In their 1973 occult cookbook The Third Mind, novelist William S. Burroughs and painter Brion Gysin discuss the notion that when two like-minded individuals are harmoniously tuned to the same creative task, a ghostly “third mind” will arise during the proceedings, almost independent of the original two participants and take everything to a higher level. It’s not just that two minds are better than one, they’re better than two minds, too:
“The third mind is the unseen collaborator, the superior mind constructed when two minds are put together.”
One plus one equals three in creative matters, in other words. It’s all very mathematical obviously and therefore cannot be disputed.
And so it was that one-time Jesus and Mary Chain drummer (and then absinthe importer) John Moore teamed up with the leader of the Auteurs, Luke Haines. Both were participating in a folk ensemble called Balloon—Haines on guitar, Moore on electric saw—and they decided to write some songs together. The initial results were promising and after the pair had composed a ditty titled “Girl Singing in the Wreckage” they needed a girl to sing it naturally and so enlisted another Balloon participant, vocalist Sarah Nixey.
Now Sarah Nixey happens to be the owner of one of the very, very best British female voices of all time (Nixey should be doing all of the voiceover work for British Airways and Jaguar. They ought to declare hers the official voice of Great Britain by royal decree or something, it’s just that perfectly English-sounding.) There is no one in pop—not one singer I can think of—who has her precise and exacting command over her instrument. Not only are her almost whispered gossamer vocals as resonant as Tibetan glass singing bowls, her diction is so astonishingly crisp and well-enunciated that it leaves her, frankly, without peer, as an archly ironic sprechgesang-singing posh girl rapper with one raised eyebrow.
With Nixey’s advantageous addition to what was already the working “trio” of Moore and Haines, this meant that the three of them together were now as good as seven or eight lone musicians, perhaps even an entire orchestra. Burroughs and Gysin never explained what came after two minds equalled three and math was never really my strong suit, but to be able to compose music knowing THAT VOICE would be interpreting your material must’ve spurred Moore and Haines to give it their all as songwriters. Writing to the strength of a chanteuse with the talents of Sarah Nixey would have an exponentially positive effect on any musical endeavor and thus was born Black Box Recorder, already greater than the sum of its thoroughbred parts before the project even gets out of the gate.
As a remarkably assured debut album England Made Me compares favorably to something like Please by the Pet Shop Boys: cynical, funny, intelligent with sonic invention and arrangements of the highest caliber. (England Made Me is also as perfect a soundtrack to the Tony Blair era as the PSB’s first album was for Thatcher’s final years in power. I fully expect that future filmmakers producing period pieces about pre and post millennial Britain will ransack BBR’s discography song by song.) Here’s their first single, “Child Psychology,” a catchy number about a world-weary six-year-old girl who simply stops talking:
“Child Psychology” was blacklisted for radio play by most UK stations and MTV and it was released as a single in America just one week after the Columbine massacre, ensuring its quick demise on the US pop charts as well. If you found yourself wondering “How did I miss this?” just watch the video and you’ll instantly know why.
I Sometimes Dream Of Glue is the terrifically idiosyncratic new concept album by Luke Haines, he of The Auteurs, Baader Meinhof and Black Box Recorder infamy. A “solo” album in the solo-est sense of the word (he wrote, plays and sings nearly everything on it, and produced) the mostly acoustic music is an amusing counterpoint to the head scratching concept. “Solvents Cure the Ego” is one of the prettiest songs Haines has ever recorded, to cite one example, and sounds like like finely spun gossamer blowing in a soft breeze when you’ve got your face deep in a paper bag of Tamiya model cement.
As frequent readers of this blog (and my wife) might know, I am a huge fan of Haines’ music (I go on about this at length here) and I rate this album as a minor masterpiece in his sprawling canon, albeit an absolutely bloody-minded one. He never disappoints.
