Because he spiced this debut album with a tribute to Gorbachev and a protest against industrial pollution, Haynes probably considers himself a liberal political satirist. But let the truth be told: His wit isn't sharp enough for top-notch satire, and his politics sometimes falls not very far to the left of Dan Quayle. Does this make him a failure? No way. Haynes, 23, is extremely interesting because, perhaps without intending it, he represents a large population: the young Bush-era middle class. He speaks for those caught between a vague sense of social responsibility and the desire to evade the world's complex crises.
Backed by a restrained blend of acoustic and electric guitars, Haynes's folk-pop songs cover a broad range of moods from irony to bitterness to complacency. "Holiday Song" is nothing more than an ode to a great Thanksgiving meal, from the marshmallows in the sweet potatoes to the easy chair afterward. In "I Want to Kill Everybody," he describes Washington as a place where "a committee decides which committee decides which committee decides which committee decides." Haynes slips back into an accurate, if not necessarily admirable, middle-class perspective when he hits on other touchy subjects.
In a song about a prostitute and another about a street person, a twinge of compassion is mixed with an undercurrent of revulsion. Even Haynes's tribute to Gorbachev relies on a reactionary stereotype of Soviets as bad guys. "Talking Cat Blues" shows Haynes on more comfortable ground within the realm of family rooms and Kitty Litter; he gives a wry account of cat abuse while making a broader statement about human cruelty. Every now and then, a touch of poetry slips in. The strange California road song "Conveyor Belt" describes a woman who "imagined herself as the only stationary fixture in the world/ And the road and the lights and the towns/ Were all being spun towards her/ And spun away like on a giant conveyor belt." Haynes usually settles for humbler visions, matching melodies to the jokes, hopes and fears of the just-out-of-college crowd. If somebody decides to produce a TV series called twentysomething, he can write the theme song. (Apache)