A GUEST POSTING by ROL HIRST
from MY TOP TEN blog
When JC mentioned recently that he’d worked through his backlog of ICAs and put out a tentative call for new offerings, I consulted the list I have pinned to my notice board and wondered which one (of many) ICA-bereft artists I might have a go at. The name Luke Haines leapt out at me, and I had to double-check that JC hadn’t yet written an ICA for the man he once called “the curmudgeonly king of anti-Britpop” himself.
Right, I’m having that, I thought, when I realised he hadn’t. And then I realised what an impossible task I’d set myself. Covering the whole of Luke Haines’ prolific recording career in one ICA was the equivalent of attempting a Weller ICA which combined The Jam, The Style Council and his solo stuff. It was just never going to happen. The only way to do it was to divide the ICA into three and hope JC would indulge me. We’ll see… if you’re reading this at The Vinyl Villain, I guess he has. If you’re reading it at My Top Ten, I guess he told me where to stick it.
1. The Rubettes
I came late to The Auteurs, in 1999, around the time Haines was getting sick of the whole business of trying to be in an indie pop band and was ready to pack it all in. (Read his first excellent biography Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall for more on that.) It turns out though that I’d already “discovered” Luke Haines the year before through the debut album by Black Box Recorder. I just didn’t make the Auteurs connection until How I Learned To Love The Bootboys was released. It was a very confusing time. Story of my life, really: I came late to most of the bands I ended up loving.
The Rubettes is the song that set the tone for much of Haines’ solo work – a grimly nostalgic longing for his youth in the 70s and 80s, loving and scathing in equal measures. The single got quite a bit of airplay at the time: not bad for a song with a chorus about masturbating while listening to the radio.
Hells angels on TV
And your biker ’73
Sew on patch – cycle chains
Iron cross on your C&A’s
Can’t get in the disco
Can’t dance anyway
2. Show Girl
Back to the beginning then, and the opening track from the debut Auteurs album, New Wave. Released in 1993, when Britpop was but a twitch in Brett Anderson’s underpants, it immediately established Haines as one of the most entertaining lyricists of his era – like a less romantic Jarvis, or a Morrissey who doesn’t both hate and love himself*.
*I suppose I should explain that remark, especially here in the Former Republic of Morrissey Fandom, now renamed isntheatwatland. Morrissey has clearly made a career out of a curious mix of self-love and self-loathing. Haines combines the wit and cynicism we all loved about pre-Brexit Moz with a healthy dose of iconoclasm… but you never get the feeling that he’s a nasty man. In fact, he seems like quite a jolly chap in person… something which surprised and confounded our glorious leader when he caught him live back in 2017. (By the way, if you’re interested in what Luke Haines thinks about Morrissey, this review is worth a read, although I suspect he’d be less charitable nowadays.)
Sorry. Where was I? Oh yeah, Show Girl…
I married a showgirl
That’s for life
She can’t work
In the wintertime
I can’t work anytime now
Go to libraries all the while
Looking for a notice
Biding my time
3. Unsolved Child Murder
Around the time the chirpy-chirpy cheep cheep of Country House / Wonderwall Britpop was at its jingoistic peak, Luke Haines threw himself off a fifteen foot wall so he wouldn’t have to be involved in it all anymore, then spent a year writing an album about dead children and plane crashes.
Imagine a terminally depressed Ray Davies with his tongue firmly lodged in his arse cheek. After Murder Park predates This Is Hardcore by two years, but the two records share a similar desire to hammer six inch nails into the coffin of Britpop once and for all.
Haines’ bleak sense of humour obviously survived the fall in one piece.
4. Johnny & The Hurricanes
For an artist so steeped in all things English, Luke Haines also has a great affection for American pop music. On American Guitars, he professed his love for grunge, while here he strays back to the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll, clearly explaining why rock ‘n’ roll seemed so exciting when heard via “English tarmac, English rain”.
There’s a sting in this tale though, as at the height of their fame, Johnny & The Hurricanes headlined the Star Club in Hamburg… where they were supported by a bunch of British upstarts called The Beatles. At least, I presume this is why Haines chose to write about this particular band… I may be wrong.
5. Lenny Valentino
Let’s conclude Side A with the single that got the Auteurs closer to the UK Top 40 than any other… and what better position to stall at in that endeavour than #41?
1. Light Aircraft On Fire
More gloriously outrageous doom and gloom, still winking at the camera, from that most bleak “cake & eat it” anti-Britpop album, After Murder Park. Another minor hit that should have been massive… except we’d wouldn’t have loved it as much if it was.
2. Back With The Killer Again
Video director Chris Cunningham would go on to work with Madonna, Bjork and Aphex Twin, but two of his earliest videos were for The Auteurs, most notably the grimly hilarious horror film that accompanied the title track of this particular EP. Not the sort of thing you’d expect Luke Haines to be associated with, but it’s useless trying to pigeonhole this guy.
3. How Could I Be Wrong
In which Luke defines himself as a groundbreaker, pallbearer, actor, peacemaker, plan hatcher lifesaver and soul snatcher. How could he be wrong?
4. Chinese Bakery
Always reminds me of Lloyd Cole, this one. I think it’s as close as Luke gets to a love song…
Got a roller coaster in my head
You press the button – I’ll eject
Your present is just somebody’s past
Don’t blink, pinch me twice
Just seen Bob Dylan on a motorbike
I don’t think this relationship will last
5. New French Girlfriend
…well, apart from this one, which has just about the loveliest opening line you could expect from that “curmudgeonly king of anti-Britpop” (thanks again, J.C.). If I had to pick, this would probably be my favourite Auteurs song. Don’t ask me why though, I haven’t a clue.
Want a girl to hold my hand
When the plane lands
When the cracks appear in the plan
And the rocks turn into sand
Better call my new French girlfriend
JC adds……….this is the first of three splendid ICAs coming your way courtesy of Rol. He’s done something I’ve long thought about by tackling the two bands and the solo careers and his choices wouldn’t be all that different from mine. Huge thanks from me……
Oh and here’s that video he referred to; it’s actually quite hard to find:-