Kill yourself or get over it: The best of Luke Haines

Enriched by a tradition which includes Dickens and music hall, British pop writers have relished creating characters and humanizing types.

Luke Haines does not humanize. A Ray Davies with a stiletto in his boot, he spent the first part of the 1990s as singer-songwriter-guitarist for The Auteurs, a band as comfortable chilling with Blur and Oasis as an axe murderer in a kindergarten class. Look at his subjectts. Lazy lovers, rich man’s toy, idiot brothers, valet parkers — they’re sick of their pathetic lives, the asses they have to kiss, the smiles they must fake. They despise the class system their overlords take for granted and which allows these overlords to hand them crumbs. The Auteurs’ sound was their own: chamber pop, with menace, though Haines wasn’t above cutting his pretty songs with serrated riffs.

Peaking with 1994’s Now I’m a Cowboy, one of the decade’s most gut-wrenching albums, The Auteurs cut After Murder Park with Steve Albini before Haines moved on to a project he called, har har, Baader–Meinhof. After this knee-slapper, he and former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer John Moore moved on to Black Box Recorder, an excuse to let a singer named Sarah Nixey affectlessly recite words over richly synthesized textures not dissimilar from period Saint Etienne or what Adam Schlesinger did with Ivy. Reviewing their debut in 1999, Joshua Clover noticed its chill: “In the land of hope and glory, Haines and his accomplices go for the last record about hopelessness. It’s not minimalism, it’s terrorism: the kind of record you wouldn’t look at twice while it boards the flight, a forgettable packet under its arm.” These are people who recorded a pretty guitar ballad about watching a spider die under glass and titled it “England Made Me.” But BBR’s best song is a masterful beau geste: a sugary Europop ode to Andrew Ridgely who, Nixey says, “drew the map that rescued me, took me to paradise.” Haines had opened the window, slightly.

The Auteurs:

1. Lenny Valentino
2. American Guitars
3. I’m a Rich Man’s Toy
4. Showgirl
5. Underground Movies
6. Idiot Brother
7. Married to a Lazy Lover
8. Don’t Trust the Stars
9. New French Girlfriend
10. Land Lovers
11. Chinese Bakery
12. After Murder Park

Black Box Recorder:

1. The Art of Driving
2. Girl Singing in the Wreckage
3. Andrew Ridgley
4. The English Motorway System
5. Straight Life
6. Child Psychology
7. England Made Me

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