Everyone wants to take claim of being the first Britpop band, ushering in the scene and inspiring the rest of the groups, but no one wants to take responsibility for the uglier aspects, its descent into jingoistic caricatures championed by the media. Many of the bands who have claimed to have invented Britpop quickly sought to separate from the pack. How many times have you heard your favorite band lament that, while they were its originators, they never fit in, so therefore they were not a part of the Britpop scene?
New Wave, the Auteurs’ first album, was truly a harbinger of a new wave of British guitar music. One of the essential albums of the burgeoning Britpop scene, New Wave has generally been overshadowed by its contemporaries. Suede’s debut, Modern Life Is Rubbish, and Pablo Honey were all released the same year. The Boo Radleys, the Verve, and Manic Street Preachers all had memorable records out in 1993, as well.
The Auteurs’ frontman, Luke Haines, is one of the sharpest and most acerbic personalities in all of Britpop. From its outset, he made his disdain for the scene and its key players well known. While his hostility may have alienated and repelled some of his peers, his cerebral writing style is captivating, commanding listeners to hang on his every whispered word. Haines’ astute social critiques of British class culture is somewhat similar to Jarvis Cocker’s meditations on the same. Lyrically, the songs are, in turn, spiteful, vaguely sinister, and wickedly clever. These gritty and foreboding narratives are woven together with lush chamber rock. The signature Auteurs sound has a sort of disconcerting irresistibility. All the songs ripple into each other, and together they make one glorious, unclear monologue.
‘Show Girl’ is one of the brightest openers to any album from the decade. It’s a shimmery folk-pop tune with an ethereal chorus. Haines’ delightfully sighed vocals completes this romance. This song perfectly prepares the listener for, not only the remainder of the record, but also their following three albums. ‘Bailed Out’ is a swelling haze that has the feel of a wild party that should have ended hours ago. ‘Junk Shop Clothes’ is enchanting with its delicate arpeggio tempered with Haines’ minimalistic plunking piano. It sounds like twentieth-century chamber music. ‘Don’t Trust The Stars’ would be at home on a British indie compilation sandwiched between the House of Love and Teenage Fanclub. ‘Starstruck,’ sharing its name with one of the best by the Kinks, opens with a jangly chord progression that would make Johnny Marr proud. The reverbed snare drums and Merseybeat bassline of ‘Housebreaker’ sets toes tapping. Everything’s rhythm in the song, and it even includes a plaintive harmonica break. But, the epic highlight of the album is the sharp lyrics and sneering guitars that inform us of your ‘Idiot Brother.’ This is Haines at his derisive best.
Despite the early critical acclaim for the Auteurs, they and this spectacular melodic pop album, ultimately failed to spark the public’s interest. They might have ushered in a new wave, but the year the album was released, the Auteurs famously lost the Mercury Music Prize by one vote to Suede. Perhaps having his music constantly overlooked has been a valuable catalyst in keeping the rest of Luke Haines’ projects as stinging as the opening to this first album.