Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Auteurs - After Murder Park

The Auteurs
After Murder Park

Released 1996 on Hut
Reviewed by Robin Tripp, 24/06/2006ce

1. Light Aircraft on Fire (2:17)
2. Child Brides (4:26)
3. Land Lovers (2:31)
4. New Brat in Town (3:55)
5. Everything You Say Will Destroy You (2:42)
6. Unsolved Child Murder (2:08)
7. Married to a Lazy Lover (3:55)
8. Buddha (2:55)
9. Tombstone (3:59)
10. Fear of Flying (4:41)
11. Dead Sea Navigators (3:47)
12. After Murder Park (2:00)

All songs written by Luke Haines.

Much darker and more caustic than anything The Auteurs had done before; 'After Murder Park' was the result of an impending breakdown, a year long recuperation period following a jump from a 15ft wall, and the growing dissatisfaction of lead-singer/songwriter Luke Haines with the kind of turgid indie-guitar rock clogging up the charts, circa 1995. To some, it represents the truest "anti-Britpop" statement in recorded form, with Haines finding little cheer in a world filled with murder, suicide and domestic abuse, and even fantasising about the bombing of the Columbia Hotel, the infamous celebrity flop-house made famous by an Oasis reference. There are also the usual Haines-related preoccupations with wanton nostalgia, faded-glamour, rock-star rivalries and the 1970's, all incorporated alongside a continual obsession with child murder, alcoholism and self-destructive relationships.

It's easily the darkest album that Haines has been involved with, seemingly lacking the prevailing sense of humour that detracted from the bleak misanthropy of later albums like the first Black Box Recorder LP, 'England Made Me', or his debut solo-release, the dadist-inspired "anti-art" statement, 'The Oliver Twist Manifesto'. In fact, you could probably view this album as the start of a dark pop trilogy of records that would continue through with the 'Baader Meinhof' LP (1997), before eventually coming to a close with the abovementioned 'England Made Me' (1998), both of which maintain a similar preoccupation with terrorism, kidnap, social unrest, suicide and personal/professional angst.

Like much of the Haines' past (and indeed future) work, 'After Murder Park' unfolds in it's own hermetically sealed and typically British world that seems populated by social archetypes and generic stereotypes, often filtered through the continually kaleidoscopic veneer of 1970's home video footage, 8mm news reports, Mike Leigh's kitchen sink, and the subversively "rosy", sun-kissed suburbs of shows like 'The Good Life' and 'Bless This House'. Here, like the scenes of domestic turbulence in Oliver Stone's much-criticised version of 'Natural Born Killers', Haines' world of despair and destruction comes complete with its very own laugh-track... with the songs of 'After Murder Park' taking on an almost 'Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrnin'-like satirical quality, as its characters try to retain that traditional air of stiff-upper-lipped, deeply middle-class pretension, whilst beneath the surface, there's something incredibly dark beginning to unravel. With that in mind, Haines merciless picks apart this prevailing sense of Britishness... swamping songs in light distortion, burying his already muffled vocals in a shallow grave of reverb, and eventually replacing archetypical characters like Sid Abbot and Barbara Good, with public hate-figures like Michael Ryan and Rosemary West.

Musically, the album is more varied than the two previous albums by Haines and The Auteurs, though I suppose there are lingering remnants of the jangly acoustic strum of their classic debut album 'New Wave', with further hints to the glam influence found on its more robust follow up, 'Now I'm a Cowboy'. The switch in sound probably has a lot to do with recording engineer Steve Albini, who brings his trademark sound of punctured drums, distorted guitars and vocals hidden low in the mix, and attaches it to Haines' uniquely British sense of style, delivery, and humour (with a capital "U")... though I suppose the disintegration of Haines from writing songs like Showgirl and Chinese Bakery into songs like the ones found here can be traced to the 'Back with the Killer' EP from the previous year, which had cheerful little numbers like Back With the Killer (Again) and Kenneth Anger's Bad Dream, or the later 'Kids Issue' EP, one of the best things Haines has ever released... and probably the most miserable (many tracks from this album overlap with the two).

There are similarities here to some of the grunge or lo-fi indie-rock bands and their albums that Albini had worked on in the past - particularly 'Surfer Rosa' by The Pixies and that great album by The Wedding Present, 'Seamonsters' - but there are richer influences than that. Obviously, we're dipping into territory covered previously by classic "establishment" bands like The Kinks, and maybe even Pink Floyd (Roger Waters being another of those gloomy swine's who likes to write about war, pain and existentialist strife), with further nods to the classic 70's period of David Bowie, hints of Nick Lowe (who Haines would cover on the soundtrack to arty Brit-terrorism-flick 'Christy Malry's Own Double Entry'), the wounded folk of Richard (and Linda) Thompson, and that great caustic Costello classic 'Blood & Chocolate' (particularly the abrasive rants of Uncomplicated, Tokyo Storm Warning, Battered Old Bird and I Want You). These influences are further reflected in the stylistic diversions that Haines takes in the overall approach to his arrangements, switching freely between distorted electric guitars and more folk-influenced acoustics, as well as drawing on wailing string arrangements, a mournful funeral organ, a couple of French horns and a distant harmonium to create atmosphere.

