Britain produced a slew of great alternative rock bands in the '90s -- Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede, Supergrass, Radiohead, just to name a few. But what about the lesser-known bands? A trip into the annals of '90s UK rock history will open the listener up to a world of amazing bands that never reached the levels of commercial success achieved by their contemporaries. One such band is The Auteurs, the first of many musical endeavors by legendary English songwriter, Luke Haines.
The Auteurs formed in 1991. At the time, the UK rock charts were dominated by homegrown shoegaze, like Ride and imported American grunge, like Nirvana. The guitar pop scene, that would later be dubbed "Britpop", started brewing with early tunes like Suede's "The Drowners" and The Auteurs' debut single. "Showgirl" is an indie guitar pop gem drawing its influences from '80s post-punk and new wave acts. The single garnered rave reviews from critics and even helped the band score a record deal. In 1993, The Auteurs released their debut album aptly titled New Wave. A solid listen from start to finish, highlights include the sweeping "How Could I Be Wrong" and the almost-ballad, "Starstruck."
By the time The Auteurs released their sophomore album Now I'm A Cowboy in 1994, they had grown disillusioned with the Britpop label and attempted to shake their association with the genre. However,Now I'm A Cowboy contained the group's biggest chart hit. "Lenny Valentino" is a driving indie rock jam that can still be heard in Britpop clubs today. The rest of the album is similar to New Wave with indie pop gems like "The Upper Classes" and "New French Girlfriend."
The Auteurs soon found themselves in a situation much like Mansun -- they played guitar rock in England in the '90s but their music didn't follow the Britpop formula. While bands like Pulp and Blur certainly experimented with their sound, they also celebrated the champagne swilling culture of London's second coming. Many of the Britpop bands were fixated on their Englishness -- The Auteurs' lyrics did not reflect this. Just look at a handful of Auteurs song titles -- "Unsolved Child Murder," "Light Aircraft on Fire," this was not a band that wanted to sing about holiday wife swapping or cigarettes and alcohol. Personally, this author is rather surprised that American college rock radio did not adopt this UK export and make them Pavement-famous. C'est la vie.
After Murder Park, in 1996, saw The Auteurs take their sound in a different direction. While still retaining the pop sensibilities from their earlier records, Haines' songwriting had clearly matured. The music contains many layers and can simply be described as "baroque pop." "Unsolved Child Murder," for example, boasts an impressive arrangement of strings, horns and complex melodies. "Married to a Lazy Lover," featuring a heavy guitar lead, is an anthemic rock epic. Haines began branching out around this time forming another band, Baader Meinhoff. This side project echoed The Auteurs in some ways but also borrowed influences from electronica and funk artists. The Auteurs' final album, How I Learned To Love the Bootboys, came out in 1999.
Since The Auteurs' dissolution, Luke Haines has found success as both a solo artist and author. He has published two memoirs: Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part In Its Downfall and Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll chronicling his experiences in the music industry. In an era when Britpop fans are celebrating Shed Seven reunion tours, it is important to remember The Auteurs. They were an incredibly talented band led by the exceptionally gifted Luke Haines. Their back catalog is a treasure.
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