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In the late early 1990's Luke Haines looked like a star in the making with his band "The Auteurs", arguably the first "Britpop" band and a band expected to go a long, long way. Sadly for Haines (and the others involved in "The Auteurs") things weren't to go the way the band would have liked, however for Haines it certainly wasn't the end. In fact since the break up of the original "The Auteurs", Haines has gone on to release numerous albums, both under his own name and also with various other projects, including Black Box Recorder and Baader Meinhof.
"21st Century" man was the 15th studio album from Haines in one guise or another and was released in 2009. Although it lacked major commercial success it did garner, like Haines has through his whole career, a cult audience as well as widespread critical acclaim.
The album starts with the soft "Suburban Morning" a track that immediately allows you to get to terms with Haines' vocals and musical style as well as his incredible lyrics, in fact in terms of lyrics, Haines is up there with the best of them. Haines is not only poetic in what he says but also deep and hugely impressive in terms his imagery and this song starts the album off in an excellent manner.
Things step up a gear when Haines gets to his next track, "Peter Hammill", a more up tempo sounding track that takes it's name from the lead member of prog-rock band "Van der Graaf Generator". Although it's a hard hitting track than the opener, it's an equally brilliant track that has a wonderfully catchy hook and you can. Hammill isn't the only "celebrity" mentioned on the album with German actor Klaus Kinski also having a song named after him with track 3 being "Klaus Kinski". It's probably fair to suggest that "Klaus Kinski" is the albums stand out and, like the albums opener, it's a slower track with deep, meaningful lyrics.
The album's fourth track is "Love Letter To London" a track that makes numerous references to England's capital. Whilst it's not as good as the earlier tracks for me, I imagine if you're from London you will get numerous references that the track makes. In terms of the tracks sound, it's again a soft, though one that seems to finish sooner than you realise.
In terms of the albums most catchy song, it's fair to say that to "Wot A Rotter", a track has an addictive sound, a toe-tapping beat and by far the catchiest chorus on the whole album. The track, an almost "radio friendly song" is catchy despite having scathing and angry lyrics despite the somewhat calm and intelligent delivery by Haines. If you're a track to nod your head too and sing along to this is the one.
"Our Man In Buenos Aries" is the album's most self referential album as Haines not only mentions himself by name ("Mr Haines, where have you been") but also by his own image ("White leather shoes and a Panama hat"). Like much of the album the lyrics are full of imagery as Haines paints gorgeous pictures with his words and again his deliberate delivery is solid has doesn't waste a word here and if you actually give the track the time it takes to sink in, you will be genuinely rewarded with one of the most interesting tracks on the album.
If "Our Man In Buenos Aries" is the most interesting song on the album, it needs to be said the most interesting title of a track is "Russian Futurists Black Out The Sun". Oddly I can't help but feel that this was almost certainly a James Bond theme tune in an alternate universe where the cold war has continued. The track has a genuinely futuristic feel and although the track is given a thoroughly bizarre title it's a brilliant song and well worth a listening, even if it does get a little strange towards the end.
After our jaunt to Argentina and Russia, Haines comes back to where he knows best with "English Southern Man" another song that is likely a little bit better if you're from the south yourself. The track is an up-tempo track that certainly has it's roots back in the 1990's Brit-pop movement with a much richer sound than a lot of the simplistic tracks that scatter the album. Whilst it may have a little bit of an "old" sound to it, this is another track that could easily have gotten radio play, much like "Wot a Rotter".
The album hits its low spot with the penultimate track "White Honky Afro" which, whilst catchy enough to be worthy of a listen is really nothing too special and it's not something that even nears the quality of the rest of the album. It's thankfully the albums shortest track (2:09) and is over quickly enough, though is certainly not worth listening too.
Despite the poor penultimate track, the album does recover well with title track, "21st Century Man" the final track on the recording. Like much of the album, it's musically simplistic allowing Haines' vocals and lyrics to carry the track, which they do well. The track, like much of album does references various things, such as Thatcher closing the mines (and many other things from the late 1900's), Haines' own birth (in the 1960's) and even black and the moon landing. The track is certainly a high to end the album on, and in fact it may well be why "White Honky Afro" is on the album, it gives the album a dip so that the final song is memorable.
Overall the album is genuinely top notch. Whilst it does take a notable dip with "White Honky Afro" the rest of the album is brilliant and has not only Haines' brilliant delivery and amazing lyrics but also a bit for everyone. With simplistic sounds, the occasional catchy riff or chorus, and references to so many things that you actually end up listening out for things you recognise. This is what music, at it's best, is about!
Review title take from "Klaus Kinski"