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English Singer-Songwriter Luke Haines has had his name on the periphery of the Britsh music scene since the later part of the 1980's and early 1990's due to his work with various groups including "The Servants" and "The Auteurs". Though it wasn't until 2001 that the enigmatic Englishman first got around to releasing a debut solo album, with the release of "Christie Malry's Own Double Entry OST" (for the the movie of the same name).
Just a month after the release of "Christie Malry's Own Double Entry OST", Haines got around to realeasing his second solo album "The Oliver Twist Manifesto". Unlike his debut that was Haines releasing a debut album with no outside interest, so he wasn't limited to the tracks that were were wanted for a films director.
The 11 track album opens with "Rock 'N' Roll Communique No 1", a soft track that shows off Haines' lyrical mastery. The track has some clear roots both Brit-pop and although it's a nice opening track to start an album it doesn't grab you as a track that really should have started the album, instead that's left to the second track "The Oliver Twist". The track not only has a more bitter sound, both vocally and lyrically but also a much more "listen to me" feel about it, as Haines self-references ("There's a young British artist in the room"). You can see that Haines is more than a little bit bitter about missing out on the success of the Brit-pop movement, something he certainly helped start.
Track 3 is probably the most "catchy" track though also probably one of the albums weakest as Haines sings about British artist Sarah Lucas, in the track "Death of Sarah Lucas". Sadly this is a real down point in the album as Haines' usually sensational lyricism vanish for a track and although catchy it lacks the magical spark I've come to expect of Haines' work. The dip doesn't last long as Haines regains his clever word play and his wonderful story telling for "Never Work", a track that sees Haines return to form, even if the track does, end a little bit too early.
Arguably the albums most toe-tappingly enjoyable track is "Discomania", a track that again sees Haines lyrical mastery come to the fore though one that also shows a toe-tapping beat and a track that reminds me somewhat of The Lightning Seeds (who were one of my favourite bands), albeit it an angry Lightning Seeds. The music basic is quite happy sounding though if you give any attention to the lyrics the song is anything but happy happy and it's one of the albums real stands out.
The album's pace immediately drops following "Discomania" as we get to "Mr & Mrs Solanas". This track is about feminist Valerie Solanas, who is best known for an attempted assassination on artist Andy Warhol and references various various people involved with the art movement (specifically 3 from the situationist movement). The track is lyrically brilliant as long as you make an effort to actually look into it, which is one of Haines' biggest downfalls as an artists in a way, in that he's probably too clever for his own good. Aside from the links to the art world, the track is somewhat sinister in sound and well worth a good listen with the lyrics in front of you.
"What Happens When We Die" is another track that sounds slow although it only lasts 2:09 and it seems even shorter due to the amazing amount of story that Haines fits in to the track lyrically. Were it not for the slightly morbid nature of the song (death) this could well have had some radio play back in the day as it's a wonderful little track.
In the album's 8th track, "Christ" we see Haines on a real ego trip as he compares himself to Jesus time and time again. For people who listen to Haines in detail we will all know that he's a self-referential type of song writer but this is one of must egotistical but also one of his most incredible tracks. He seems to have no trouble with blaspheming "Arse licking Christ" in a track that may leave a bad taste in the ears of some listeners, but for those willing to just accept it as a soft-dakr pop song they will find it thoroughly enjoyable.
The album's longest track is track #9, "The Spook Manifesto" which runs to almost 6 minutes (5:44). The track is given an almost warbled sound throughout as Haines attempts to almost do an electro-ballad. Sadly the track has numerous issues, not only is a bit too warbled for my liking but it sort of sounds like "The Pet Shop Boys" hallucinating and doesn't really go anywhere or do anything other than make you wonder where your skip button is. This is certainly one of the albums few weak points. Sadly despite a return to the simplistic sound for the album's penultimate track "England vs. America", the track sadly just falls flat.
The album's final track is the album's title track "The Oliver Twist Manifesto" and is by far and away the most self-referential track on the album as Haines talks not only about himself (repeatedly) but also the album "All these songs about Christ, spooks and personal vendettas". It's fair to say that this song is almost Haines's version of Eminem's "Whatever You Say I Am" and it really sees him letting lose on what he really thinks of peoples views of him. If you look at it for what it is (an angry song, sung in a less than angry manner) then you will genuinely enjoy this, though it's easy to see why some may hate the self-indulgence that Haines has given himself.
Overall the album is really solid. Sure there are 2 or 3 weaker links (usually too many in an 11 track album) but the quality of the others really is brilliant. For some however it's not the weaker tracks that will be the problem but just how self-indulgent and self-referential Haines is through-out the album. If you look away from, or view the self-references in a humorous way then you will genuinely be able to enjoy this. If however you end up getting lost in Haines-on-Haines action you will quickly be turned off.