Friday, 30 May 2014

Film review: THE DOUBLE by Richard Ayoade

Sometimes brilliant doesn’t work without bizarre and bizarre doesn’t work without brilliant. The Double is a good example of that. The very opening train scene, confusing and eye-catching, Franz Kafka as done by David Lynch, will show you the way. Whether the way is out or in, that’s a different matter entirely, but I was purring with delight. Like a well-read and well-fed cat. A young man is sitting in a completely empty carriage. Suddenly another passenger rises up in front of him, asking the young man to give up the seat. The young man looks around, bewildered. He then gives up the seat.

The young man’s name is Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), and he is but a muted fly in this Kafka-esque world of blue drinks, bureaucracy and suicide. He loves a girl (Mia Wasikowska), but he is too shy to make a pass. Nobody notices him, and that seems to suit him just fine until one day his doppelganger arrives. James Simon is everything Simon James is not: witty, ballsy, socially-confident. But the face is the same (‘you are not even Chinese, so it’s pretty fucked up’). Physically the two men are completely identical. The concept isn’t new, of course, but it will always be intriguing as long as you do it right.

Richard Ayoade based his film on the eponymous novella by Dostoyevsky and threw in Kafka, Lynch and a little Orwell (mainly the colonel’s figure) for good measure. He did it right, The Double giving the impression of being both odd and extremely well-honed. Controversially, I believe The Double to be one of Dostoyevsky’s best works (in fact, only second to The Village of Stepanchikovo). It may read like a clever Gogol pastiche, but it is also unique in that the brilliant farce comes filtered through the existential issues Dostoyevsky would later present in a rather different, religiously earnest tone. 

The charm is that apart from being so stylish and well thought through, The Double is also wonderfully all over the place. The bizarreness seems natural, and your laughter is genuine. The humour comes in nervy, unlikely bursts and takes you off-guard. The scene with the doctor (Paddy Considine – he also appeared in Submarine, Ayoade’s debut film) was absurd genius, and that aforementioned quote was effortlessly non-PC. Overall I’d say the acting is good, but this is more of an idea-based film. Like pretty much its characters, the actors are statistically insignificant. Simon and Hannah should never make as much sense as all that silly printing they do. The words, too, become larger than life. ‘I am a person. I exist’. 

The Double is a wonderful story of alienation and rebirth. It is short and concise. It says all it wants to say in less than an hour and a half and leaves you with a strong feeling that you’ve just seen something strange, inspired, challenging. Perfect for an awkward first date.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Film review: NYMPHOMANIAC by Lars von Trier

3 + 5  = ?   (sorry about that)

Before we get down to this elegant, elegiac story about fishing, let’s get one key question out of the way: why in God’s name do they pay with British pounds in this film? Is this Blackpool? Not some dreary, forsaken Vontrierland on the outskirts of Scandinavia but goddamned Blackpool? Yes, I know, fuck geography, the story is supposed to be universal and they could as well pay with Mongolian Tugriks. But still. Those sad curtains on train windows made me sad.

I’ve always had an issue with Lars von Trier and his freewheeling way of manipulating emotions. From Breaking The Waves to Antichrist, it has always felt like cheating. His subtlety is shallow and humourless, and you don’t prove your point by showing a mentally deficient girl wanking off salacious jerks on bleak Scottish buses. Well, apparently you do, but then it feels like cheap art.

So where does that leave Nymphomaniac? Von Trier’s very own, all-out, sexed-up Inland Empire? Lasting four hours, with unsimulated scenes featuring professional porn actors? With graphic perversions and every kind of orgasm imaginable (you’ve seen the infamous poster)? With sex addiction breathing at you from every inch of your screen? Well, let me put it like this: Nymphomaniac is Lars von Trier’s greatest achievement. (Sic!) There’s precious little to enjoy here, and after four straight hours I looked like a humped ghost, but Jesus Christ – sometimes when you are outrageous all you have to do to succeed is become unconditionally, uncompromisingly outrageous.

Look no further.

Was it Gore Vidal who said that the worst thing about watching pornography is that you might actually like it?.. With von Trier’s latest, you are never in danger. Nymphomaniac is some of the unsexiest sex I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s creepy, freaky, sticky, disgusting. You would have more chances with a John Updike novel. But can you say it is excessive? Can you say Lars von Trier went too far? Hell no, and that is his outrageous triumph. So don’t halve the experience, watch the whole thing in one sitting – if at all. It’s not rewarding, it’s overwhelming.

