming with the Sweet? Kind of, and the album isn’t even halfway through yet.
CD two starts with the unassuming “Minimalist House Burns Down”. It’s an almost-but-not-quite spoken word piece with occasionally hysterically funny lyrics. “My minimalist house burned down / There wasn’t much to it / There wasn’t much to salvage / It was a minimalist house, after all,” quips Haines. The minimalist chorus is Haines singing “Not on your nelly”, which will have non-UK residents racing to anything they can access Google on. “Exit Space (All the Kids are Super Bummed Out)” is the soundtrack to a bad trip, directed by Stanley Kubrick. After almost four minutes of nightmarish Mellotron abuse, Haines sidles in, singing, “all the kids are super bummed out”, interspersed with fake monkey calls. It’s got a peculiar, psychedelic grandeur.
Just to make things even weirder, Lenny Kaye steps up to the microphone for “And We Will”. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a misstep. Coming late in the double albums running order, maybe we’ve got used to the rather left-field approach used throughout the project, and nothing in this sound collage really grabs the attention. The final track, “Waiting for the UFOs”, however, is a lovely, semi-whimsical sign-off. It’s a soothing way to complete a weird, bumpy, but always fascinating journey.
Beat Poetry for Survivalists was the sound of Haines and Buck trying to outdo each other. An odd vanity project that turned out better than anyone but the most besotted diehards would have expected. All the Kids Are Super Bummed Out takes all the good ideas (and a few really interesting bad ideas) from its predecessor, splurges it over 17 tracks, and stands back to admire the chaos. It’s a weird jumble of pop art, lo-fi, and gallows humor thrown in a bucket and left unattended. If it isn’t in your top ten albums of 2022, you can’t be one of the cool kids.
- Luke Haines: Setting the Dogs on the Post-Punk Postman
- Luke Haines Is Alive and Well and Living in Buenos Aires
- Luke Haines: New York in the '70s
- Luke Haines: Smash the System
- Luke Haines: Adventures in Dementia
- Luke Haines: Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s
- Just Hate Nostalgia: Revisiting the Misanthropic Genius of Luke Haines