THE AUTEURS: AFTER MURDER PARK (1996)
1) Light Aircraft On Fire; 2) Child Brides; 3) Land Lovers; 4) New Brat In Town; 5) Everything You Say Will Destroy You; 6) Unsolved Child Murder; 7) Married To A Lazy Lover; 8) Buddha; 9) Tombstone; 10) Fear Of Flying; 11) Dead Sea Navigators; 12) After Murder Park.
Supposedly this here is the station where the successfully converted adepts of Luke Haines continue their merry train voyage, whereas everybody else, tired of unceasing harrassment on the part of the conductor, gets off with a feel of relief — justifying their choice by pointing out that, whatever Haines really had to say, he said on his first two records, and this... this is just After Murder Park. I mean, what else is there to «get» once you've already been murdered?
The record does feature at least one intriguing contrast — on one hand, it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the textbook symbol of clean, perfectionist production; on the other hand, the band worked with Steve Albini, the notorious guru of American lo-fi indie, as producer. That said, the contrast intrigues more on paper than through the audio channels, because there is not a whole lot of big sonic difference between what they used to have and what they have now — the whole «ringing guitars coming from a mudhole» schtick was already favored by Haines from the very beginning, and calling in Albini mainly just re-states the old fact rather than generates a new kind of sound. Beauty through dirt, dirt through beauty, you know the drift.
The choice one has to make is very much triggered by «The Auteurs»' continuing slide into total monotonousness. For the most part, these songs chiefly differ only in the mix balance between acoustic and electric instruments — some are louder, grungier and screechier, others a bit more soft and subtle, with Luke singing more or less in the same «poisonous» breathy snarl all over the record. But the obscurely-depressing «dark folk vibe» is at the heart of each and every song, and how does that warrant individual comments on any of them?..
«Flashiness» only comes through in one or two tracks, most notably ʽBuddhaʼ — because, admit it, one does not usually concern oneself with Buddha's birthday unless one is properly Buddhist, and none of us probably ever heard Buddha congratulated on his birthday in such a sneering, ironic tone over a musical pause, followed by an ominous organ swirl that is probably supposed to accompany Buddha's being pushed over a cliff with a sack over his head ("I hope your absence is made clear", Haines remarks, either bitterly hinting at the universal betrayal of Buddhist — or Christian, or Confucian, you name it — ideals all over the world, or just conducting a random session of shock therapy). Notable, but is it a good song? — I am still quite unsure. Too overtly gimmicky to convince my senses of the realness of this anger.
Everything else is rather non-descript. The lyrics continue to flow in barely controlled streams of subconscious metaphors, sometimes decipherable (ʽLand Loversʼ seems to be about Israeli occupation; ʽTombstoneʼ mentions the Baader-Meinhof group, later to be adopted as a moniker for a Haines side project of «musical terrorism»), more often not — but generally still revolving around dark thoughts of murders, suicides, crashes, and other equally delightful subjects. (You don't even need anyone to tell you that — just look at the titles.) The instrumental melodies revel in mediocrity, and only get by through the usual Auteurs' atmosphere. The best part of it all are Haines' vocal twists and twirls, which still remain inventive — but, like I said, you'd have to be seriously in love with Haines to be bowled over by any of them.
It is the vocal hooks, actually, that still betray a connection to Brit-pop: for instance, the Kinksy slip into falsetto on the "everybody's gonna get it, yeah... in tombstone" line in ʽTombstoneʼ, or the lazy languid modulation on "I have no fear of dying at all" in ʽFear Of Flyingʼ, or the slides and ascents on the «romantic» chorus to ʽChild Bridesʼ. My personal opinion, though, is that all these excellent inventions — those which are the only advocates for After Murder Park's qualifying as a «musical achievement» — deserve a different production style. There's indie lo-fi, and then there is melodic Brit-pop. Sometimes it is interesting to splice them together, but more often than not it's like putting sugar and salt in the same cup of coffee. If you ask me, I'd rather hear these songs recorded by Ray Davies — except that Ray would never agree to record them: the bitterness and cynicism in these words and moods is way too much even for Ray's permanently disillusioned and embittered (but still quite romantic and idealistic) old ass.
In conclusion, I will just say that my favorite song here is probably ʽMarried To A Lazy Loverʼ — not because of its great vocal hooks (there aren't any specific ones), but because it injects a little less venom than usual, replacing it with an opium-den-like atmosphere of stupefied tranquillity: slow, a little hazy and dreamy, a little desperate and resentful, and somehow managing to state its «there is no way out» message without too much of that self-righteous anger that, ever so often, is likely to trigger a «who the hell do you think you are?» response rather than simple admiration. It would probably be a surprising choice for the fans — who seem to usually go after more uptempo stuff like ʽLight Aircraft On Fireʼ — but without it, I would probably have to refrain from the expected thumbs up. Even then, it's sort of an intermediate decision, and definitely not a love gesture: anyway, Luke Haines doesn't ask to be loved — he is far more of a «negative creep», really, than Kurt Cobain ever managed to pass himself for. (Real «negative creeps» do not shoot themselves, anyway — they gleefully watch others shooting themselves).
Check "After Murder Park" (MP3) on Amazon