While not exactly linear, the story is very straightforward and easy to follow. “I discovered my cunt when I was two years old”, says Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg is a class act) to an old man who rescued her bruised and beaten in the street, and off we go. The man, a well-read virgin and a charming bachelor, is played by Stellan Skarsgård (who else?), and he is there to listen, dissect and analyse each section of her story via fishing, insects and maths. It’s both preposterous and rather wonderful, and adds a touch of lightness to the depressing proceedings. Quite inexplicably, Nymphomaniac can occasionally be rather entertaining (von Trier actually has a sense of humour, in a film about sex), but that’s until the second part kicks in and things become a little... heavy.

Shia LaBeouf (Joe’s one ‘love’) is surprisingly tolerable, Stacy Martin (young Joe) is jeune et jolie and Jamie Bell (K, a sadist Joe visits for violent whipping sessions) is brilliantly nondescript. The acting is superb, but the most memorable performance award has to go to Uma Thurman. She shows up in one bizarre, farcically tragic scene (which I will not give away) and drives you from laughter to tears with insane ease. I wish von Trier did more things of that upbeat nature, because frankly the lengthy hospital scene was sickening and dull.

Overall, the story covers every aspect of nymphomania that von Trier’s feverish imagination could summon, from premature stimulation to ‘fuck-me-now’ clothes to alphabetical lovers to playing Bach’s symphonies during cunninglingus. Plus, the visual imagery is way beyond suggestive and the foley artist must have been having a blast. Nymphomaniac is grotesque and gratuitous, but it is filled with neat, clever sequences (the train section is a high point), thoughts (‘secret ingredient to sex is love’) and ideas (the one about cutting fingernails is a quirky gem). And don’t even get me started on vaginas being compared to automatic doors. Bloody hell, Lars.

The ending was good, easily his best since Dogville. The sort of thing you half-expect and still find confusing, bewildering, completely out of order.

If you choose not to watch Nymphomaniac at all, good for you. If you watch it once, that is also fine. That’s your decision. However, if you have actually enjoyed the experience once and wish to watch it again, you must be, openly or secretly, no one else but this film’s subject matter. By which I of course mean a strange fish. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #148: The Flying Burrito Brothers - "Dark End Of The Street"

This may or may not be the best version of "Dark End Of The Street", but it's the first one I've heard. Off The Gilded Palace Of Sin (1969). This is gorgeous to a rather dangerous degree.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Album review: GALLON DRUNK - The Soul Of The Hour

Highlights: Before The Fire, The Exit Sign, The Soul Of The Hour, Dust In The Light


It’s almost summer now, and The Soul Of The Hour seems like the first genuine classic of 2014. This is good with a very hard ‘g’ and in a very old-fashioned kind of way. A band so in shape and yet so out of time.

I got into Gallon Drunk through the terrific, Max Décharné-fronted Flaming Stars (another underappreciated band all good people should check out), and back when I first heard them they sounded a mess. Despite some sloppy flashes of noisy brilliance, they were interesting but made little sense. You could find the same dirty punk blues, but done better – if maybe not always with such passion.

The Soul Of The Hour won me over in its opening 10 or 15 seconds of rollicking piano notes. This album is tight, gripping, positively overwhelming. A bit like classic Crime & The City Solution but with excessive darkness dropped in favour of even more intensity and power.

First comes “Before The Fire”, and there is no better way to open an album. The buildup is breathtaking, young Mike Oldfield would have approved. Initially it’s just piano. Then drums kick in. Then organ starts swirling. Then guitar, then vocals. A 9-minute musical feast that will have your veins pumping with pleasure and noise. It’s rough but they have mastered those edges. “The Dumb Room” and “The Exist Sign” are raucous, revved-up, dirty-ass punk rockers that show off confidence and guts. The title track is placed in the middle, and for a good reason. It’s the centrepiece. One dark mid-tempo groove that could go on forever for all I care. “Dust In The Light” is a Gallon Drunk-styled ballad, subtle, melodic and ominously pretty. Finally, the last two tracks are more of that lush, propulsive energy offered at the beginning. 

