“What makes you ashamed to be British?” asked Select Magazine of each of its cover stars in the now infamous ‘Yanks Go Home!’ edition in May ‘93. Luke Haines, lead singer of The Auteurs, responds:
Plenty of things. Racism. All that despicable British Movement crap. Our tendency to keep harking back to VE Day. I dislike the small towniness. The sense of bigotry.
In answers to other questions, he admits to not thinking “there’s anything great about Britain as such”, that “The Union Jack doesn’t mean anything to me”, and “there’s not a lot to be patriotic about in a country that’s put up with the Tories for 14 years.”
It says something about Haines that when invited to a party that part of him has been longing to attend, he can’t help but decry the canapes and blank at least one or two of his fellow party-goers. In his defence, much of the flag-waving ‘Yanks Go Home!’ rhetoric in the article ranges from embarrassing to misguided - a lot of flim-flam surrounding a straightforward argument about the weakness of second division grunge acts.
But when Brett Anderson is one of those other party-goers, and you are currently in the middle of a repressed war of internal bitterness with the lead singer of the band you’ve been touring with but not getting on with, and not keeping pace with in the charts, you can be forgiven a little snark. Suede - who draped themselves over the cover of Melody Maker before even releasing a single, whose debut album went straight in at number one, and who, according to Haines’ account of their first tour together in Bad Vibes, the first volume of his autobiography, took to singing Auteurs songs backstage “in mocking silly voices”. Suede - who won the 1993 Mercury Music prize, beating The Auteurs by one vote in the process, a larceny that caused Haines to demand of Simon Gilbert (Suede’s drummer) that he hand over the money.
The photo of Haines accompanying the Select interview sees him in that oh-so-English item of furniture - the deck-chair. There he sits on Brighton beach, the pier behind him. His face says “if we must”, his coat, hair, scrunched up slouch, and hands thrust in pockets all say ‘it’s bloody cold, can we get on with this?’. No co-incidence that for the cover of Bad Vibes he is shown relaxed among the same surrounds. But while the west pier behind him is now a burned out husk under gloomy clouds, Haines appears relaxed, dapper even - as if ready for the grand tour. A glass in one hand is either being raised in a toast, or in accusation - away with you! can’t you see I’m relaxing with my gramophone?
Haines wouldn’t thank me for saying it or - doubtless - agree, but there’s an Englishness to New Wave that is shares with Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish. The resemblance is passing, and you might miss it were you to focus only on the protagonists - Haines looking down, dour, glum; Albarn all chipper Sunday Sunday roasts and larks. If Albarn is the drunk who gatecrashed your party, Haines is the whisky and gin-soaked hanger-on of the remorseful morning after.
Musically and lyrically, as well as personally, New Wave sees Haines placing himself in opposition to more or less everything and everyone. Jarvis “pop fan” Cocker was another of the Select interviewees; while Pulp have spent decades meticulously catalogued bedsit grime, sex, the squalid, the grubby, the snobbery, it’s very often with a wink and a glint in the eye of Jarvis. If Haines winks at you during words like “In your room, as a plan hatcher, a soul snatcher” from How Could I Be Wrong? or lines from his self-styled “stalker song” Home Again -
there’s no prowler
No creeper in your lane
It’s better than drugs
To be in your home again
- that wink would be the very meaning of sinister, and any glint you feel sure would be steely. cold, and very sharp. It’s not all housebreaking and stalking, though: Haines finds time to marry a showgirl, get her high, and get a job on the side; mostly there’s just a feeling of life not quite working out the way you planned, especially if you didn’t plan to be like all the rest. “I was in Vaudeville at age five. My career took Its first nosedive”, “We can bitch, but it ain’t tinsel town”. And there’s American Guitars, the song that secured The Auteurs place in the Britpop troupe even though it’s not, as the quick to judge had it, a direct attack on grunge, but a swipe at British bands “failing dutifully” in following the trend rather than finding their own sounds.
On American Guitars The Auteurs play a fast and loose game of not quite pastiching the target of their ire, its rough rock sound and strident solo the closest New Wave comes to sounding like a conventional four-piece. Bringing in James Banbury - “the cellist” as he is referred to throughout Bad Vibes - adds unique textures. Together with Haines’ triple-tracked voice, which you could never describe as poppy, bright, upbeat - more disillusioned, certainly displeased - they create a uniquely gloomy template.
Despite the brilliance of the song-writing and the lyrical wit, its the gloominess you have to look to when asking why New Wave and its singles (Show Girl, How Could I Be Wrong?) didn’t sell better. Just look over at the winner’s table, and you’ll see Suede: Brett Anderson louche and sexy, Bernard Butler’s floppy fringe, 70s glam-racket riffs somehow turning council house sex and drugs into a riotous festival singalong. Meanwhile, to the disgust of Luke Haines, Melody Maker were describing The Auteurs as “the new saviours of rock”.
Each generation gets the Britpop it deserves, you might conclude.