The following copy was commissioned by and submitted to the Times over Christmas, for a piece gathering together nominations for New Old Faces for 2010. I never saw the piece, but I know my contributions weren’t in it, due to … hey, people being on holiday and seasonal confusion. So I reprint them here, as I was rather pleased with them. Actually, I don’t reprint them, I print them.*
Born James Morrison in 1960 – which makes 2010 a self-evidently landmark year for him – the singer-songwriter I know and love as Jim Bob has never achieved the giddy iconic heights of his reckless Doors namesake, but neither has he overdosed in a Paris bathtub.
To ageing disciples of the early-90s indie boom and its accidental South London heroes Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, purveyors of pun-filled social comment, exposed knees, punk rock electric guitar and the machine-gun rattle of a furious drum machine, Jim Bob and co-conspirator Fruitbat own a small piece of history. (Witness their now annual reunion gigs if you don’t believe me.) As an NME journalist I bonded with Carter in Brixton, Prague, New York and Philadelphia.
Since their amicable split in 1997, Jim has carved a quiet but prolific and sure-footed solo career out of the same urban angst and lyrical dexterity. He had a good 2009, releasing his fifth solo album Goffam and ending the year framed by a full orchestra, wearing a white suit, essaying 2004 anthem Angelstrike! onstage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as part of comedian Robin Ince’s Lessons and Carols for Godless People variety bill. Thoughtful eccentrics Robyn Hitchcock and John Otway were on the same bill, and you could almost join the dots.
A have-guitar-will-travel cult troubadour and an accomplished author – following his 2004 account of the Carter years, Goodnight Jim Bob, his debut novel Storage Stories is published in May – Jim ought to be as beloved as a Costello or a Dury or a Davies, with slices of life as tuneful, arch, dramatic and unapologetic as Teenage Body Count, Cartoon Dad and The Golden Years Of Lonely Old Dears. I mean, who else is writing songs about the plight of forgotten pensioners?
If ever a songwriter came with a reading list attached, it’s 42-year-old professional misanthrope and self-anointed “Albert Speer of Britpop” Luke Haines. To appreciate his ever-expanding 18-year oeuvre – increased by two in 2009 with the impressive 21st Century Man and its evil twin Achtung Mutha – it’s best to come armed with a working knowledge of 1970s British politics, Van Der Graaf Generator, serial killers, German cinema, the Mitfords, BritArt, Russian Futurism and the train from Woking to Waterloo. He’s like Lloyd Cole’s antisocial cousin.
Latterly dressed in white with a panama hat and the face fuzz of a member of ELO, he looks more like a novelist or the Man from Del Monte gone to seed; certainly nothing like an indie musician whose first brush with fame came during the pomp of Blur and Oasis. His age is key: born, one assumes grudgingly, in the year of the summer of love and raised amid power cuts in the 70s, the music he makes, whether operating at the megalomaniacal centre of The Auteurs or Black Box Recorder, under typically mordant alias Baader Meinhof, or as himself, is informed by the glam rock he grew up on, but conceals greater depth.
His voice is actually rather beautiful – plaintively sneery? – and his musical armoury considerable. Lucky he’s so self-sufficient, as he never seemed happy in a beat combo. In his bilious Britpop gospel, Bad Vibes – one of my favourite books of 2009 – he refuses even to name one particular bandmember, such is his post-rationalised contempt. He plays to the gallery.
In a year of underwhelming albums, 21st Century Man was one of its few complete pleasures, and Haines deserves wider recognition. He’s actually quite sweet when you meet him, although he wouldn’t thank me for saying so.
PS: Would have been nice to read these two gentlemen hymned in the Times, but hey.
PPS: Jim Bob pic by Mitch Holloway, borrowed from Jim’s website. (Hope that’s OK.)
PPS: STOP PRESS! Even though I wasn’t in the newspaper, they’ve kindly added the Jim Bob piece to the online version here.