There are but seven rather lengthy songs here, and I don’t have one bad word to say. Is this the best album in their 20-year career?.. I would not be surprised. And I would certainly not mind staring at that cover art for the whole duration of this album. Brilliance all around.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Album review: SWANS - To Be Kind

Highlights: Screen Shot, Bring The Sun, Kirsten Supine, Nathalie Neal


Well, how lovely is that. You have a band called Swans releasing an album called To Be Kind with a cover picture depicting a baby face. Cute! Granted, the baby is crying and the image comes off almost as unsettling as the one on the cover of The Seer (almost), but still. Just how far can you push the limits of this hellish juxtaposition?

Michael Gira has now hit the full stride. He is so deep in his element that I can make an accurate prediction: To Be Kind will be followed in 2015 with an H-bomb explosion of intensity and desperation and running time matching that of Erik Satie’s “Vexations”. If he doesn’t do that, we should feel robbed.

For all its monumental, self-indulgent excesses, To Be Kind offers no surprises. Basically, it is The Seer inflated. It lasts more than two hours, which means that if you don’t cut your veins open by the end of it, it’s more than two hours of your life wasted. Because these are 10 lengthy, exhaustive, exhilarating songs with Gira at the top of his wicked game. Dragging you through the stomach of a whale suffering from a mental collapse. And he will do what it takes to achieve that. Use a chainsaw, breathe heavily, have mad laughing as a hook, include some of the most disturbing screaming he has ever done (“Toussaint L’Ouverture” is fucking hell, pardon my French, and I mean it as a compliment) and god knows what else. It’s pointless to describe individual songs, it’s one brilliant mess. “Kirsten Supine” is very pretty, in a Swans kind of way. Could it make it onto an imaginary Angels Of Light album? No way.

I’m not immune to Michael Gira, but seeing their live show last year made me realise that he can no longer shock me. He can still disturb, overwhelm, fascinate me (and he certainly does that on To Be Kind), but I no longer find this shocking. Thankfully, this makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. Just don’t play it to a girl. She won’t like it. And if she does, well, the odds are she is not the one you wanted to meet. 

Once again, the rating is completely useless.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #147: Morphine - "You Speak My Language"

Listening to Morphine is a lot like going on a drinking binge. A fascinating nose-dive. Two-string bass drenched in saxophone, narcotic vibe and uniquely shaped melodies. "You Speak My Language" appeared on Good (1992), and this live performance taken from a French TV show is every bit as hard-hitting as the studio recording. Plus you have "Honey White" as a bonus. Mark Sandman, who died so prematurely in 1999, looks exactly like the sort of person who would front a band called Morphine. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Album review: DAMON ALBARN - Everyday Robots

Highlights: Hostiles, Lonely Press Play, The Selfish Giant, You & Me


B***pop was better than nothing, and that’s all I’m going to say. I may be as cynical and dismissive about the subject as anyone, but the fact remains: the state of pop culture is so dreadfully numb at this point of time that the overblown 20th anniversary seemed like a genuine event. To which Everyday Robots is a perfect hangover.

Grey setting, tastefully subtle fonts. Stoop-shouldered Damon Albarn sitting on a minimalist chair, having a sad little nap or perhaps just staring at the ground. The ground that wouldn’t even exist were it not for the light shadow cast by Albarn’s drooping figure. Not the most cheerful image you can think of, but somehow there is comfort and warmth to it. As well as a great deal of style. If that is not all description you need, please read on.

This album has five singles. Which is funny, because outside the chorus of “Heavy Seas Of Love” there isn’t much commercial appeal here. Everyday Robots is definitely more substantial than the rather weightless Dr. Dee from 2012, but Albarn’s past glories are left well alone. Apart from that familiar world-weary voice, the aforementioned chorus is the only explicitly Blur-esque moment here. And Gorillaz? Well, maybe the Lord Buckley samples could qualify, but that would still be a stretch.

Lazy, languid, laidback. The vibe, so transparent on the cover picture, is dragged through each and every song of the album. Frail piano lines, autumnal acoustic strumming, some glitch percussion, occasional orchestration, a reasonable dose of Brian Eno (who sings the verses of “Heavy Seas Of Love”) – ideal background to Damon Albarn’s bleak lyricism and vocal tone. “Mr. Tembo” is the only upbeat song here, but that is only a brief transition to more wistful loneliness and isolation. Even before you hear the heartbroken genius of “The Selfish Giant” (‘it’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on’), you are well soaked through, willing to get into the seven-minute “You & Me” epic or even the lovely but listless “Hollow Ponds”. 

