Luke Haines in his many guises has made much immortal music. All four albums he made with The Auteurs are great especially the first one NEW WAVE which stills counts as a high point of 90’s British music and is one of my favorite albums showcasing his gift for melody and sardonic lyrics full of odd references and turns of a phrase. The Baader Meinhof concept record was uniquely original as Haines led a band that included a clavinet, a tabla, and a spare string quartet through a clever interlocking song cycle. Black Box Recorder founds Haines working in a band context again but with a female vocalist. Perhaps a poppier version of his sound as he is writing for another voice but each of the three BBR records has their moments.
Haines has also also developed a solo career which has more and more followed the trajectory of the early mid 70’s Kinks – Concept albums about a specific storyline or place in time but whereas Ray Davies songs created characters and settings like a novelist, Haines concept records are about his own obsessions particularly Northern Britain in the late 70’s served up with wordplay and social criticism.
ROCK AND ROLL ANIMALS reduces the musical accompaniment to the most minimalist acoustic guitar, some brass and strings, a little keyboards, most of the songs don’t even have drums. The story is of a fox named Jimmy Pursey, a cat named Gene Vincent, and a badger named Nick Lowe. Using his real life musical heroes from childhood is par for the course.
Haines voice always a battle between gruffness and a higher register is now definitely in the gruffness category. This gives his singing more of a conspiratorial, narrative quality and fits these sort of song stories better.
“Led Zeppelin stole the blues/ Not righteous” is part of a list of righteous/ non-righteous rock and roll things Haines lists in the album’s signature track “Rock n’ Roll Animals in Space” . Righteous or not, Haines follows his muse with honesty and without any consideration of commerciality. He is to be commended for that and I admire him greatly.