Highlights: Magic Town, Rock And Roll Animals, Gene Vincent, The Angel Of The North, From Hersham To Heaven
With Luke Haines, I don’t even have to wonder anymore. A concept album about 70’s wrestling? Fine. A collaboration with Cathal Coughlan on a fake history of the British Isles? Fine. A children’s (well, not quite, but…) record about three rock and roll animal friends (Nick Lowe the badger, Gene Vincent the cat, Jimmy Pursey the fox) fighting against an admittedly ugly Tyneside statue? Jesus Christ, but okay – fine! The point being, you can often hear critics say that at this point this or that artist can do whatever the fuck he wants. Which often doesn’t really mean anything. Luke Haines, on the other hand, does exactly that: whatever the fuck he wants.
While this is indeed a whimsical fairy tale involving a bunch of furry creatures, calling it a children’s record might be a stretch – even if the whole thing does feature quite brilliant narrative sections from Julia Davies (good call, Luke!). I can certainly imagine the odd child enjoying this album, but considering the characters and the allusions involved, quirky adults with a strong sense of self-irony are more than welcome.
Needless to say, Luke Haines’ songwriting genius is not in doubt. Side one is particularly priceless, with the infectious chorus of “Gene Vincent”, the folksy prettiness of “A Badger Called Nick Lowe” and the irresistible melodic whimsy of the single “Rock And Roll Animals” being further proof of Haines’ undeniable pop sensibilities. Side two is not as strong (while perfectly lovely and melodic, “The Birds… The Birds” and “…We Do” are not really up to Luke’s best standards), but it does contain the album’s strongest tune in the updated, slightly slowed down version of “The Angel Of The North”. If you are into bizarre lyrical excesses, I recommend the closing “Rock And Roll Animals In Space” that should really be heard to be believed.
In the end, Rock And Roll Animals is a great little folk-rock record that is actually on par with Small Faces’ classic Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, another concept album it so clearly resembles. But with all that said, this is Luke’s first album I’m rating lower than a 9. A few songs on side two and the fact that the album’s biggest highlight is an update of an older song (“The Angel Of The North” first appeared a few years ago, on the 50-copies-only project Outsider Music) can hardly be considered dangerous signs, but I would just want to mention that at this point I want Luke Haines to record a fucking normal album. In the vein of 21st Century Man or Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop. Just as a sort of breather before a concept album about the final days of the French Revolution of 1789-1799. Or whatever.