Friday, November 28, 2008

The Decline & Fall of Western Civilisation Part 3: The Britpop Years

Thanks to having a pal who toils in the book mines. I am now reading a proof copy of Bad Vibes, Luke Haines' forthcoming book about the Britpop years. This was a time he spent as the main man in brainy indie band The Auteurs, watching other people he considers less talented becoming far more successful. Thus far it is proving to be total genius, with Haines writing with the acidic pen of someone who is not letting bygones be bygones. It is also both funny and surreal, with the opening account of the time The Auteurs were joined onstage in France by a malevolent dwarf setting the tone. My current feeling is that this is one of the very greatest rock books, giving an insider's account of life in a band who never quite achieve the success he feels they deserve. It bears comparison with that book* by James Young about being in Nico's touring band.

I reckon anyone would enjoy this book a lot, even people who are not familiar with the music of The Auteurs. I reckon, though, that anyone reading it would want to hear music by this excellent band. Which reminds me, a while back I made a compilation of music by Luke Haines (from The Auteurs, his time with Black Box Recorder, the record he released as Baader Meinhof, and his solo career). If in the future you find yourself reading Bad Vibes and wondering what the music sounds like, contact your pal (me).

In case you don't know the Auteurs story, it goes like this. They formed as a Luke Haines songwriting vehicle, rapidly attracted some note and started selling modest amounts of records in Britain and even more so in France. Their first album was up for the second Mercury Prize, but they lost narrowly to Suede. At the awards ceremony Haines assaulted several members of that band, demanding that they hand over the money that was rightfully his. After that, the Auteurs were somehow left behind by Britpop, for all that Haines is sometimes seen as the inventor or inspirer of that dreadful scene. Not even recording a brilliant album with Steve Albini (who praises them in that recent poker website thing) could save them and they eventually split up. Along the way, Haines had released a concept album about West German terrorism under the name Baader Meinhof. The book, then, is an account of the Auteurs' initial meteoric rise and their then being stuck by a glass ceiling as various people Haines considers far less talented become incredibly successful. Much embittered comment ensues. It helps that Haines is a very funny writer, as otherwise this book would just be the inchoate whinings of a sore loser.

One odd thing about this book is how young Haines was while he was in The Auteurs – he was only in his early 20s when they started, and the precocious little twerp had already been in another band for several years before that. His youth was underlined by my dredging up an old copy of Volume, in which he appears looking like he is just out of primary school, complete with obligatory shite early-90s indie haircut. It just seems wrong for Haines to have ever been this young, or at least for him to have been doing such great work then. It is not for nothing that sometime collaborator John Moore refers to him as Old Haines. Luke Haines is a man born to be old.

Reading this book has got me listening to music by The Auteurs and Baader Meinhof again. Oddly, I came to The Auteurs late, and it was only the Steve Albini connection that made me jump in and buy After Murder Park, their nasty third album (also a work of genius). I largely missed them while they were still going, though I have subsequently seen Luke Haines live thrice (once on his own and once with Black Box Recorder). Reading the book is making me interested in filling in the gaps in my Haines collection. Only yesterday I picked up the Auteurs second album Now I'm A Cowboy. At the time I think this was seen as a bit of a disappointment, but on the first couple of listens it seems to be a stormer. The opening track, 'Lenny Valentino' is an obvious classic, though I think having Haines explain the lyrics in the book is a bit of a help here.

Since writing the above I have finished reading the book and have more to say about it, but you will have to wait for that.

image source: eh, can't remember. I feel that reproducing this excellent photograph is both in the interests of the photographer (but who is he/she?) and the subject.

* James Young (1992) Songs They Never Play On the Radio London: Bloomsbury


Anonymous said...

I'd love to read that! I love insider analysis and gossip about the Brit-Pop era. Remind your readers when it's released to the public, would you?

ian said...

If I see it in a shop and remember that you wanted to know when it was out I will pass on this important information. I think it is due to be released in january (which is, as the book mentions, a quiet month, only one when everyone releases things, because lots of people like releasing things in quiet months).