The Auteurs – Now I’m A Cowboy

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

It actually took me a bit to come around on the Auteurs. My introduction was through MTV, with Dave Kendall hyping the video to what I am 90% sure was New Wave’s “Show Girl,” reciting alleged buzz that the Auteurs (along with Suede) were being hailed as the new Smiths. Well, there was no better way to guarantee my disappointment; I foolishly let myself believe such a thing was possible, so desperately I wanted to fill the Smiths-shaped hole in my heart. Three minutes or so later, I swore off the Auteurs completely. I don’t remember how or when it was that I came back to the band, oddly enough. Of course, I am glad I did. These two albums are a powerhouse pair (they released two more – with the third being hailed by many as their best – but I think their early work is where they shone brightest (or darkest, as it were)). Luke Haines went on to form Black Box Recorder and issues several solo albums, as well as a collaboration with Peter Buck.

What I Think of This Album

Another winner from the Auteurs, arguably better than the debut, though it’s hard to tell – both albums are of a piece (down to the cover art) and almost any song from one could’ve fit in nicely on the other. Even the references overlap, with Lenny Bruce making an encore appearance, a nod to “unfaithful servants” that is reminiscent of the “unfaithful slave” from “Valet Parking,” and the evocation of criminals.

Needless to say, the subject matter is similar – just peek at song titles like “I’m a Rich Man’s Toy,” “New French Girlfriend,” and “The Upper Classes.” And, the sound is the same, with Haines’s serrated guitar ripping holes in the chamber pop that the rest of the band – cellist James Banbury having been promoted to full time member – otherwise creates.

“Lenny Valentino” charges out of the gate exuding danger, and the album does not let up from there. “Brainchild” pays tribute to a “thief with style,” with a rising outro built on slow chord strikes and organ runs. “I’m a Rich Man’s Toy” is exactly as bitter and recriminating as you’d expect, but with the vibraphone you did not expect. “New French Girlfriend” makes the most of Haines sighing over his own guitar smears. “The Upper Classes” waxes and wanes as Haines’s voice modulates in intensity, growing guttural at the right times and pulling back to fit in with the delicate guitar picking and cello strains when necessary; there is also a decidedly Beatles-esque guitar figure that pops up a couple of times.

“Chinese Bakery” is somehow even better, with a chugging rhythm and some excellent guitar work; this is Ray Davies in a razor-blade shirt schooling everyone on what a song about an “Uptown Girl” should really sound like. “A Sister Like You” is the most gentle tune about three-sibling incest ever? It sounds like E.M. Forster filtered through Lou Reed – or perhaps the other way around. “Daughter of a Child” is very pretty, with a string melody that Arcade Fire would borrow from, maybe, years later. This album is perhaps grittier and darker than the first, but just as melodic and even more self-assured. It’s fantastic.

Phil Vinall produces again.

The Best Thing About This Album

“New French Girlfriend” is funny and perfect.

Release Date

May, 1994

The Cover Art

Almost as good as the art from New Wave, and a deliberate inversion; the design team of Peter Barrett and Andrew Biscomb having been recruited again, as was photographer Stefan de Batselier (who has worked with Bowie, Bjork, Jeff Buckley, and Ozzy). The elements and design are basically the same, but the background is now white instead of black and the image is larger. And whereas the debut showed a glamorous visage reminiscent of silent film lothario, now we have a deflated young teen sporting a black eye and a lamé jacket, reminding us that the reality behind the fantasy is brutal, ugly, and pathetic (and maybe a little bit hilarious).

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