Luke Haines & Peter Buck – Beat Poetry for Survivalists

Peter Buck always seemed like the Rock and Roll Lifer in R.E.M.’s lineup. His recent burst of creative activity is nonetheless unexpected. He’s certainly not doing it for the money, and his artistic choices (three low-stakes solo albums, The Baseball Project?!) indicate he’s not pining for a return to arena stages, which is refreshing.

Beat Poetry for Survivalists may be Buck’s oddest choice yet – and also one of his most successful. He’s teamed with the decidedly British curmudgeon Luke Haines, onetime leader of the Auteurs, who despite Haines’ strenuous objections to the pigeonhole were for a time in the early ’90s serious Britpop contenders.

Buck and Haines share writing credits for all of Beat Poetry’s ten tracks and with longtime Buck cohorts Scott McCaughey and Linda Pitmon comprising the rhythm section that rounds out the quartet, it seems safe to assume Pete functioned as de facto musical director. Given that backdrop, it’s surprising to find so few traces of the Minus 5/Miracle 3 brand of American rock classicism. There’s also not a Rickenbacker in the house.

Instead Beat Poetry runs mostly through Haines’s lens, favoring a buzzy psychedelia with ominous synth touches. Picture a significantly darker Robyn Hitchcock, weaving fantastical tales that manage to namedrop both Donovan Leitch and Trout Mask Replica.

Although the band isn’t averse to a good rave-up, as evidenced by “Andy Warhol Was Not Kind,” it more often traffics in mid-tempo backdrops to Haines’s laconic vocals and sinister humor – opener “Jack Parsons” recounts the tale of the 1950s Jet Propulsion Labs and L. Ron Hubbard connected scientist who blew himself up making explosives for a movie shoot. Yes, that’s how Haines’s mind works – he also once fronted the band Baader-Meinhof, named after a German terrorist organization.

Along with “Andy Warhol” and the title track another standout is closer “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ambulance,” an almost-lullaby that recalls the late Nikki Sudden, another onetime Buck collaborator who could serve as one of this album’s spirit animals. Kudos to Peter Buck for stretching his wings while contentedly serving as foil – a role he perfected in R.E.M. in a wholly different context. He’s coaxed the best music out of Haines in well over a decade. Beat Poetry for Survivalists isn’t perfect start-to-finish, but it’s a fascinating ride.

Luke Haines & Peter Buck
Beat Poetry for Survivalists