Highlights: Alan Vega Says, Doll’s Forever, Cerne Abbas Man
Apparently it’s a great week for killing your darlings. And I do feel murderous when I say Luke Haines’ latest album is his weakest. His weakest is still worth anybody’s while, of course, but something has gone wrong here. The songwriting is not so much poor as it is lazy. Or we can just cut the crap: New York In The 70’s doesn’t have enough great songs.
Luke’s new album is like Twitter: catchy, brief, repetitive, self-indulgent. I fully realise it takes a special kind of artist to cram self-indulgence into a 30-minute album, but this is what you get. “Drone City” and “U.K. Punk” are prime filler material. Has the man lost it? Has that self-styled righteousness gone to his head? Or did he do it to avoid the running time of an early Beach Boys album? These dull drones may serve their conceptual purpose, but their musical value hovers around zero.
Thankfully, great songwriters don’t disappear overnight, and when he is good he is brilliant. Once you get used to constant repetitions, tunes start shining through. The melody of “Alan Vega Says” is timeless, and it’s a lovely story. Luke sounds like Denim-period Lawrence in the chorus of the title track, and the very uneven “Bill’s Bunker” has passages of striking elegance and beauty. “Doll’s Forever” is a loving paean to The New York Dolls, and “Cerne Abbas Man” with its unforgettable chant belongs to the list of Haines’ greatest creations. But then you will also have to deal with something like the single “Lou Reed Lou Reed”. It’s an affectionate tribute to the great man, and you’ll have the hook stuck in your head for days, but isn’t it the sort of stuff best suitable for obscure B-sides and Record Store Day throwaways?..
I haven’t yet mentioned the concept, but that’s because I insist that music comes first. You don’t need to ‘get’ anything to know that “Jim Carroll” rocks and “Drone City” (Suicide-lite) is a waste. But I might just as well mention that New York In The 70’s (self-explanatory) is the third installment in Luke’s psychedelic series of concept albums, following one album about British wrestling and another about rock‘n’roll animals. Basically, outsider artist at his outsidest. I have deep respect for that, I just don't think it's worthy of a man who wrote "Klaus Kinski".
After all, it was Haines who answering a question about new music formats said that a good song will be a good song regardless of the medium. Be it classy vinyl or a cheap floppy disk. And who would argue with that?..