William Heinemann, 2009
“The Forgotten Man of Britpop”.
As ludicrous a tag to hang on anyone, Luke Haines must be shaking in embarrassment for even allowing the suggestion to be made. One would think the Forgotten Man of Britpop would prefer to remain un-named and un-shamed, seeing that it’s a period in English music history that was akin to a gold rush minus the gold, guitars swung like pickaxes, searching for the elusive vein. What Haines has to do with any of this is beyond me. His Britpop era act The Auteurs being as likely to embrace a ticking bomb than willingly be associated with Blur or Oasis.
Bad Vibes, Haines memoir to those heady days is not only a polemic on Britpop, but the music industry and musicians in general. His own hate-filled debt-collecting masterpiece if you will. His pedigree in this was never in question, starting all the way back from his first band The Servants, right through to present day. If you ever did Haines wrong, he’d never let it go, even when you’ve long since been given your P45 and shoved out the back of the rental van. Woe behold the one only referred to in the book, not by name, but as “The Cellist”.
His recollections do reek of well-thumbed copies of the NME and Melody Maker, but his insight and retelling are as good as any you’d overhear at the Groucho in its heyday. His candour and behaviour adds only to the legend – the bad loser in the Mercury Awards, the tormented artist who hated touring so much that he broke both legs throwing himself off a ledge. Opting for career suicide by driving The Auteurs into a brick wall and seeing how they survived by enlisting the help of Steve Albini with After Murder Park and so on.
Despite having the ability to craft great albums, The Auteurs were not a favoured band and their “Wonderwall” moment never came. Haines mistily recalls the disappointment of expectation after a rash of ‘new band hype’ didn’t translate into sales. Chart placings are generally irrelevant and are no arbiters of taste, but for The Auteurs, even when you thought they were a band in ascendancy, they never really took off (except in Paris, give your band a French name and align into the art scene and they’ll adopt you as their own). After the faded Hollywood glamour of their debut New Wave, and the ill-judged follow-up Now I’m a Cowboy, The Auteurs were relegated to rocks back pages and Haines became better known for his vitriolic lashings of his peers than his music. A harnesser of choice quotes rather than a writer of great songs.
Bitter and scathing as he might seem, Haines would agree that many great minds were never appreciated in their own time, but few went as far as creating a terrorist themed band/album combo and having the old nudge-nudge wink-wink moment that comes with a Top 40 single entitled “Unsolved Child Murder”. If Haines was tempted to go down the less safer route, painting himself into a tight corner and espousing against all, I’m sure he’d have a hard time finding a publisher, but placing himself within the Britpop Generation at least gives the curious a place to start, and is a far more entertaining and worthy read than Alex James’ own sketchy recollections of that time.
For a career that existed before the birth of Britpop and still continues to this day, it seems a wasted opportunity to end Bad Vibes in career midstream. Haines’ sense of humour and his contempt for the music industry never lost its bite, and for the man who once called for a moratorium on pop music for one week, his ideas would occasionally exceed his ability to deliver, but his conviction was never doubted.