Luke Haines Is Dead
uke Haines is not actually dead—although he is starting to look a bit like Hulk Hogan—but recently he has seemed increasingly obsessed with making sure his legacy is in suitable condition in case he does shuffle off unexpectedly. 2003's Das Capital provided ludicrously grandiose ("expensive") orchestral reworkings of several of his best songs (and three new ones that sat alongside them pretty comfortably), and following this we now have a three disc box-set of rarities, live versions, and things his fanbase almost certainly already own, further ensuring "Bugger Bognor," "Future Generation" et al remain foremost in our consciousness should the unthinkable happen.
There may justifiably be irritable mutterings to the effect that a man who's released three new songs in four years should hurry up and get round to putting something new out (rumours of a forthcoming solo release being a concept album about Winston Churchill were apparently false; there do seem to be a lot of Pop Paedophile themed songs on the horizon though) rather than bleeding the punters with a fairly expensive box set without that much unreleased stuff on it. There are certainly a few things here that seem redundant; On the first disc, for example, are what appear to be the exact album versions of "Show Girl" and "How Could I Be Wrong" from New Wave—they're great and all, but anybody likely to buy this set has probably heard them both enough times to be sick of them. That said, I suppose if you're going to include two B-sides from a notable single release it can't hurt to have the single itself in to provide some context, particularly if you've got three discs to fill.
While there's not much stuff that's strictly unreleased, Haines and the Auteurs have a lot of worthwhile non-album material included here, and also some notable alternate takes and live recordings, so unless you're one of those E-Bay-happy lunatics that owns two of every limited edition gatefold-with-some-of-the-engineer's-vomit-on-it rarity already, there's still an imposing amount of stuff to get into over the three discs.
Proceedings kick off with the overture from Das Capital, an orchestral medley that provides a series of tantalisingly brief snippets of songs like "Kids Issue" and "Back With The Killer Again" that never got the Full Expensive Das Capital Treatment (both are represented in some form on the second disc). After this auspicious start, the jangly proto-Britpop of the New Wave-era material sounds a bit frail and unsatisfying; the songs are mostly great, but the arrangements just sound paper thin and at this stage Haines voice is still a bit too feeble, lacking the character it developed later on. He does sound quite formidable on the live acoustic cuts of "Starstruck" and "Home Again" though, foregoing any nuance for an increasingly catatonic, nasal whine that's inexplicably much better than I'm making it sound.
Some of the Now I'm A Cowboy material spills over onto disc two, including a quite glorious seven minute BBC session recording of "The Upper Classes," which slowly lumbers into this giddy, stately affair; it's the After Murder Park-era stuff that steals the show though, including a great segue from the deliriously frenetic final bars of "Light Aircraft On Fire" to its considerably more tranquil acoustic B-side "Car Crash," which features Haines stifling a chuckle during the line "you were lying under the dashboard out for the count." Another highlight is a Steve Albini produced BBC session of "Buddha", particularly the menacing swagger of the first verse and its account of a svengali whose nervous system collapses upon choking on a whalebone in a Cantonese res-tau-rant.
The two tracks opening the third disc are exactly the same as they are on the 1996 concept-funk-album-about-German-terrorists Baader Meinhof, which again seems a bit pointless, but then I'm not sure "Meet Me At The Airport" and its exhortations to blow up civilians will ever really get old. A couple of farty completist-only remixes notwithstanding, the stuff that follows is serious gold, including "The Rubettes" awesomely funereal B-side "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," which perfectly encapsulates Haines' ability to smuggle pathos aboard something ostensibly entirely mean-spirited, and a version of "Discomania" that replaces the original's strings and sequenced blips with fuzz guitars to stupidly exhilarating effect. And of course there are the necessary appearances of "Future Generation" (a re-recording), Haines' probably less than half-joking claim that his genius will be properly recognised by the youth of the future, and "Bugger Bognor" ("not enough people bought Das Capital"), its more pessimistic successor, all faded seaside glamour and delapidated statues of Great Men covered in bird shit. Makes for a stirring conclusion, all the same.
Obviously it's a lot to take in, and I can't imagine listening to the whole thing start to finish, but the joy of it, at least from the perspective of somebody who appreciates Haines' work but isn't familiar with every last b-side and out-take, is taking in a bit at a time and discovering some new nugget of hitherto undiscovered evil pop genius or an alternate version that accentuates some buried hook on each listen. While the bland consumer guide type conclusion is necessarily "for hardcore fans only," taken entirely on its own merit this is a veritable shitload of staggeringly good songs, which given the eleven-year period they're culled from really underlines Haines' consistency; any tragic, prophecy-fulfilling accidents notwithstanding, on this evidence it's hard to believe he won't keep getting better.
Reviewed by: Fergal O’Reilly
Reviewed on: 2005-09-14