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Growing up in England in the Ford Cortina Decade,
This review is from: Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop (Audio CD)
My instant reaction on the first listen was the worst thing is that a couple of the tracks are almost boring. If anyone else had produced them, they would be shocking, but for Haines they seem predictable, almost safe. Given my own peculiar tastes, I will lap up any repetition of his old themes such as pointing out the brutal underside of England, the divisions of class and the faux romance of crime, but lyrically scant new ground is broken. It is the same musically.
Aside from some ill-advised nods to English music hall tradition, it is the expected mix of guitars, sly seventies' references, retro synth, the odd bit of cello, delicate, entrancing pop sensibilities and one dance-orientated track.
However, typical Haines also means a display of genius and bravery. No one else around has the guts/ill taste (strike as you feel appropriate) to tackle subjects such as the Yorkshire Ripper and the abusive, grooming potential of pop stardom. No other songwriter is honest enough to deal with the grim nature of growing up in England in the Ford Cortina decade; to remind us it was dominated by a poverty of perspective and a wilful, tacky glossing over of its moments of utter darkness.
There are songs on Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop I know I will grow to love. I already adore the frightening mix of crashing guitar, terrace stomp and tinkling piano of Leeds United with its final chilling refrain of: `The North, the North/Where we do what we want'. The mordant autopsies of deceased Englishness in All The English Devils and Here's To Old England have me semi-seduced. How can you not feel affection for a song with the lines: 'Here's to old England/Sliced white bread and milky tea/Sarcasm, a well-developed sense of irony'? The anti-New Age hymn Secret Yoga is achingly beautiful, its razor-blade lyric almost hidden amongst its pop glamour.
The whole album drips with Haines' sneering, caustic vocal style, bringing out the full menace and irony of each song. If the price to pay for yet another scathing, anti-nostalgia masterpiece from Haines is a sense of familiarity with his previously established gift, then it is a price worth paying.