Tuesday, June 27, 2000
The excellent Robin Carmody, who sometimes writes here but can be found in undiluted form here, has written an article on Luke Haines of The Auteurs. He demonstrates why Haines is such a brilliant songwriter by exploring the themes of last year's release How I Learned To Love The Bootboys,which was probably my second favourite "rock" album last year. Robin reckons the album is a scathing probe into the social wasteland of seventies England. I do agree, but being a teenage Australian I find it difficult to draw any revelations from this. What could I possibly gain from such an album?

For me though, Haines has always played a similar role as Morrissey does for so many. What I identify with in How I Learned To Love The Bootboysis not the profusion of period-piece details so much as the fundamental truths hidden behind them. If Haines is writing about the seventies, then he's writing about his adolescence, which in a way he always has done. From the Dickensian social mores of the first two Auteurs albums to the missing bodies and conspiracy theories of 96's After Murder Park, the underlying message is that isolation is a constant and comfort in others is fleeting and false.

The difference between Luke and Morrissey though is that Morrissey believed (or believes?) that his troubles were undeniably worse than anyone else's in the world, but Luke knows that his sort of misery traverses the entire sociocultural map. He can take solace in the fact that even if he's feeling spiteful and bruised, his enemies are probably feeling the same way or worse. This communal emptiness is the sort of thing that Thom Yorke wrote about on OK Computer,only without the sledgehammer obviousness or faux-Dadaist delerium; it's reminiscent of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker on Different Class, except that Luke doesn't burn with the same righteous proletariat energy as Jarvis, perhaps because he knows that the working classes wouldn't be any happier if they were the aristocracy. He finds the same rotting spirit inside both the lowest bootboy and the most arrogant uptown girl.

This philosophy was succintly summed up in the chorus of "Child Psychology" by Haines' side project Black Box Recorder: "Life's unfair/kill yourself or get over it," and further demonstrated in said group's recent "hit" single "The Facts Of Life", an anthem for the universal horribleness of teen lust. But while the messages presented by Black Box Recorder have greater clarity than Haines' other work, they also have less impact. In the same way that Belle & Sebastian use a wealth of individual details (names, places, sordid activities) to make stories that are thematically banal seem crushingly important, it is the settings and the characters of the songs Haines writes under the moniker of The Auteurs that make them seem both more than just didactic and more resonant. Luke's weedy "Hey kids, life sucks, and I know because it happened to me" delivery is much more affecting than Black Box Recorder's more direct "life sucks" lectures doled out using icy, impersonal female vocals. In short, we need more bands like The Auteurs; bands who make us ache to listen in on what we don't like to hear.


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