THE AUTEURS: HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE BOOTBOYS (1999)
1) The Rubettes; 2) 1967; 3) How I Learned To Love The Bootboys; 4) Your Gang, Our Gang; 5) Some Changes; 6) School; 7) Johnny And The Hurricanes; 8) The South Will Rise Again; 9) Asti Spumante; 10) Sick Of Hari Krisna; 11) Lights Out; 12) Future Generation; 13) Breaking Up; 14) Getting Wrecked At Home.
Somebody ought to probably do a study on all the «turn of the millennium» albums released at the turn of the millennium, explaining why they all sucked. (Or, at least, why we do not heartily remember any of them as «that record that marked our transition into another epoch»). In any case, one of the most self-consciously «generational» records of that kind certainly must have belonged to Luke Haines — for that purpose, he reassembled The Auteurs, previously put on hold while Luke was working on his «Baader Meinhof» project, and together they made their last record, which may not be the best in their catalog, but definitely seems to make more sense than After Murder Park and almost as much as New Wave.
This is a concept album of sorts, a fuzzy look back at the past century in its numerous delights and disillusionments — with every delight a disillusionment, and vice versa. Luke Haines is too much in love with his own brain to ever let you know properly how he feels about the things he is singing about (and sometimes, simply what the hell he is singing about), but, like the proverbial early hipster, he always takes good care to pick out the least predictable topics and drape them in the most controversial moods. «Nostalgia» would be too simple, and misguided, a term to apply to these songs. Nobody could seriously be «nostalgic» about The Rubettes, an idiotic mid-1970s band that tried to merge posh Motown style with glam entourage — and even if Haines' seductive "hang up your jeans, put out your school clothes, tune in for the top ten" at the beginning of the album, multiplied by sweet soft chimes, begins with a message not unlike Lou Reed's classic "her life was saved by rock'n'roll", very soon the irony starts to creep in. Nobody's life, after all, was saved by "sugar baby love" (here, Luke is directly quoting The Rubettes' biggest hit), and against all the chimes and angelic backing vocals, his sneering vocals are what rules the stage: "the future's made of coal, the past is made of gold... you developed late, weren't the Nineties great?" (The correct answer is: "no, they weren't, at least not for The Rubettes").
So, basically, this is not «nostalgia» — this is «post-nostalgia», where you still look with the usual longing at the past, but simultaneously realize that most of it, all those «little things» you used to be fond of, are just as ridiculous as whatever you have in the present or expect from the future. Maybe even «anti-nostalgia», in a way — just look at these titles: ʽThe South Will Rise Againʼ (scarecrowish!), ʽSick Of Hari Krisnaʼ (no sucking up to George Harrison, that's for sure), ʽHow I Learned To Love The Bootboysʼ (the «bootboys» were an anti-hippie skinhead variety, and this title alone might have cost Luke the loyalty of quite a few potential fans), and even ʽAsti Spumanteʼ does not really look much like a positive title, if you ask me.
ʽ1967ʼ is not about going to San Francisco or tripping in an underground club in London: more in line with one of Luke's primary idols — The Kinks — it is sort of a snazzy-spazzy retort that simply states: for the average Joe, it does not matter much if it is 1967 or 1999 behind that window, because in both cases, there is "no pop in our record collection", because "we are bedazzled, we're ordering cocktails, we act like peasants". It is actually quite funny how many people in this world, if properly explained the meaning of the song, would probably want to strangle Haines with their bare hands — but in reality, he is quite safe behind the protective wall of ellyptic and metaphorical language, not to mention the consciously chosen lack of public notoriety.
Musically, the album is a hodge-podge, and you should expect one if the idea of the album is to turn the past hundred (okay, more like fifty) years into an enormous Monopoly playboard and drop the dice in fourteen random spots. For instance, the title track looks back to the dark depths of post-punk, with an almost danceable «electro-pop» rhythm section peppered with space synths and echoes — but no suicidal or generally depressed notes, rather a mysteriously threatening atmosphere here (one that is probably better suited for the likes of the «bootboys», even though I seriously doubt that the average «bootboy» would ever be flattered by the song).
ʽYour Gang, Our Gangʼ is distorted, screamy and barky, just as the title suggests; ʽSome Changesʼ is power-pop with psychedelic keyboard overtones; ʽThe South Will Rise Againʼ, on the other hand, has no true Southern overtones, but is rather «dark psych-folk» — medieval acoustic guitar merged with electronic effects; and ʽJohnny And The Hurricanesʼ is simply non-descript — a progressive epic, deeply submerged in chimes, strings, pianos, and fuzz, the last thing you'd probably expect from a song written about Johnny and the Hurricanes. Except it was not written about Johnny and the Hurricanes — rather, it is dedicated to everyone and everything that is "born on a Monday, dead within a year", and from that point of view, its threatening strings and fuzzy rumble are perfectly appropriate for such a general eulogy.
Lyrically and atmospherically, really, this is a very complex album — way too complex to be properly understood in a world where we want our rock music to speak to us as fast as it can, because otherwise, it will be mercilessly trampled down by all those standing next in line. And, as I said, it might have been all for the best: because How I Learned To Love The Bootboys is not a «depressing» record — it is a ruthless killer, and the deeper you dig into it, the better you understand all the specific peculiarities of Luke Haines' genetic material: all I can say is — thank God the man was not born with any political ambitions in mind. Three / four listens may be enough to understand that this is quite an unusual album, and appreciate some of the subtle hooks and melodic moves, but they will probably not be enough to understand all the incredible nastiness of the spirit behind this whole thing.
If you ask me, it is no wonder Alice Readman quit The Auteurs even before they officially disbanded, leaving them without a stable bass player for the subsequent tour. It may have been one thing to record these songs in the studio, but quite a different one to sing them before live audiences — people as much indicted by this «hippie killer» album as their fathers and mothers. Not to mention ʽFuture Generationʼ, where Haines pompously — but, of course, with tongue firmly in cheek — asserts that "future generations will catch my falling star" and that "I put a pox on the seventies" (just as he put it on every other decade). Well, I suppose that this kind of bravery certainly warrants a thumbs up here — melodically, these songs are anything but trivial, yet it is not really the chord changes, but the arrogance and audacity, subtly hidden under a thin cover of verbal enigmas, that make Bootboys so special for that kind of «turn of the century» albums I was talking about. Some people complain about degradation, others look forward with optimism to the future — Luke Haines is the only one to tell us that all is vanity, and that numbers are just numbers. ʽSome Changesʼ, yeah, right.
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