The wild party is only a memory now, but Albarn remains a great songwriter with a lot to offer. The hooks do make their understated appearance, but they are different now. They are like the gorgeous accordion in “The History Of A Cheating Heart”. They impose nothing on you, they don’t even look for your attention. And neither does this album, with its dour 21st century concept as merely an afterthought. It will leave a taste, but it will not necessarily be sour. Lyrically, “Lonely Press Play” is all melancholia and alienation. But there’s also hope there. It’s in the music.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Album review: THE MENZINGERS - Rented World

Highlights: I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, Rodent, Nothing Feels Good Anymore, In Remission


Well, who cares about long-winded novels, films starring two actors and albums released in the previous century?.. Rented World is what it’s about. The Menzingers’ new album.

Honestly – what a band. Back in August, I had to schedule my flight back from Dublin in such a way that I could catch them live. The one-hour pub gig was intoxicating to the point where everything else sounded bland two weeks after. With Guinness in one hand and the chorus of “Obituaries” rolling all over the room, this was the perfect Menzingers experience. They basically did On The Impossible Past in its entirety. You can’t blame them, that album is a modern punk rock classic, with attitude and the kind of anthemic tunefulness I haven’t encountered on any Bad Religion album. 

This is The Menzingers’ fourth album, and I guess surpassing On The Impossible Past was not an option. They had to go through a drastic change of style and do something completely different to try and achieve that. Instead, this is more of a welcome extension that offers 12 new songs and a slightly darker, more introspective tone. Song titles like “Good Things” and “Nice Things” are gone. This time, it’s “Bad Things” and “Nothing Feels Good Anymore”. They even find time for a lighters-up, male-tears acoustic closer “When You’re Dead”. Which might come off as a dreadful punk cliché, but thankfully the song is too good for that.

Rented World loses out in consistency department. On The Impossible Past unfurled like a great novel, every page equally powerful and gripping. This time it feels like a short story collection with some stories outshining the slightly weaker ones. The slightly weaker ones would be in the middle. “Transient Love” is something of an emotional, drum-heavy ballad that just doesn’t have too many thrills throughout its slow burning 5 minutes. “The Talk” is aggressive and brief, but also straightforward and smacks too much of what Green Day might do on a good day. Finally, “Sentimental Physics” suffers a bit from the penultimate-track syndrome. But those are all minor flaws. Most of Rented World is cathartic and catchy, exactly what you would expect from The Menzingers on a songwriting roll. “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” and “Where Your Heartache Exists” (so good they didn’t even bother with a third verse, doing a middle eight instead) are pure anthemic glory, unrelenting and memorable. “Rodent” is another exultant run of melodies and vocal/instrumental hooks, always building up and never giving you a chance to breathe.

And then there’s “In Remission”. Basically, all the proof you needed. That cool-as-fuck ‘up’ at the end of the first verse? The intensity exploding with the hysterical ‘oh yeah’ screams? The ‘if everyone needs a crutch, then I need a wheelchair’ chant, surely your favourite lyric of the year? The ultimate Menzingers’ song, packed to the brim with the sort of ideas most bands would only dream of. 

Rented World is a confident album by a band that knows exactly what it’s doing and where it wants to go. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #146: The New Pornographers - "Breakin' The Law"

Imagine the situation. Tomorrow all bands that have appeared this century will disappear and you only have a chance to save one.. Admit it: a not entirely tragic situation. It's The New Pornographers for me. Others will have to go, especially The Horrors. "Breakin' The Law" was the last song on Mass Romantic (2000), and whatever is going on after 2:02... I don't know how Dan Bejar does it, but it's ecstatic.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Favourite albums: STREETHAWK: A SEDUCTION (2001) by Destroyer

To quote a film you will never get tired of quoting: ‘Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain’. Well, if there is any truth to Danny’s words, that’s certainly one way to describe where Dan Bejar’s songwriting style is coming from.

Destroyer is in fact a very misleading name for a band that has nothing to do with Slayer, Slasher, Slitter and Slaughter and all those other metal acts that may or may not exist. Destroyer is about as fitting as Swans. Which, I guess, is where part of the charm lies.

Contrary to what some people might tell you, Destroyer is not a side-project of a member of a Canadian supergroup. That’s a ridiculous notion. Dan Bejar may contribute three or four songs to each New Pornographers album, but that is more of a high-profile distraction than a full-time job. Destroyer’s first album was released in 1996, four years before Mass Romantic. It wasn’t a very good album, mind you, but it was a start.

