A GUEST POSTING by CHAVAL
Cast your minds back a couple of weeks to JC’s celebration of Chinese Bakery, a single which featured a throwaway line about “Bob Dylan on a motorbike”. For Dylan’s 1966 Woodstock crash that released him from the album/tour/voice of his generation treadmill, Haines’s equivalent was that reckless drop off a wall in San Sebastian.
As well as instilling respect for the difference between sand and concrete, Haines’s leg fractures allowed him an interval of reflection. Like some post-Britpop James Stewart in Rear Window, Haines brooded and read, and like Dylan in 1967, unleashed his creativity in several directions, only tangentially connected with the pop marketplace.
By the end of 1995 and drift into 1996, Haines’s career was all over the place. The Auteurs’ best album After Murder Park was in the can but still awaiting release. Baader Meinhof, Haines’s unhinged, brilliant homage to 70s terrorism, was about to baffle critics with its mash-up of crunching retro-funk, dub and lyrics about hijacks. Always ready to muddy the waters, The Auteurs released the Back With The Killer EP, fresh material that took Haines’s lyrical provocations further than ever, albeit expressed very succinctly (the four tracks clock in at a total of just over nine minutes).
mp3: The Auteurs – Unsolved Child Murder is as uncompromising as its title, a dark depiction of an event dragged from the news headlines and given unsettling intimacy, exploring its devastating effect on a suburban family. Haines says it was based on a childhood memory of a local doctor’s family whose child went missing, presumed dead. Haines’s 70s childhood would prove a rich and often disturbing seam of material from this point on.
Haines had covered vaguely similar territory on Daughter Of A Child on Now I’m A Cowboy, but otherwise the only indie-rock point of comparison with regard to subject matter would be The Smiths’ mawkish Suffer Little Children from their first album. Where Morrissey’s lyric is mostly adolescent melodrama, Unsolved Child Murder is a richly detailed and empathetic depiction of tragedy, irrational desperation and a viciously judgmental world, wrapped up in a gorgeously melancholic tune (the EP version is enhanced with a French horn omitted from the album track that appeared later).
Along with the title track of After Murder Park, it showed how far Haines had shifted from the usual lyrical terrain of mid 90s popular music. The band had just finished recording these tracks in Abbey Road when Paul McCartney looked in and amiably asked if he could hear what Luke had been working on. “I politely decline the ex-Beatle’s request,” Haines recalled. “I don’t want him to be the first person to hear these songs; they’re too good for him.”
This startling work merited that kind of pride, but this EP contains another masterpiece:
mp3: The Auteurs – Back With The Killer Again takes the direct route of Lenny Valentino musically, although the atmosphere is distinctly psychotic. In Tim Mitchell’s deranged non-biography of Haines the author suggests the song is about “a man who takes drugs to turn himself into a murderer”, an explanation that may have come directly from Haines. Certainly the lyric offers a disturbing cluster of allusions to nerve gas, bad dope, primed bombs . . .
Those better versed in 70s counter-culture might be able to identify all the references in the line “John got Barrett for the lot, it must have been the Microdot”. All I can offer is that the Microdot happened to be the name of the early 70s gang of underground LSD chemists eventually busted by Operation Julie (as immortalised in the Clash song), who were rumoured to have links with the German terrorists Red Army Faction aka Baader-Meinhof, bringing it all back home to Haines’s reading lists. “A damning, self-mythologising riposte to the current crock that is the UK scene,” is how Haines described the song.
If the other tracks on the EP can’t match the impact of the first two, that’s not to say they are filler.
mp3: The Auteurs – Former Fan continues the murder theme, seemingly from the viewpoint of a Mark Chapman type obsessive whose disenchantment with a former idol turns homicidal. Or it might be a twisted love song, you tell me.
mp3: The Auteurs – Kenneth Anger’s Bad Dream name-checks the underground film-maker (or “pornographer” as Haines somewhat harshly calls him when introducing the song at live shows) and keen disciple of the Satanist Aleister Crowley. Haines’s insatiable cultural curiosity is on display once again, and given a pretty, folk-rock-ish tune.
The EP reached number 45 (says Wikipedia, Haines’s memory says 48), a commercial disappointment in the hit-crazed climate of Britpop, but undeniably a remarkable achievement considering the artistic reach and lyrical ambition.