"Hangman hangman, hang me a man, any old man will do," Luke Haines maintains on "A Badger Called Nick Love" from the 45-year-old's characteristically eccentric (and menacing) new concept record, Rock and Roll Animals.
Haines's delivery here is a blend of Jarvis Cocker, Travis Bickle, and CBeebies' Mister Maker. It’s, by turns, droll, disturbing and absurd. The album's narrative concerns pals Jimmy Pursey the fox, Gene Vincent the wise old cat and a badger called Nick Lowe. The work would make an ideal soundtrack for Ben Wheatley’s latest oddity, A Field in England (one of its stars, The Mighty Boosh's Julian Barrett, is here tonight), a film that also references magic mushrooms and the English Civil War.
The humour, on record, is enhanced by Julia Davis's twee, daft narration ("Gene, the cat, knew a thing or two about people" on "Gene Vincent"). The Nighty Night star is sadly absent here. Instead, the former Auteurs frontman heroically flies solo. "There will be some over-dubbing intervals," he admits, meaning there will be awkward pauses while he changes instruments.
Haines, in the kind of white fedora Alec Guinness sports in The Lavender Hill Mob, mainly pulls this intimate affair off. And there are plenty of lyrical pearls to savour, such as on new track "Rock'N'Roll Animals in Space" where the idiosyncratic singer asserts “The Stones without Brian Jones were not righteous/ Although he was probably evil.” On the acidic "Angel of the North" he laments that "rock'n'roll is a loser's game".
However, it's the tracks from his masterpiece, 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early '80s, which prove strongest. The 2011 album had the audacity to grapple with liver-sausage sandwiches, World of Sport and Kendo Nagasaki. A game soul even appears briefly on stage in the "Samurai" wrestler's old red garb for the surprisingly touching "Saturday Afternoon".
"This song requires a certain amount of communal singing," Haines politely demands before the mordant "Haystacks in Heaven - Parts 1-3", and the crowd sportingly join in, reeling off dead wrestlers: "Catweazle in heaven/ Mick McManus in heaven/ Big Daddy in heaven..." and so on.
The Londoner ends, generously, with a selection of "oldies", including "Leeds United", "Baader Meinhof" and two gems from his early-1990s Auteur days, "Showgirl" and the enduring pop anthem "Lenny Valentino".
If he carries on like this, this habitual outsider might be in serious trouble of being embraced by the mainstream. Doubtful, though.
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