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The darker, more nefarious cousin to Harry Nilsson's affable, animated acid trip The Point, Rock & Roll Animals finds Luke Haines (the Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, Baader-Meinhof) constructing a rock & roll fairy tale for adults and putting the finishing touches on his transition from capricious Brit-pop page boy to goateed, Dickensian agitator in an ice cream-white suit. The story follows a trio of typically idiosyncratic leads in Jimmy Pursey the fox, Gene Vincent the wise old cat, and a badger called Nick Lowe, as they battle a particularly ugly duck. Hijinks ensue, pop culture tropes are celebrated and skewed, and Haines, who opts for a decidedly more folksy approach than on previous offerings -- 2010's self-explanatory Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early '80s notwithstanding -- can barely conceal his love and contempt for it all. That's right, there's a surprising amount of warmth here, something that has eluded the London provocateur in projects past. Standout cuts like "Magic Town," "Angel of the North," "The Birds... The Birds," and the kaleidoscopic title track, despite their slightly sinister Wicker Man-meets-Watership Down overtones, feel loved and nurtured rather than just expertly crafted, and then with great disdain tossed out the window like the contents of a Victorian bedpan. Even the deliriously absurd closer, "Rock 'n' Roll Animals in Space," which finds the author acting as both judge and jury ("please don't get the old band back together"), filing away classic rock greats like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and the Soft Machine by their levels of righteousness ("The Stones without Brian Jones were not righteous, even though he was probably evil"), comes off as more tongue in cheek than flat-out malicious, even though it's pretty much spot on. That said, Haines is still a force of nature, more Uriah Heep than David Copperfield, and his sharp-tongued critiques, especially of his chosen field, though tempered with moments of sentimentality, remain as volatile as ever.