LP’s like City Of Daughters have their limited appeal, but they are so disheveled and sketchy that you will need infinitely more than a cursory interest. You will need dedication and total immersion into the freewheeling way Dan Bejar treats his melodies, lyrics, arrangements. 2000’s Thief was tighter, more focused, but he was still fooling around in places. Streethawk: A Seduction, in its turn, is the man’s absolute peak, and to this day I consider it a flawless triumph of free artistic expression. Everything works. Streethawk is a vast Impressionist canvas, deeply musical, conceived in the cynical-romantic age of modern pop culture.

But first you will have to get it. You will have to get “The Bad Arts”, “English Music”, “Helena” and all the rest of it. Pianos, acoustic guitars, distorted rhythms, tunes eating into each other like charming puppies gone mad. Streethawk is the tightest and most articulate that stream of consciousness can get, and yet how do you explain the mouth-watering “another west coast morning” section of “The Very Modern Dance”? And what’s with the immortal Clash line thrown into “The Sublimation Hour”? And the profound lyrical understatement of “Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sea Of Tears)?”.. I don’t care if these are not melodies in the conventional sense of the word, but do believe me: if you get it, if you eventually come round to it, ‘at the temporary age’ of 24 or even beyond that, you have to be a very special person indeed.  

It must be hip to believe Dan Bejar is the best songwriter in The New Pornographers. It’s like saying George Harrison wrote all the best Beatles’ songs. Cute idea, but take out a sheet of paper and write down your favourites. No, Bejar’s songs don’t beat A.C. Nemwan’s best. But what you can’t deny is that Streethawk: A Seduction is the best album released by a member of a Canadian supergroup.

Streethawk tempts the huntress:
“Let the girls go insane!”
As we lay down our weapons and sure enough
We are slain by that stuff.

We are, aren’t we?..

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Book review: JAVIER MARIAS - The Infatuations (2013)

I tried to retell the plot of this novel to a friend the other day. Usually retelling plots is a very silly thing to do, certainly never to be attempted without gloves on. I failed miserably. The eloquence and the subtlety were lost, the understatement went missing, and the story turned into tasteless old junk from your kitchen’s freezer. What we were looking at was a Mexican soap opera unworthy of anyone’s time or attention. Which is a shame. Because The Infatuations is something of a triumph.

And then again – it would be the same with Marcel Proust (note that I’m not making any far-reaching comparisons here). In Search Of Lost Time would be no more than a sentimental French melodrama. Swann and Odette would be a cliché. Same with Flaubert and countless others. Which is all to say that some novels simply can’t be dissected that way. For all its intriguing plot shenanigans, The Infatuations is all about the style.

I’ll give away the premise. Maria (or Prudent Young Woman) is from the world of publishing. You might forget that in the process of reading the book, but try not to. It’s important. Each morning she comes to one particular café in Madrid, and each morning there’s this married couple sitting nearby having breakfast. Looking so happy and contented. Maria feels drawn to them, she becomes infatuated with the image. The smiles, the little laughs – but then you never really know with people, do you?.. A terrible accident happens, and Maria has an unlikely chance to do what no one should ever do: get close to the object of her obsession. The story does go to fairly exciting places once we leave the cafe, but like I say. All about the style.

The style is meticulous, but always graceful and never labored. It twists and twirls, often around one scene or even a thought. It’s enchanting, and you get entangled into the textures that create true beauty out of what is essentially mundane and repetitive. Somewhere in the middle of the novel, Javier Marias retells (ah!) the plot of a short story by Balzac (whose main idea – ‘the dead are wrong to come back’ – becomes so significant in this context). It is done in a very detailed, nonchalant, matter-of-fact way. But very early into The Infatuations I realised that if we’re never going to leave the Madrid café in the course of these 352 pages, I won’t mind. I’ve accepted the rules of the game, I’m in. It will take you two pages to see where you stand. I personally bow my head to both the author and Margaret Jull Costa, the translator of the novel.

Marias likes a sparkling sentence that he can later suck on for a paragraph or two. “It’s easy to introduce doubt in someone’s mind” is surely a key one, reflecting as it does the strange, existential, slightly Dostoyevskian world that Maria finds herself in. Where you can neither confirm nor refute anything and where each truth is only a half-truth. The characters are never real. They breathe, but abstractly, and their looks never come through. They’re not even one-dimensional – they’re translucent. But The Infatuations is that kind of book. It creates its own universe inaccessible to conventional senses and way beyond Spain. With a plot that is merely an embellishment. 

