Just three weeks after his last album release comes The Oliver Twist Manifesto by Luke Haines and, like Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry, it features scary pictures of Mr Haines in the sleeve. This one includes a similar design to the Go airline commercials, all bright coloured circles with writing inside them, with the CD declaring, in a font somewhat like that used for Happy Days or Harley Davidson, THIS IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT. Someone even let him loose amongst children for the cover shot; he lurks behind four ‘urban yoofs’ who hold up the alternative title of the album, (OR) WHAT’s WRONG WITH POPULAR CULTURE.
He’s a right grouchy chap, so he is. After calling for a National Pop Strike (and on the week Madonna plays six nights in London; I mean, come on!), this is released to a warmed-up fanbase, ready for another serving of subversive, scratchy vocals, weird almost-R&B beats and happy analogue keyboard effects. They get it – but while much of Christie Malry… resembled earlier work by The Auteurs, this album has more in common with Black Box Recorder. The rough guitars are nowhere to be found and the beat and atmosphere of The Facts of Life are much in evidence.
Two songs, Oliver Twist and The Oliver Twist Manifesto, are essentially halves of a whole; “This is Oliver Twist, pissing over Britannia,” he snarls on the former, while on the latter, over the top of a flamboyant take on Abba’s final chord sequence from the chorus of Money Money Money, we get “You gotta believe me I never wanted to be liked”. Lucky, considering his recent spat with Graham Coxon.
Death Of Sarah Lucas, meanwhile, is nothing short of a declaration of evil; “I shot Sarah Lucas,” he intones over and over. Excellent!
Discomania, one of the standout tracks from Christie Malry…, is remixed here with strings and horrible drum taps; and is rather unnecessary. But it is followed up by another of those Haines specials that almost sounds like a credible r’n’b song, entitled Mr & Mrs Solanas. The words get into your head after just one listen – it is a song about a church wedding invite and proceeds to list the sights and sounds of said wedding.
Another list song appears in the shape of Christ. Haines compares his age now to the age Christ died; there is a tenuous link between the Son of God and light entertainment, with a whole list of random Christs “Anorexic Christ, Deaf Dumb And Blind Christ…” – it is really quite silly. It also declares what the manifesto is about; among the things he fancies doing is becoming invisible. He is not exactly Madonna now, is he? Then he has a sublime moment with Spook Manifesto, which could give Air a run for their money. This is welcome; I wonder what would happen if the two acts collaborated? “You can call me Doctor Strange,” he whispers over the top of his trusty drum machine and a synth string arrangement.
Christie Malry… is a better album, but this one has its good points too, as all of Luke Haines’ material in his various bands have. And when he’s good he is really good. But if all the talk of manifestos and pop strikes bores you, forget his media image and just listen to The Oliver Twist Manifesto late at night. Where Radiohead at such times sound angry or suicidal, this is the stuff of nightmares, the sound of a murderer getting dressed to go stalk the streets of London at 2am, a corrupter of souls and a torturer of bodies. Be afraid.