Luke Haines returns with Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop
Personally, I find any project that Luke Haines is involved with to be very memorable. His new solo album, Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop was released this week and I was filled with excitement, as it is his first EP in over three years. Though he has released several compilations (including Das Capital, which are orchestral versions of his own songs) with various forms of content, Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop marks his second actual solo album (excluding Baader Meinhof, a separate solo project in 1996). Haines is known best as the frontman for the consistent The Auteurs, who released four outstanding albums during the 90s. The Auteurs are one of my favorite bands from the 90s, in stiff competition with Blur and Pulp. Haines’ work as Black Box Recorder (with Sarah Nixey and John Moore) produced some great songs as well, with Haines’ usually eerie but catchy melodies and Nixey’s light and enjoyably innocent vocals. Nixey and Moore actually got married in 2001 but divorced this year, leaving the band’s status inactive (and likely to stay that way). Regardless, Haines has been very active with shows, compilations, and solo albums. I posted about his first solo album, The Oliver Twist Manifesto, a few months ago (no, Haines doesn’t rap on the new album). Though Haines has dabbled in expressing his influences, from the glam of the Auteurs to Black Box Recorder’s form of trip-hop and synth-pop, his newest album uses a slice of everything.
Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop uses the same contemporary style that Haines has perfected over the years, often mixing electronic and acoustic elements over unique vocals that convey provoking lyrical content. While the electronically based songs are abundant, there are many more guitars to be found in Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop than in The Oliver Twist Manifesto, which was almost entirely composed of catchy synth-driven melodies. A significant topic on the new album is the excessive use of stereotypically British humor. In ‘Leeds United’, for example, Haines depicts a typical working class Englishman who loves two things in his life: his wife (though she nags)… and football! The song begins with a twinkling piano and an instant hook, as Haines’ vocal melodies are exceptional as usual. The explosive chorus is repeated by shouts of “Leeds United! Leeds United!”, sounding like a positive anthem for fans of Leeds United A.F.C.. ‘The Heritage Rock Revolution’ is one of the songs on the album that traces back to Haines’ days in The Auteurs, when guitar-driven melodies were a top priority. Seemingly an ode to the times when power riffs were essential, the song exists mainly as one big catchy chorus. One of the most unexpected and humorous moments occurs on ‘Bad Reputation’, where Haines gladly proclaims, “Gary Glitter — he’s a bad bad man, ruining the reputation of the glitter bands”. The mockery of Mr. Glitter comes at a perfect time, with anything insulting towards Glitter’s sexual immorality being entirely necessary. Though Haines’ lyrical expositions were always directed towards societal classes and reactions, he sounds more mature as his emphasis on growing older is present throughout the album. While his age is increasing, his songwriting ability is intact. Though his solo material has yet to touch the exceptional quality of The Auteurs, my expectations of this album were fortunately matched, with ten memorable songs that improve on his first solo release.