My biggest issue with Twitter is that it has demystified the Artist. Devoid of mystery, the Artist has turned into Everyman. Deplorable. 'Please don't Twitter', as Robert Forster sang on his brilliant last album, ‘let me imagine you’. However, there's precious little to imagine when everything is on your fucking screen.
Art, though, is bigger than the Artist, and despite years of snide one-liners and musical self-indulgence, Luke Haines still has it. Oh lots of it. You may have forgotten that sweet/sinister melodic genius after the musically unexceptional New York in the 70s (I still can't wring blood out of "Lou Reed Lou Reed"), the murky and perfunctory Adventures in Dementia and the self-consciously quirky British Nuclear Bunkers, but the truth remains – Haines is still the best living songwriter this side of Robert Forster.
Which should become obvious after the first ten seconds of "Are You Mad?" whose melody is the perfect reflection of what may well be the best description of Haines's music: “Listening to a Haines record is like being kidnapped by a masked hostile fiend only to find out they are taking you to the seaside for ice cream and tea” (as said by one John Rain).
Are you mad like uncle Terry
Or are you mad like mum?
Flapping like a flip-flop
As your stitches come undone.
Because after all, it's the melody you hear in "Are You Mad?" that you love Luke Haines for. It's the melody you want your girlfriend to appreciate because otherwise you would not date her ever again.
And yes, this is Haines's first non-concept album since 21st Century Man. Basically, Smash the System is just a collection of songs. Or better still, Smash the System is the perfect snapshot of this man's career. Pulsating opener "Ulrike Meinhof's Brain Is Missing" harks back to his 90's album about the German terrorist group. "Bomber Jacket" is late-period Auteurs. Gorgeous breather "Cosmic Man (Intro)" could be taken from his concept record about rock'n'roll animals. I could go on.
Elsewhere, it's songwriting brilliance mixed with British whim. Lyrics deal with… everything, really, from oral sex to alphabet spaghetti. Latest reference points include Marc Bolan, Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee, Incredible String Band, Vince Taylor, and I'm just going through the song titles.
It's a diverse record, almost excessively so, and while Luke consciously sacrifices his identity in a couple of places ("Marc Bolan Blues" sounds like T. Rex., and that's both fascinating and slightly disturbing), Smash the System is a long-due triumph. Not everything works, and clearly the rather uneventful "Black Bunny" would not go down in history as a Luke Haines classic, but this is certainly his strongest set of songs in years.
So in the end – fuck Twitter. When all is said and done, Luke Haines is just a great songwriter. And I insist a bigger compliment does not exist. Not when all you care about is Art.