It started sometime after World War II – in the late 1940’s. A convoy of British Special Services trucks had been dispatched to RAF Middlewych, their cargo – 10 tonnes of experimental solvent liquid. Sticky and deadly. The mission – to drop the toxic liquid over Germany and finish the job of carving up Europe for good. The trucks never made it to their airfield destination, coming off the road – most probably helped by saboteurs – some five miles out of London…
Just off the Westway, in the motorway sidings, you can see a small sign. Actually you probably can’t see the sign as it is the size of a child’s fingernail clipping. The sign says “Glue Town.” The name of a village. There is little or no documentation of Glue Town. You will not find any information about it on the 21st Century internet. Gluetown is a rural settlement born out of mutation. Of the estimated 500 or so dwellers, no one is thought to be over 2 1⁄2 inches tall. The citizens of Glue Town exist on a diet of solvent abuse and perpetual horniness. The residents only leave to carry out daring night-time ‘glue raids’ on Shepherds Bush newsagent shops. On a tiny screen in the town centre, an old Betamax cassette of Michael Bentine’s Potty Time plays on a loop all day and all night. The reduced size villagers go about their daily business pondering whether the lessons of Potty Time can show them a way out of their drudge lives of sexual abandonment and human sacrifice…
Dangerous Minds: What inspired I Sometimes Dream Of Glue‘s concept? Is it autobiographical?
Luke Haines: Years ago, I wrote a song called “Country Life,” it came out on an EP. That song was about living in a model village. I’d always liked the song and the idea and felt I could take it further. Last year I took a trip to Southend. There’s a pier with a small railway on it. A photo of me was taken on the train. I laughed when I saw the photo and called it “Angry Man On A Small Train.” That became the first song from the new album—and out of that came the concept…
Photo: Becky Millar
Dangerous Minds: I thought the train would be smaller. Well where does solvent abuse fit into the equation then? Were you sniffing glue while you were riding on this (supposedly) small train?
Luke Haines: Haha. I liked the idea of an 00 scale population, as opposed to the miniature inhabitants of a model village, so the populace became tiny Airfix models...and what do you need to stick your models together? Glue. And who doesn’t like sniffing glue?
Dangerous Minds: It’s true! What’s your favorite brand?
Luke Haines: Unibond. I dreamt that Vic Godard was sponsored by Unibond. Superglue is good as well. The lord of all adhesives.
Dangerous Minds: Have you ever tried plumber’s glue? The stuff they put in metal pipes to seal them at the joints is a good time. I woke up in the Bronx, barefoot.
Luke Haines: I have not. But I like the idea of a good time. On this album I feel that I’m giving solvent abuse a makeover. I’m making it acceptable for the millenial creatives. Bloggers will be blogging about glue sniffing in an urban yet pastoral setting. There will be scabs around the nose but they will be sexy scabs.
Dangerous Minds: Exactly! Glue sniffing needn’t be associated with the likes of the Ramones, Diana Ross and UB40. So it is autobiographical, then. I just wanted to establish that.
But the music’s a bit of a departure for you—more pastoral as you say—isn’t it?
Luke Haines: Lyrically it is the harshest thing I’ve done in a while, but I wanted the music to be kind of like kids music. Recorders and harmoniums. Not naive, let’s call it surreal brutalism.
With seemingly every single article written about him for the better part of the past two decades declaring Luke Haines “underappreciated” or referring to him as England’s “best kept secret” or some such, you might be forgiven for assuming that Haines is a bit of a cult figure in his native Britain.
And if he’s a cult figure there, then what does that say about his profile in America? Regrettably, he doesn’t really seem to have much of one here. Not that this is his fault. It’s your fault. But it’s mine, too. I’ll explain.
So WHO, you are (probably) asking, is this Luke Haines character anyway? In the 90s Haines was the leader of the Auteurs, an incendiary guitar-based group (with a “cello player”) who emerged fully-formed with the Mercury Prize-nominated New Wave (they lost to Suede) in 1993. The Auteurs’ high point comes with their Steve Albini-produced masterpiece After Murder Park in 1996, in which Haines perfects the art of softly singing as if he is approaching you slowly and deliberately with a drawn knife and the crack, well-rehearsed band generally blow the doors off of any other rock and roll group making records that year. It’s the equal of any classic album you can name and surely the subject of an upcoming 33 ⅓ series book.
I caught on very, very slowly to Luke Haines’ work myself. Although I actually bought my first Haines CD in 1996—and absolutely loved it—it was the Baader Meinhof concept album, which was not released under his name and didn’t have especially informative liner notes. I did not delve any deeper into the Auteurs at the time as I had the idea that they were some kinda Britpop group and that wasn’t my cup of PG Tips and stepped-on cocaine. Had I done so, I’d have seriously freaked out and Haines would have immediately entered my pantheon of godlike geniuses. But I did not dabble further despite seriously digging Baader Meinhof and playing the shit out of it. (Frankly as much as I love that album, it’s not something that one necessarily requires more of.)
