Glam bam, thank you, ma’am. How I Learned To Love The Bootboys, the Auteurs’ final studio album, made their transformation from brooding baroque pop to a sci-fi glam dream complete. A revealing lyric from Now I’m A Cowboy perfectly encapsulates their last hurrah. In ‘Chinese Bakery,’ frontman Luke Haines sang, ‘your future is just somebody’s past.’ Bootboys is just that: an album set in the future, created in the lingering shadow of the glam rock scene of the 1970s. As such, it is removed from the generic guitar rock-driven ‘90s; it is all its own, a retro-progressive concept record, displaying Haines’ influences for all to see. The 1999 album encompasses the faded glamour, garishness, and wanton nostalgia of Luke Haines’ favorite decade. In fact, Bootboys is defined by the ’70s, both thematically and stylistically. This time, Haines takes us back to his English childhood, an existence so bland and ordinary that it’s become an obsession.
Bootboys is a cohesive vision that manifests itself as a concept album more than a random collection of songs. It is the result of the natural progression of the previous three albums. The stirring chamber pop of the Auteurs’ first two records overlaid by the heavier guitars of the Steve Albini-produced After Murder Park is the foundation. Now, that sonic concoction includes dreamscape sound effects that play like a glam rock sci-fi soundtrack. Many of the songs sound as if they were performed by Ziggy Stardust’s rival band.
‘The Rubettes’ is a sentimental time machine trip back to Haines’ youth. The song references the 1970’s group, the Rubettes, and their pop song ‘Sugar Baby Love.’ Surely most of his listeners can relate to stealthily staying up past bedtime in hopes of hearing our special song on the radio. It’s a bittersweet reminiscence of both the good and the bad that our pasts have to offer. ‘The future’s made of coal; the past is made of gold,’ Haines tells us. This song is just another of the Auteurs’ tremendous album openers with its intoxicatingly saccharine dream chorus. Clearly the theme of nostalgia continues on ‘1967,’ named after the year of Haines’ birth and narrated from the perspective of his own father. In the late 1960s, we meet a typically unhip English couple expecting a child (our songwriter). Could it be about the parents of the enamored lover of the Rubettes? The shimmery music could easily blend into the background of a swanky ’60s cocktail party.
Then there’s the sordid claustrophobia of ‘How I Learned To Love The Bootboys,’ a song both spine-tingling and magnetic, like much of the Auteurs’ output. Its indie disco beat matches wits with Haines’ trademark ethereal vocals. Here, he continues to reevaluate his formative years. Apparently his youth was fairly traumatic since people must have been taunting him constantly about his terrible dancing. If that’s the case, this is the best dance album by someone with two left feet. ‘Your Gang, Our Gang’ is an off-kilter rampage with a manic New York Dolls swagger. This sticky, sweet blast of glam pop has Haines’ vocals buried underneath shining guitars. ‘Johnny & the Hurricanes’ is one of the highlights of the album. It opens with what might be Haines wailing along with a theremin. Sounds like sci-fi to me! This is a topic that will seem familiar: a fictional rock band. This is his own personal Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The David Bowie similarities don’t end there. Dramatic strings, electronic blips, and the clinking piano sounds like something straight out of Hunky Dory. The final song, ‘Future Generation,’ is the Auteurs’ farewell, a bittersweet epilogue to their quartet of albums. Looking back over his career, Haines muses over his unappreciated work. ‘And, of course, I love the old songs from New Wave to Murder Park. The next generation will get it from the start,’ he assures himself. Haines’ withering wit seethes throughout as he asserts that the commercial failure endured during the Auteurs’ career will be redeemed by the more perceptive ‘future generation.’ He leaves these hopefuls with a dire warning: ‘this music could destroy a nation.’ Or, well, it should have, at least.
While it does not quite achieve the consistency of their first three albums, Bootboys is a far more textural album than their previous efforts. Unlike their earlier records that gorgeously bleed from start to finish without a distinct difference in style, each song on Bootboys has its own identity. ‘Some Changes’ is a watercolor wash of melody highlighted by a slide guitar. It’s a slightly crisper version of the soft-around-the-edges shoegaze. ‘School’ has a stunning bossa nova cello thing going on. ‘Asti Spumante’ is a direct link to Haines’ other project, Black Box Recorder. It sounds like music from a demented disco with its fuzzed out vocals and haunting electronic minimalism. Strings drip through the anti-mantra, ‘Sick Of Hare Krishna.’ Its guitar and strings imitate an Indian-flavored sitar and sarangi harmony.
As the Auteurs’ career reached its end note, it became more apparent than ever that they were one of the most important, yet unappreciated, English bands from the 1990s. Their 1993 debut, New Wave, emerged as a significant launchpad to Britpopmania. From beginning to end, their four albums came closer to perfection than any others’ from that era. And with their futuristic farewell, How I Learned To Love The Bootboys closed the decade and drove a final nail in Britpop’s coffin. It seems fitting that Luke Haines should have the last word.