Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Auteurs – ‘People ‘Round Here Don’t Like to Talk About it’

…and just to finish off the long title – ‘The Complete EMI Recordings”

After a period of four years in The Servants, 1992 saw singer, guitarist and songwriter (it feels slightly dirty to suggest he’s a ‘singer-songwriter’ – you’d get entirely the wrong impression) Luke Haines ambled forward with his new band, The Auteurs. Providence dictated this should coincide with the Britpop explosion, which was either dispicable providence or a tremendous wheeze. With a fondness for not just the sound of 70s Glam but also the idea that there were still underground armies of rockers still wearing grime-encrusted squinned uniforms and spitting out barely disguised raunchy come-ons to young girls, The Auteurs expected little, wore sensible clothes and sang about uncared-for family members and child murder. Their biggest hit single got to an agonising number 41 in the charts, meaning a debate over whether to appear on Top of the Pops never happened. They were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize (back when these things walked about with puffed-out chests far more than today) and lost to Suede, an event Haines wrote about damningly in his superb book, “Bad Vibes: Brit Pop and my Part in its Downfall“. Mid-decade, as the band threatened to build up a head of steam, Haines broke both his legs, necessitating the cancellation of the majority of their European tour. Steve Albini arrived as production cavalry, a bit like bringing on one of the plagues of Egypt as an extra time substitute. You get the gist.

You might well ask who the other members of the band were. 90s British pop and indie bands were notorious for having one member everyone knew the name of, with the rest regularly called “Kens” by the music press (was it the NME or  Melody Maker who did this? Possibly both). It would be unfair to say the rest of The Auteurs were simply faceless Kens, although Haines’ ex-girlfriend, bassist Alice Readman; drummer Glenn Collins (later replaced by Barney C. Rockford) and cellist James Banbury, didn’t go on to bigger and better things. The cello added a mournful quality which permeated the band’s songs from first album to last, lest the lyrics and melodies not already tip you off.

Blast-off, when it came, was with the single, ‘Show Girl’, in 1992. Faded glamour; disappointment; Luke’s floating vocals a world and a generation away from exaggerated regional accents. It didn’t chart. The album from which it came, ‘New Wave‘, was widely hailed, if not completely welcomed into the fold of treasured bands whom critics would proudly claim to hang out with. The songs flow together perfectly – the chiming delicacy of ‘Bailed Out” perfectly at home next to the more overtly despondant ‘How Could I Be Wrong?’ which in turn feeds into the angry, malevolent ‘Idiot Brother’, an early example of Haines ensuring his barbed arrows hit as many people as possible. The album sold well in Europe and the reviews were almostly universally positive. It was never going to win the Mercury Award though. It would have been unseemly to present music to the masses which was rather mean about people.

Fans are already losing their shit online as this box set doesn’t included Peel Sessions, live sets, fluffed intros and wedding speeches. These are available elsewhere (notably on EMI’s ‘Luke Haines is Dead‘ set and deluxe versions of individual albums. However, you still get acoustic versions, live tracks, alternative cuts and the like across each of the six discs. Please try and control yourselves.

Lenny Valentino‘ kicked off the birth of their second album, ‘Now I’m a Cowboy‘. Their biggest and certainly best-known song sees them imagining comedian, Lenny Bruce, being reincarnated as Rudolph Valentino. The guitars still sound enormous and if it sounds strange it didn’t chart, you only have to look at what did to understand the absolute mayhem that constituted singles sales in 1993.

Meatloaf was number one. The highest new entry was The Doobie Brothers, ‘Long Train Runnin‘. Even Aphex Twin charted.  An absolute wild west where everything and a remixed kitchen sink was thrown out as a single and the public lapped it up.

The album, again, was lauded in the music press and sold better than the band’s debut, rising to number 27 in the charts. ‘Now I’m a Cowboy‘ is more strident; more confident; even more wilfully dismissive and obtuse. ‘New French Girlfriend‘ revels in its own agony; ‘Upper Classes‘ is a ferocious attack (“That cunt’s really got it sussed/selling wine, selling drugs“) – they even released a second single, “Chinese Bakery“. It got to number 42. Extraordinary.

It felt like album three was the clincher and indeed it was. Haines had now fully settled into his role as chief agitant in the UK music scene and had grown to being dismissive not just of others bands and musicians but also critics and the listening public themselves. Steve Albini was drafted in as producer for the third album, 1996’s ‘After Murder Park‘, an album which even now is startling in its content and could comfortably enter pub quiz lore for the question, “which UK band relased a track called ‘Unsolved Child Murder‘?” The sound is also more abrasive  (‘Buddha‘ almost hurts) and quite unlike any other band at the time. The single, ‘Light Aircraft on Fire‘ hardly pandered to public demand for bouncy indie froth, and death and child catastrophe runs through the whole album. ‘Unsolved Child Murder‘ has a follow-up of sorts, with the title track seeing a psychic finding the spirit of the missing child for their parents so they can at least say their goodbyes. It’s an extraordinary collection of songs, failed spectacularly but retrospectively is the album everyone seems to return to.

After Murder Park‘ led to a significant gap in proceedings as everyone concerned gathered their thoughts from assorted shallow graves. ‘How I Learned to Love the Bootboys‘ was released in 1999 but was somewhat overshadowed by two other Haines projects – 1996s Baader Meinhof and the band Black Box Recorder, the release of their commercially successful singles and album mere months earlier. The former is included in this set, essentially a solo project, itself being a concept album about the left-wing German revolutionaries. It’s actually the music rather than the subject matter and lyrics which have led to this album being one which is actually the great overlooked gem in Haines’ canon. Squelching Moog, zonking clavinet, fainting strings, bastard guitars and punctuated by Indian percussion, it’s VERY clever and unweighed down by any expectation from either the artist or – surely? – the record label.

When The Auteurs’ album proper finally was released, alas, no-one was waiting for it. Considering they’d allowed the release of Baader Meinhof unchallenged, EMI insisted they go back into the studio to record a hit single. The result, ‘The Rubettes‘ was quite beautiful, nostalgic and cloaked in faded glam glory. It sold fuck all. ‘Your Gang, Our Gang‘ is Mud on overdrive and the album is arguably the most cohesive of the band’s career in terms of tone and inspiration but it also feels defeated. It isn’t the sound of surrender but rather of the band dismantling itself in full view of the public. Alice left the band shortly after release – by the end of the year, everyone else had followed suit.

The remaining disc is given over to ‘Das Capital‘, a rather fish nor fowl effort which sees orchestrated versions of previous tracks alongside new, lush efforts like ‘Satan Wants Me‘. It has more of a slight scent of contractual obligation about it and, though a recommended listen, is the least essential of the discs here…although the bonus tracks are perhaps the most beguiling of the whole box set, with demos of the likes of ‘American Guitars‘ and ‘Early Years‘ showing just how skilled the band were in devloping the kernels of ideas into mini operas. The Auteurs weren’t just a great band, they were an important band, one which perfectly encapsulated the contradictions of the 1990s and the eternal truth that great music will always have its day in the sun.

Daz Lawrence 

Buy The Auteurs – People ‘Round Here Don’t Like to Talk About it here

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