Several years later I became infatuated with the Black Box Recorder number “Andrew Ridgley” (sic) but I did not make any connection to the Baader Meinhof album. It was only when I picked up Haines’ (must read, utterly essential) autobiography Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall that I finally figured it all out. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone reading that (side-splittingly hilarious) book without wanting to hear the accompanying musical soundtrack. And I do mean ALL OF IT. And this is the musical rabbit hole that I’ve fallen into for the year or so. I honestly don’t think that I have ever listened to (pretty much) just one artist this intently, or for this long. (The only time even close is when I first discovered Big Youth.)
In fact, our puppy basically only heard the After Murder Park album for the first six months of his life and to this day whenever he hears the first chords of the first song (”Light Aircraft on Fire”) he goes absolutely berserk sprinting around the house like a shot, with great violence, like he’s a slobbering cartoon Tasmanian devil. Another Auteurs’ album opener (Now I’m a Cowboy‘s “Lenny Valentino”) has a similar effect on him: First he runs around frantically, and then when Haines starts singing, he stops, points his nose straight up to the ceiling and begins to howl along. Even if his cute canine vocalizing is a bit out of tune, clearly he approves when I slap these particular elpees on the turntable and he lets me know it. (I’ve always wanted a dog with good taste in music. He’s a big Zappa head too, but not the later “comedy” stuff, more an original Mothers fan. Good boy!)
Portrait of the artist as a young man
So yeah, Luke Haines’ relative obscurity in America is surprising, given not only the stellar standard of, well, just about every single thing he’s ever released (even his mediocre songs—judged by his standards, I mean—are still pretty fucking great) but the breadth of his long career and the depth of his quite extensive and extremely high quality back catalog. You’d surely think that many more people on this side of the Atlantic would have picked up on him along the way, as he’s been active since the late 80s. Haines is the ultimate “rock snob” heroic artist, being an intense rock snob himself, he’s probably the most culturally literate musician of his generation and in my (n)ever so humble opinion, he’s the very best English songwriter of this era, ahead of Jarvis Cocker (not prolific enough) and Momus (too eccentric) who are the sole two I’d place in his rarified company. If you find yourself constitutionally unable to read MOJO magazine—and do not enjoy music made by “the young people”—then Luke Haines is likely to be your savior from all of that.
I mean, someone has to be the best British rock musician. That only makes sense, right? And I happen to think Luke Haines is the very best. Comparing him to most of today’s pop stars is like comparing a master mason to someone capable of building a competent lean-to shack. Like comparing John Dos Passos to Dan Brown or Peter Cook to Dudley Moore. It just took me a damned long time to finally realize what I was missing out on and I’m supposed to know about such matters of cultural importance. [“But it’s my job!” he exclaimed plaintively. On the other hand, hey I got to discover one of the best extensive back catalogs in recent musical history for the first time at my advanced age, so lucky me.]
I took an informal poll of several friends—rock snobs all of ‘em, including record store, recording studio and label owners—to see how many were Luke Haines fans besides me. There was exactly one (and he is by far the hippest guy who I have ever met in my entire life, so this was no surprise). The rest answered as you would doing the “sort of, not really” motion with your hand and squinting or simply ignored the query entirely. (If no less of a maven’s maven than our own Howie Pyro has only recently gotten turned on to Luke Haines’ music himself, well that makes me feel slightly less out of it.)
One friend of mine asked “He’s really English isn’t he?” Well… yes, he is that—which is nothing to be ashamed of most of the time—but it’s not like Haines is a Marmite sandwich either. If you’ve ever dug the Kinks or Pulp (or Monty Python or Stewart Lee), you shouldn’t have a problem with any of it. Admittedly I’m probably the most likely Yankee Haines fan you are apt to find: around the same age as he is, Haines and I clearly grew up listening to the same bands and our pop culture obsessions seem fairly congruent. I also lived in Britain for a while, so a song about Enoch Powell isn’t going to fly over my head, nor would one alluding to the Yorkshire Ripper for that matter (although I did find myself googling “Bugger Bognor,” Kendo Nagasaki and Parsley the Lion, but I promise you that I am better off for it). If “really English” is a problem for you, then don’t start with an album like 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s & Early ‘80s—which might be described as “really English” to be sure, but mark my words you will get around to that one eventually—and instead dive in with his concept album New York in the 70s, which has songs about Lou Reed, Jim Carroll, the NY Dolls, William S. Burroughs and Alan Vega. (A certain percentage of our readers who have never heard of Luke Haines until today just decided that they absolutely need to hear this album right about fuckin’ now. They are correct.)