It was a long read for me, but then I never really pushed it. Like all great art, The Infatuations was great escape.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #145: The Adverts - "Gary Gilmore's Eyes"

The Haines connection is vague, but it was probably him saying Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts (1978) is the greatest debut album of all time that made me listen to it. I have to say he more or less got it right. Punk rock is physically incapable of offering any more thrills.  

Friday, 2 May 2014

Favourite albums: NEW WAVE (1993) by The Auteurs

The very tips of my fingers are tingling – New Wave is that good.

Over-excited people will tell you anything. For instance, they will tell you about an album where every song is so brilliant that you can’t pick a favourite. A seedless watermelon, a congregation of perfect Christians. I’ve rarely felt that way. Even on a record as blindingly perfect as Paris 1919, I find the slightly stronger title track and the slightly weaker “Macbeth”. You always choose sides. Highway 61 Revisited is fantastic, but isn’t “From A Buick 6” not quite on a par? The Dreaming is a masterpiece, but “Leave It Open” is from a different planet altogether. Etc., etc.

However, this time I just don’t know. New Wave is where I’m ready to wrap a blindfold around my face and throw a dart into space. Wherever it lands. The incredible tacet in “Show Girl”? The infectious riff of “Idiot Brother”? The intriguing minimalism of “Home Again”? I will accept anything.

There was nothing to improve and nowhere to grow for The Auteurs. Luke Haines arrived frustrated, annoying, cynical and fully equipped with some of the best tunes outside those written by Forster and McLennan. There’s a line in one of his more recent songs, “21st Century Man” from 2009: “What do you do when you made your masterpiece? That’s what I did in the 90’s…”. It was not about Baader Meinhof  and it was not about After Murder Park. It was about New Wave, The Auteurs’ debut album.

1993. The year that didn’t yet care for Britpop or know what it was. The year that saw Haines bitter and confused about narrowly missing out on The Mercury Prize (lost by one vote to Suede). That’s the closest the man has ever come to recognition. I’d compare the trajectory to that of Martin Amis in English literature. Somerset Maugham Award for The Rachel Papers, then long years of noble and partly self-imposed oblivion.   

Stylistically, I’d say Robert Christgau offers an interesting reference point: Pet Shop Boys as a guitar band. It’s tricky and could paint a vulgar picture in a certain uncultivated mind (yes, we absolutely have to bring Morrissey into this), but it is also rather accurate. Or maybe it’s a bit like a cross between Pet Shop Boys and The Go-Betweens? Lush, witty, intelligent, charismatic, somehow unique. The 12 songs that make up New Wave are all distinct, fully-fledged creations that nevertheless flow seamlessly into each other. Lyrics full of poetry and precision. And Haines’ voice, registered halfway between hushed spite and snotty tenderness, loving to do that irresistible ‘chh/ahh’ sound that Pink Floyd did in “Matilda Mother”. Good musicianship, too, but the Cellist has not yet fully arrived, so it’s guitars, guitars, and more guitars. And occasional piano, so clever in the chorus of “Bail Out” and so delicate in the verses of “Junk Shop Clothes”.

New Wave is a masterclass in articulate songwriting. The tunefulness is truly staggering and, quite honestly, it puts everyone else to shame. Also, while Luke Haines had his style from the off, he certainly knew how to make this stuff varied enough to guarantee smooth listening experience. After the relatively heavy “American Guitars”, there will always be the gentle, acoustic “Junk Shop Clothes”. You’ll be fine.

It’s The Auteurs’ album, but it really is the brainchild of only one man. His personality fills this album like hot water fills a bathtub with a plug firmly in place. And the personality has proved to be so strong, talent so great that it was enough for a few more Auteurs albums, Black Box Recorder, solo years and an array of left-field side projects. New Wave, however, remains what it is: Luke Haines’ masterpiece. “I was all over the 90’s, I was all over in the 90’s”. Thankfully for all good people with taste, not really true.

P.S. Also, this review is not entirely irrelevant. Earlier this year, New Wave has been reissued with a number of bonus tracks and alternative cuts. They are absolutely indispensable if you are a fan of the style.  And with the style this appealing, I can’t see why you shouldn’t be. Here’s a man who thought “Wedding Day” wasn’t good enough for an album. Here’s a man who made “Subculture” a hidden track. Listen to it, and tell me where it leaves all the claptrap that arrived one year later.