The most laughable pop cliché is the claim that artists are just making music for themselves and, hey, if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus!
It’s especially funny when you hear it from bands chucking out identikit rock ‘n’ roll while constantly pounding the press pavements for attention.
For Luke Haines though, it’s so evidently true he doesn’t even need to say it.
His last album may well have been an unlikely hook-up with bona fide indie rock megastar Peter Buck, but it was a fly-under-the-radar record all the same.
Its askance look at Jack Parsons/Johnnie Ray/Andy Warhol meant that it was hardly going to set the Spotify end-of-year charts alight, even before COVID-19 put the duo’s planned tour on the backburner indefinitely.
And Luke Haines in… Setting The Dogs On The Post-Punk Postman picks up where its predecessor left off.
Like Beat Poetry for Survivalists and 2016’s Smash The System, Haines’s new one is a rare non-concept album for the post 2010 Haines, only in that it doesn’t have a single concept.
Instead, it’s got 11 scattershot stories about subjects that don’t usually show up on records from
ex? post? non? formerly Britpop-adjacent popstars.
It’s got songs about scarecrows and pumpkins. Songs about bad gigs in Liverpool, former Eastern Bloc spies, singing on a bus with Ivor Cutler and swimming with Andrea Dworkin.
Where to begin? How about with ‘I Just Want To Be Buried’, the sort of unashamedly pripaic pop song Led Zeppelin (not righteous) would find a bit much but Peaches (utterly righteous) would probably appreciate (“I just wanna be buried / Between your breasts / Between your legs”).
‘Yes, Mr Pumpkin’ has a spoken word bit from Nathan Barley/Boosh/etc. star Julian Barratt. But while Barratt’s partner/fellow modern Britcom legend Julia Davis did a brilliantly straight Kids TV narration job on Haines’s 2013 album Rock and Roll Animals, here Barratt uses just the right amount of BBC newsreader crossed with The Day Today disdain on the snippy outro (“The pumpkin was found not guilty of all charges…”).
Opener ‘Ex Stasi Spy’ is an early-80s le Carré jangle (“Secrets and lies / A memo from the Bundesbank / Wearing a groovy disguise / Driving around in a Trabant”), complete with era-appropriate nods to Madonna and a guest spot from last year’s collaborators Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.
Haines’s taste for and acquaintance of unlikely icons is well-represented. ‘Ivor on The Bus’ is about well, singing a song with Ivor Cutler. On a bus. ‘Andrew Dworkin’s Knees’ is about spotting the radical feminist superstar on the way to the swimming baths in Archway because… well, because this is a Luke Haines record.
Soundwise it’s maybe the most straight rock ‘n’ roll record Haines has done since since 2009’s 21st Century Man, which was just before he started going full concept (everybody knows you ALWAYS go full concept, btw).
There’s a sprinkling of synths and squawks to keep things interesting, but this mainly guitars and bass (Haines) and drums (Tim Weller), all stuck together with those late-era breathy, half-spoken, half sung Haines vocals.
It’s decidedly old-skool, frequently catchy (especially closer/title track ‘Setting The Dog On The Post-Punk Postman‘), and completely untouched by any trends in pop music, recent or otherwise.
Look. In 2021 it’s clear that Luke Haines is making music for himself. And with his strange, silly-but-always-straight-faced, singular outlook, what’s not to like?
Luke Haines in… Setting The Dogs on the Post-Punk Postman is out on April 30 on Cherry Red.