Haines does paintings of Lou Reed, the Monkees and British wrestlers of the late 70s and early 80s and sells them via his Outside Art website for a reasonable price. He’s currently taking commissions for Xmas.
Another pal asked whose reputation would Luke Haines compare to, in terms of other obscure English musicians, for American fans? Andy Partridge? No, not really as XTC had several hits in America and the Auteurs never did. Julian Cope? Kind of, but he’s also too well known here. Bill Nelson maybe? Nope. Gavin Friday? (shakes head, plus he’s Irish). Roy Wood? Robyn Hitchcock? Matt Johnson? (Definitely not Matt Johnson.) He’s got much in common with Elvis Costello, in particular his often bilious and spiteful lyrical content, but Elvis Costello wishes he could write a song like “How Could I Be Wrong,” “Big Daddy Got A Casio VL Tone” or “I’m a Rich Man’s Toy” (and besides that, he’s far too famous). The only one who readily comes to mind (for me) is probably the great Neil Innes. Like Haines, he’s got a very specific thing that he does—brilliant at being himself at all times, even in character—and both men are multi-instrumentalists of the highest order and master lyricists. Both can mimic and ape the style of other musicians with great precision when they want to (Haines’ take on Suicide or the Incredible String Band is every bit as good as Innes’ wicked Elton John or his justly celebrated Beatles pastiche) and they can both make a decent living doing their own brands of “outsider music” and keeping themselves amused. This is not to imply that their music is in any way similar, as that is not the case. (There is no American artist whatsoever—none that I can think of at least—with whom Haines compares career-wise or otherwise in case you are wondering.)
Although divvying it up between the Auteurs, Black Box Recorder and his solo work would seem to make the most obvious sense, Haines himself has further subdivided his solo career into three distinct phases: “professional rock ‘n’ roll,” his “no man’s land” period and his “unprofessional rock ‘n’ roll” period. Professional rock ‘n’ roll would encompass the Auteurs, BBR and his early solo efforts until around 2003, while his no man’s land era might be best described as his “I have no idea about what’s currently going on with popular music and cannot give less of a fuck phase” phase (which included two years working on an unproduced piece of musical theater called “Property”) and this lasted until about 2008. After that comes “the best part of the trip” as per none other than Jim Morrison hisself. This is the bit where the artist is freed from external constraints and does whatever he or she wants to do, i.e. the shamanic stage of rock ‘n’ roll. (Think Robert Calvert’s Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters for an historical example of the blueprint Haines often follows). It was here when Haines recorded his NYC rock ‘n’ roll concept album, his moody instrumental analog synth opus British Nuclear Bunkers and Adventures in Dementia, his fifteen-minute long “micro-opera” about a Mark E. Smith impersonator whose Winnebago vacation comes to a swift end when his caravan hits Ian Stuart of the white power skinhead band Skrewdriver. With the release of last year’s ritual magick agit prop longplayer Smash the System, Haines’ magick Maoist magus initiation was complete. And what have YOU done, lately?
If I’ve not convinced you yet that you need to take a deep dive into the discography of Luke Haines right now, then buddy, I simply cannot help you. He’s making some of the very, very best (and smartest) music of the past three decades, and most American rock fans—including the very people people who would appreciate it THE MOST (like my own circle of rock snob pals, most who remain indifferent to my insisting they get on the Haines train, stat)—have never even heard of the guy.
That’s unfortunate, but still it’s an opportunity: When is the last time you discovered a “new” artist with a back catalog of well over twenty stone classic albums going back 25 years? A discography that references by name Peter Hammill, Klaus Kinski, Marc Bolan, ISB, Ulrike Meinhof’s missing brain, Gary Clail(?!), Lenny Bruce, rocker with a messiah complex Vince Taylor, Aleister Crowley, Bruce Lee, Kenneth Anger, the Viennese Actionists, Moholy-Nagy, Roman Polanski, the Monkees and the aforementioned former Wham! guitarist? On one album cover he’s dressed as Hugo Ball. He’s even got a song about the “Silent Twins,” June and Jennifer Gibbons; a bonkers children’s album narrated by Nighty Night’s evil genius Julia Davis (where Nick Lowe is a badger); and a song where he openly fantasizes about murdering British artist Sarah Lucas.
I could go on and on, but I’ve done my bit. Now it’s up to you.
