Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall
by Luke Haines
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This may be the best book of this kind ever. I love Luke Haines, and the first three Autuers records are great. But he's frustratingly anti-commerical to the point he makes Neil Young look like New Kids on the Block.
In recent years, his recorded output contains very few standard records, but does contain a concept album about a fox named Gene Vincent and other animals named Nick Lowe and Jimmy Pursey; and a "dance" album made with ambient sounds from a British Nuclear Bunker. Many indie bands would title an album "9 and a half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1980s and 80s", but only Haines would record an album that actually is described by the title.
So, Haines generally comes off as someone with nothing to lose, which is why he may be the only person who gets away with slagging off everyone. Haines trashes everyone, with rare exception- Suede's rhythm section and Donna from Elastica (mostly) get favorable words. Everyone else is terrible, especially Ocean Colour Scene, David Gray, and Oasis (with Noel fawning over Luke everywhere he turns up). Also, as I have seen him state elsewhere, he really hated the Velvet Underground reunion.
But Haines is wickedly funny which is why it works (and not wrong). It's tempting to compare this to the much critically loved Morrissey Autobiography, but Moz was trying to hard to be Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde. Haines just lets it rip.
At the beginning, Haines is stuck to a dead end record label. He's mostly teetotal and drug-free. He forms a band with his girlfriend and a journeyman drummer, and takes a gig opening for the new band Suede (Drummer, says "Slade? I love 'em").
In short time, Suede explodes, and the Auteurs get good. Select Magazine run a cover article saying Suede, Autuers, Pulp., Denim and St Etienne are the future of music, but only the first two are not deemed too old to be cool.The press grabs on the song "American Guitars" and think it's an anthem against American grunge.
France thinking Autuers is a nod to the band as Francophiles, embrace the band. The first two Autuers albums are hits.
Then it goes off the rails. Haines engages in self-destructive behavior that takes him out of commision. The third album is delayed in promotion to release. It probably doesn't help that it's the antithesis of Britpop - a darkly-themed Steve Alibini record that mainly centers around grisly deaths (and lest we forget, it's brilliant).
At this point, Suede has failed to break America, and improbably, Blur embraces the most self-parodying moments of Britpop. It's a farce, but it gets worse. Kurt Cobain dies, and Oasis whose first album got middling reviews start to become the face of Alternative music.
None of which helps Haines conquer the UK, the US, or anywhere. Relegated to the also-rans, even Pulp managed to break through; and Haines hates the also-rans- there's a scene with too much acid and a bar full of members of Gene, Elastica, Sleeper and OCS among others. (I was there, though in the US and have a soft spot for the best of those bands, and as the years go by, even a softer spot for the worst- Echobelly, These Animal Man, SMASH
As time went on, the band has added a Cello Player, who never gets mentioned as anything else but The Cellist (Even Rourke and Joyce get better treatment in Moz's book). The drummer is jettisoned, for a couple of studio hands, but the magic is gone.
At Britpop's height, with Oasis hanging with the Prime Minister and The Verve with a #1 hit- Haines loathes The Verve- Haines abandons the Autuers for a electronic project that is a 'tribute' to 1970s terrorist groups like the SLA and Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang. Haines suggests Patti Smith and Patty Hearst are the correct icons, but even someone who can have a minor hit with a song about a Rudolph Valentino/Lenny Bruce mashup dream, has a hard time selling this concept.
An Auteurs tour is quickly aborted as it looks like tickets aren't selling (but only after they have flown to the States). Haines meets insane fans in Spain and Japan, who may actually kill him. The Baader Meinhof project looks to be a live act failure as they only have 29 minutes of material. they open for John Cale and little else.
The end nears as Britpop dies with the gasp of Be Here Now. In the (amusing) footnotes, Haines claism that he still has never listened to the album, but even unheard, he's not wrong. Haines is working on producing an album by John Moore- one of a succession of drummers for the Jesus and Mary Chain. Haines writes a ditty with the chorus "Life is Unfair. Kill yourself or Get Over it"- the kind of song that only a female could sing- so he hires Moore and Sarah Nixey and the book ends with the formation of Black Box Recorder.
I could not put it down. It is like Haines's best musical work in that it's irreverent but also often very funny. Haines only way of apology is the intro where he says this is the way he felt in his 20s and clearly he does not think such things now.
Intentionally or not, the book also does a tremendous job of setting the musical climate at the beginning of each chapter. For example, the first Auteurs release comes out in a world listening to the Shamen and/or Tad. Though there are moments where Britpop is mainstream, we are reminded throughout that the pop charts are always ruled by the Pop World- Jacko, Whitney, Mariah, Take That, Spice Girls and Elton. Rock music is always the footnote.View all my reviews