Review: Luke Haines – Rock and Roll Animals
Published on August 1st, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
We could ramble on and on about just how eccentric Luke Haines is, but chances are you’ve heard all about that already. So let’s just get on with exploring the weird and wonderful sounds that inhabit his new solo album Rock and Roll Animals.
The former Auteurs and Black Box Recorder chap has woven what feels like either a children’s album for grown-ups or a grown-up album for children; even when he advises us to “Ask a grown-up for help with the scissors”, it feels as much of a signal for us to temporarily shed the inhibitions of adulthood as it does a direct address to the kids.
It’s likely we’re reading too much into it, but when you’ve got Jimmy Pursey cast as a “frisky fox”, Nick Lowe as a “solid badger” and Gene Vincent as “a cat who’s seen a bit more of life than most of us”, who knows what to think?
One of the keynote features of Rock and Roll Animals is a big, bold recorder (as in the woodwind instrument, not the Black Box) that maintains a constant suggestion of wonderment, its Pied Piper leadership perfectly supplementing Haines’s by-turns-awe-struck-and-creeped-out ‘loud whisper’ of a vocal.
Extra fairytale ‘cred’ is ensured by the reassuringly kindly-sounding presence of Julia Davis, who pops up at regular interludes to keep up the narrative slack. Goodness knows how many takes it took her to record herself saying “Jimmy Pursey the fox put a claw paw to his mouth, let out a wolf whistle and leered at the Angel of the North / A barmy army of foxy friends appeared on the garden fence” without bursting into hysterical laughter, but we’d love to have been witness to it.
For all the weirdness, it’s very well thought-out and performed music; it could almost be described as ‘psychedelic folk’ if that didn’t imply a certain degree of seriousness, and it’s not as childish as it initially leads you to believe.
There’s the surprisingly groovy title track with its knowing refrain of “They’re at it like rabbits”, a magic mushrooms reference on “From Hersham to Heaven” (which, by the way, unfurls into a really rather lovely tune), and a straight-faced declaration of “You cannot argue with a pussy that’s seen a vision” on “Three Frendz”.
All of which would be in danger of making it all seem a bit too frivolous were it not for the album’s creepy, ‘enchanted forest at twilight’ mid-section. “A Badger Called Nick Lowe” is the stuff of legend title-wise, but it’s no indication of just how sinister a turn it takes: “Hangman, hangman, hang me a man / Any old man will do / Meet me at the hanging tree at noon” implores Haines, before issuing a command to “Cut out his lungs and throw them to the crows”. Cripes.
One wispy synth sound on “From Hersham to Heaven” triggers a flashback to Brian Wilson curio Mt. Vernon and Fairway (A Fairytale), which you can find stapled onto the end of the two-fer CD reissue of Beach Boys albums Carl and the Passions: So Tough and Holland. It doesn’t get anywhere near as dark as Rock and Roll Animals does but it’s a collector’s item nonetheless.
“The Stones without Brian Jones were not right, you see / But no, he was probably evil / The gods in the park and all public art / It’s an affront to all creatures and people” muses Haines on closing track “Rock N Roll Animals in Space”, before a flange effect enters the fray for that suitably celestial liftoff. How can we not love this?
What with a glorious new Julian Cope album coming out in June, it’s been a fine month or two for great British eccentrics. There, we said it. Now our quails can join in with the animal fun…
Rock and Roll Animals is out now on Cherry Red Records Ltd.
You can buy Rock and Roll Animals on iTunes and on Amazon.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!