On election night my wife and I laid in bed with the TV on and our laptops open happily watching the results of the vote come in and eating junk food. When the stable odometer on the New York Times interactive widget went from pinning the left side with a 98% likelihood of Hillary Clinton winning to flipping abruptly to the extreme right (see what I did there?) for a 95% chance of a Trump win, we both figured something was wrong with the Times’ website. After reloading the page a few times, and seeing it remain in favor of Trump, it seemed that the television coverage was telling the same surreal story. We sat—like most Americans still possessing a majority of their teeth—silently numbed in a state of profoundly bewildered and demoralized shock. When it became obvious that fucking swine from all across the country had suddenly sprouted wings and taken flight—I got over 200 extremely nasty anti-Semitic tweets hurled at me immediately on Twitter (and I’m not even Jewish) from alt.right goofballs with Pepe the Frog avatars—my wife broke the silence saying simply:
“Dangerous Minds has to change. We need to be harder and tougher. Rougher-edged. We can’t blog about frivolous frou-frou things anymore. We have to switch up what we’re doing to reflect what just happened.”
I’d been more or less thinking the same thing, but my thoughts were amorphous whereas hers were much more sharply defined. Looking at Twitter, it seemed evident to me that within a matter of minutes a new American counterculture was spontaneously forming. As much as America had just gone full bore Idiocracy, in other quarters things seemed to be quickly getting very Mr. Robot. I offered some weak gallows humor saying that Trump might even ironically be good for a business proposition like Dangerous Minds, but she just groaned. (You’ll forgive me, I hope, but this is where my thoughts naturally drifted. Of course, unlike a lot of people, I also had the luxury of not having to worry about my undocumented abuela when America flunked its fucking IQ test…)
The next day, waking up with what felt like I had a toxic hangover of international proportions—I don’t drink—my wife who very seldom drinks herself, decided that she needed to be around people and joined several of her friends to commiserate at a bar that opened up at 9am. There was no way I wanted to be around strangers. Especially drunk people. Even worse weepy drunk liberal people…
Had fucking bullyboy Biff Tannen really beaten Tracy Flick?
I hated everything and everyone. I was glad to be alone.
After rolling an epic joint, I cranked up Smash the System, the fantastic new Luke Haines album, LOUD and listened to it all the way through and then again, and then again and then again on repeat. I don’t mean to imply that I rocked out, but fuck it, I rocked out. I’m not ashamed to say that. Pretty soon I felt, to my surprise, pretty okay. Like Haines was a revolutionary sonic sorcerer who had blown all the bad shit out of my brain. Smash the System was the perfect soundtrack for the day after Donald Trump was elected leader of the free world. I highly recommend it, maybe it’ll work for you, too.
Richard Metzger: The obvious first question has got to be “Any thoughts on what happened last night?”
Luke Haines: So, the American Election. I may not be the right person to ask (who is?) as I believe in personal anarchy and magick. But here’s a few observations anyway:
The Brexit comparison isn’t entirely relevant. Brexit was actually a subtle bit of class war hijinks played out by a few members of the Bullingdon Club who bore long term grudges against one another. No one holds grudges better than the English Upper class—the Queen mother was said to have smiled with satisfaction very, very briefly at Wallis Simpson’s funeral. So, one of our ruling overloads lost out at a game of milky biscuit one night in the dorms at Eton, and the country got the brunt of it. Brexit was sold to the British public under false pretences—no one wanted to leave Europe (only Farage) The British public were sold the dummy, and they bought it hook line and sinker.
Trump is a businessman (not my tribe, if I had a tribe). He is also a sociopath (more understandable). He’ll try to “run” America like a business. Buying up shit, running shit into the ground, exploiting people—if he’s allowed to do this then he won’t lose interest in being El Prez. The best hope I guess, is that, he won’t be allowed to do that and he’ll lose interest…
Democracy only works when there is equality. Without equality democracy seems pretty broken.
Apparently Nigel Farage is said to be hopping on a plane to come over here to advise Trump! You guys can keep that asshole, we’ve got enough already. Was Smash the System a reaction to Brexit? Or not? It seems like you’ve been up for smashing the system for your entire career.
No. Not a reaction to Brexit. Although the album cover and video with the marauding Morris men was. The logical conclusion to the populist idea of Brexit would mean that no one in the UK would be allowed to leave their home town, or possibly the house where they were born. It’s “Autumn Almanac” by the Kinks as Modern Folk Politics.
Are you going through a bit of an Aleister Crowley phase?
Crowley was a bad man. I wouldn’t mess with the dark stuff—I might end up making a bad Stranglers album.
The unicursal hexagram on the CD packaging isn’t a nod to Crowley?