The Auteurs – New Wave

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

If it were possible to quantify Britishness, along a continuum with the Magna Carta and Ray Davies on one end and, I don’t know, haiku and jalapeños on the other, then the Auteurs would definitely score in the Emma Peel/crumpet/bowler hat range. I love this band intensely, a sentiment Autuer auteur Luke Haines would probably scoff at. This band is literate, perceptive, and talented, and therefore appropriately very bitter and angry about a world that, at best cares nothing for those attributes and at worst punishes them. Haines is a sneering historian who has catalogued and cross-referenced every slight and indignity, unwilling to participate in a culture that has forsaken the concepts of justice and honor. He is a cynical journalist reminding his readers of the corrupt, grimy machinations that they are complicit in. He mocks and jeers and spits, and the underlying hurt and disappointment is palpable. This is an uncompromising band that was determined to go down with the ship and forced you, from the (illusory) safety of the lifeboat, to lock eyes while it did so, if only to prove a point.

What I Think of This Album

I am amazed that the corrosiveness of Haines’s worldview, matched by the burning intensity of the guitars, didn’t physically destroy the master tape at the studio when this album was recorded. That said, this isn’t a loud, fast, or heavy album. The guitar tone – stinging and barbed – does the work of six more, and Haines is far too intelligent and plotting to resort to yelling. Besides, it might cause his suit to wrinkle (after all, “junk shop clothes will get you nowhere”). In fact, the hidden weapon here is James Banbury’s cello – there is still a gentleness to many of the songs that masks the message (there are other instruments – harmonica, xylophone, etc. – present in the arrangements yet not listed in the credits, which is annoying).

“Show Girl”’s opening chords presage the narrator’s unique lament (“Took her bowling / Got her high”). “Bailed Out” relies on delicate piano plinkings, sprinkled atop the vaguely Latin rhythm, to light the path through menacing music (though with a lovely, too-short bridge). “American Guitars” is in fact all about the slithering, dark lead lines that overtake the rest of the music like sentient tendrils. “Junk Shop Clothes” is delicate and lilting, and the sighing vocals gently remind the listener that she was doomed from well before what she thinks was the start. “How Could I Be Wrong” stalks around the garret like a wronged lover, with Banbury sawing away in the corner and shards of guitar bursting through the roof. It also starts another string of great tracks, including the criminal’s confession of “Housebreaker,” the resentful and Beatles-esque “Valet Parking,” the snide “Your Idiot Brother” (with that same venomous, vigorous guitar tone), and the rousing kick of “Early Years” (“scared the shit out of me”). This is really an excellent album, but not for everyone.

Phil Vinall (Close Lobsters, Gene, Aztec Camera) twiddled the knobs on this one.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Valet Parking” has a sort of “Eleanor Rigby” feel, and I am a big fan of the xylophone part. As usual, the cello is great. The guitar adds drops of vinegar. The drums kick in, bringing a swinging element, and then disappear.

Release Date

February 1993

The Cover Art

This is a superb cover. Stark, pretty, mysterious. The title corresponds to the band name, and the image is likewise cinematic; it all comes together to reflect Haines’s recognition of the existential issues that he explores in detail, to say nothing of his control over the entire project. The font is perfect, as is the placement and sizing of all the elements.

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