There's a very real possibility that Luke Haines is just fucking with us at this point. Previously the pen behind such poisonous words about popular music, the guy has now given us the big middle finger we always expected. Seemingly just noise, this is his Pollock moment of throwing paint at the canvas and calling it "art", one supposes, but maybe it is Art. Maybe.
British Nuclear Bunkers, out Friday via Cherry Red, is nearly tuneless, positively atonal, and also one of the more interesting things he's done since the implosion -- or was it self-destruction? -- of Black Box Recorder. The only more subversive thing he could have done would have been an acoustic greatest hits tour of Auteurs numbers.
This album is sort of a concept album. A concept album from a guy I'm pretty sure hates the very idea of such things. One cannot imagine Mr. Haines sitting down with a nice cup of tea, slipping on the headphones, and spinning Tommy, for example. Still, whether you buy into the cod concept or not, British Nuclear Bunkers largely -- and freakin' remarkably -- works on its own limited terms. The sound of a possible future robbed of music and warmth the "tunes" here are largely tones expanded into riffs. Not nearly as off-putting as those Fripp/Eno albums, British Nuclear Bunkers is bracing listening and also pretty easy to digest. It's short and one can sort of absorb this, ruminate on it, and then decide what to make of this guy's motives anymore.
Look, there's a very real part of me that hates this cat for never writing another song as good as "The Upper Classes" again, for not pursuing a sort of neo-classical strain of pop best exemplified by the genius horror of "Unsolved Child Murder", for not getting BBR back together to subvert the U.K. charts again. But, I then have to remind myself that by putting out something like British Nuclear Bunkers, Haines has somehow lived up to the very potential he always had. The crank in him was born to do this, you know what I mean?
Now, I could do my usual thing and give you a run-down of these tracks but that would be the height of absurdity. There's the Eighties-filtered-through-the-Nineties chirping of "Bunker Funker" and the bleakness of "Camden Borough Council" which sounds rather uncomfortably like the instrumental bits on an old Gary Numan album. (I mean that in the best possible way, I should add.) And there's the wonderfully-titled "Mama Check the Radar at the Dada Station" which buzzes splendidly even without a trace of human warmth. All that said, these cuts are best presented together so that one can absorb the full impact of British Nuclear Bunkers.
This is a bold release and I can imagine that Mr. Haines has taken perverse delight in birthing it on an unsuspecting and still-loyal fanbase. And while I'm still sorta waiting for another "Lenny Valentino", I'll tolerate this old bitter fucker's screeds if they are this interesting.
God save Luke Haines!
British Nuclear Bunkers is out in a few days on Cherry Red. You've been warned.