An indie-rock eccentric and an alt. rock legend join forces to explore esoteric pop culture worlds.
It is to Peter Buck’s immense credit that it no longer feels a legal requirement to introduce him as “PeterBuckfromREM”. Indeed, Buck has never wasted a second of time moving on from the twitching behemoth of that band’s corpse, whether it be with The Minus 5, Tuatara or any number of other combos cobbled together (usually) with neighbours from his stays in Seattle and Portland. He is, more than your usual squillionaire rock guitarist, a massive music fan, happy to play tiny gigs and release small-run records in order to give something new a whirl. Playing with Luke Haines is another matter entirely, of course.
Legend tells us (ok, the press release tells me) that they made the acquaintance of each other after Buck purchased one of Haine’s celebrated rock ‘n’ roll portraits (a £99 Lou Reed, for the record) and polite conversation led to cross-Atlantic manly handshakes and a collaborative record which has been patched together with the pair recording their respective parts in their own manor. So, how does an album by one of indie rock’s most recognised mainstream successes and one of indie rock’s most contrary snatchers of defeat from the jaws of victory pan out?
There’s a feeling of a very agreeable gentlemanly fist-fight about the ten tracks, whereby each participant pretends to nod sagely at the other’s contribution, only to then feverishly beaver away at finding a way they can overshadow it. Common sense would tell you Peter Buck is going to win out here, the weight of his musical history and success dictating that the final word is always going to be his. Naturally, this is not the case, Haines’ arrangements, lyrics and incredulity at the world around him is merely given a surprisingly reverential peg-up, from the rather baroque sounds of opener Jack Parsons, to the Velvet Underground-isms of Apocalypse Beach and the polished glam Haines continually returns to.
If there’s been a decidedly British folk-horror tone to much of Luke Haines’ recent recorded output, the addition of Buck has brought additional road movie soundtrack motifs and a messed-up post-bomb dust-bowl Planet of the Apes convention quality to the party. The tablas and recorders of Last of the Legendary Bigfoot Hunters are typical of Haines budging not one jot from his modus operandi. He’s either attempting to bring the recorder to the forefront of rock ‘n’ roll or ensuring it is quarantined forever, it’s repeated appearance throughout the album doing the job of breaking the fourth wall and allowing the listener to know that this is very much, business as (un)usual. A primary school music lesson as Greek chorus.
Elsewhere, preposterous modulators and whirring electric things introduce the usual cast of pop culture oddities to wave to their mums at home: Donovan; The Carpenters; Johnnie Ray, typical characters who have attained a faded tarnish to their once splendid tiaras. There’s a veritable popular culture firing squad assembled for Andy Warhol Was Not Kind, a track, which along with Bobby’s Wild Years, would have a crack at being a bona fide hit, had it not got the slippery hands of the perma-unlucky Luke all over them.
Beat Poetry for Survivalists reflects very well on all concerned. The involvement of an outside source has given Luke Haines a much lusher canvas for his meditations on everything from occultist rocket-man, Jack Parsons and Bigfoot to Bobby Fischer and Pol Pot. The guitar work is exemplary through, bolshy yet sympathetic. Purist REM fans will be livid and if that doesn’t want to make you buy it, I can’t help you.