Luke Haines, The Auteurs - Luke Haines Is Dead
Alex Worsnip 18/07/2005
The Auteurs are surely one of the most underrated bands in history. Not in the sense that so many uncommercial bands would merit global fame in strange alternate universe, but in the sense that they really not only should but could have been one of the defining bands of the 1990s. I can scarce think of any band that deserve more to be rediscovered by a new generation. So this boxset is very timely indeed. 'Luke Haines Is Dead' collects together a huge volume of tracks by The Auteurs and the solo incarnations of frontman Luke Haines (first under the moniker 'Baader Meinhof', named after the East German terrorist group, and later under his own name). As it takes things reasonably chronologically, so will this review.
The early Auteurs tracks are products of their time - early 90s, when The Auteurs were initially grouped with Suede as being part of a glam revival - a lazy categorisation founded on the fact that The Auteurs could also be traced somewhat to David Bowie and The Smiths. This early period - essentially the first two albums, New Wave and Now I'm A Cowboy, highlight The Auteurs at their more commercial. The period is surveyed well by this boxset, with particular highlights from the New Wave era being thrusting debut single 'Showgirl', the Smiths-y non-album single 'Subculture', which features guitar work heavily reminiscent of Johnny Marr, and the awesome, understatedly threatening 'How Could I Be Wrong?'. For the collector, rarities such as the lost BBC take of 'Government Bookstore' are particularly appealing. These tracks highlight Haines' early talent for a turn of phrase, though the bitterness that characterised his later work was yet to emerge. The 'Now I'm A Cowboy' period is represented in particular by 'Lenny Valentino', still one of their greatest and most well-known tracks and the alternate versions of 'Underground Movies' and 'New French Girlfriend', both great Auteurs tracks, though the versions here are rougher and rockier and lose some of the subtleties of the originals - nevertheless, the collector will be pleased at the choice of the obscure versions.
Quickly Haines appeared to have accepted that The Auteurs weren't going to achieve serious commercial success as a typically English indie band and, presumably, decided that he might therefore be as inaccessible as possible. Cue 'After Murder Park', an album released at the height of Britpop and completely to the contrary: produced by Steve Albini, who beefed up the sound, and recorded by Haines in a wheelchair. Hence the incendiary 'Light Aircraft On Fire' and 'Tombstone', both from said record, the latter in an alternate version here; and the disjointed, chaotic savage rock of non-album single 'Back With The Killer Again'. Lyrics turned for the darker: death of the most unappealing sorts, which lead logically into the Baader Meinhof project, musically and lyrically equally intense but with broken, angry, electro-funk replacing broken, angry rock, and lyrics focused exclusively on terrorism. The album is well-represented here with the title track and 'Meet Me At The Airport', as well as the only non-album track, the excellent 'I've Been A Fool For You' and, for completists, a devastatingly cool remix of 'There's Gonna Be An Accident'.
The final Auteurs album, How I Learned The Love The Bootboys, seems to have more in common with Haines' solo work than the rest of the Auteurs collection, with synth-heavy arrangements and a guitar style that was less jangly and more glammy powerchords. Despite this departure, 'The Rubettes' is essential and 'Future Generation' (again, in another version here) sums up the tragedy of what the Auteurs could have been: 'This music could destroy a nation'. Haines' perpetual socio-political content truly could have done just that. Though the solo work is less consistent, 'Discomania', 'How To Hate The Working Classes' and 'Satan Wants Me' remain some of Haines' best tracks: sneering synth-rock, tender acoustic balladry and orchestral evil respectively.
The B-sides dotted through this collection inevitably vary in quality: from the excellent 'Glad To Be Gone' and 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do' to various drab acoustic offerings such as 'High Diving Horses' and 'Modern History'. Although what is included on this box set appears to have no particular rhyme or reason, this is part of the joy. The great thing about it is that it is simultaneously a brilliant introduction to The Auteurs and a treasure for hardcore fans, who will appreciate the B-sides, non-album tracks and alternate and session versions of the tracks included here. Do yourself a favour: if you've never heard The Auteurs, pick this up. They could just be the best world-changing band that never was.