Listening to this album, you wonder why Haines never really hit it off with Matt Johnson when The Auteurs supported The The during the early 90's, with Johnson famously threatening to kill Haines - and generally dismissing The Auteurs as gloomy and unsociable - after Haines referred to Johnson as a "comedian" whilst still on stage (to be fair, Johnson had forced Haines and Co. to perform at an earlier time without a sound-check, before being told that they'd essentially be playing warm up to The The's favourite comedian, Tommy Cockles!). There's certainly much of Johnson's trademark angst and venom in these twelve songs, with Haines taking the highly personal view of society as offered on an album like 'Mind Bomb', but filtering it through his own obsessions and idiosyncrasies that draw more on human behaviour and everyday life than the broader topics of religion, consumerism and globalisation. There's also a tinge of the Mark E. Smith ethos is the various uses of metaphor, particularly on the opening track Light Aircraft on Fire, in which Haines uses the titular scenario as a metaphor for a particularly stormy relationship... brutishly snarling lyrics like "when you cut your lover slack, you get a fucking monster back" over distorted chords and a clamorous rhythm section.

There are also some minimal shades of "The Bends-era" Radiohead, as well as the influences aforementioned, with Haines easily standing as a guitarist in the same league as Johnny Greenwood, and this album easily eclipsing 'The Bends' in terms of consistent songwriting, production and performance. Regardless of influence, it is Haines's unique world view that shines through clearest of all, with his music managing to sound both grungy and grim, but also filled with a variety of catchy pop hooks. Similarly, his lyrics managing to capture the rose-tinted nostalgia of Ray Davies and The Kinks, but at the same time, are practically riddled with his own obsessions and outsider interests. Just taking a look at some of the song titles will clue you in on what Haines (the songwriter) has in store with this collection of angular rock downers, with a track like The Child Brides - which takes a finger-picked acoustic guitar, a warm cello and a distant burst of harmonium and finds Haines wailing the refrain "throw yourself at the tide / I'll see you on the other side" - taking a spine-tingling melody and an arrangement high on atmosphere to create something that sounds like it came from 1895, as opposed to 1995.

The rest of the album follows a similar lyrical trajectory, with later songs like the wailing Buddha (which has Haines humorously shouting "BUDDHA, BUDDHA, BUDDHA... WHOOO!"), the snarling Everything You Say Will Destroy You (a song that seems to be about a disgraced Vietnam veteran facing a court marshal) and the storming Married To a Lazy Lover (a minor-chord ode to misogyny and domestic abuse) all continuing the idea of damaged minds and tortured relationships, whilst other songs like New Brat In Town, Land Lovers and Tombstone seem to be taking pot-shots at the Britpop massive and their hollow existence of drug-taking, tabloid-bating, stadium-filling mediocrity. Fear of Flying on the other hand could be interpreted as being about the fear of failure ("you should be weary of ghosts in the dark / they know all your history they know all your past"), whilst the almost-anthemic Dead Sea Navigators is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of life's great losers ("John the barman and Mickey Greene / this one goes out to all the drinkers at the / Red Lion..." sings Haines before offering the snarling dedication "overcoat boys with more brains that brawn / this one's for you!!"), which leaves us with the two most sinister songs as the album's highlights of highlights.

Here we have the thematic centre of the album, with the subversively poppy Unsolved Child Murder sounding like the greatest Beatles song never written... as Haines raids the Fab Four's "guide to pop" and stacks on the acoustic guitars, "B-flat key-changes", bubbling horn motifs and an orchestral backing. He then goes on to softly sing lyrics like "people round here / don't like to talk about it / presumed dead / unsolved child murder... / since they dragged the lake / you know they seemed au fait / cordoned off some wood and gave a photo to a psychic / presumed dead / unsolved child murder", which manages to create both an evocative little narrative sketch and (an allegedly) real-life incident from Haines' distant past. The child murder-motif continues through to the closing title track, which finds Alice Readman bass-guitar at it's most prominent, as Haines and Albini play with the light funk ornamentation that would be more pronounced on the subsequent 'Baader Meinhof' project, as the drum and bass help to keep the momentum while "Melody Nelson" style string arrangements glide in to give the song an extra element of drama. The song remains another one of Haines's all-time greatest moments, juxtaposing the horror of the subject matter with a gorgeous pop arrangement, and that beautiful/sinister closing refrain; "I'll love you until the end".

'After Murder Park' remains a truly fantastic album. If you line it up with the 'Kids Issue'/'Back with the Killer' EPs, and the albums by Baader Meinhof and Black Box Recorder (specifically, 'England Made Me'), you'll see the ultimate proof that great work can come out of a period of great personal pain and inner turmoil, as well as further proof (as if it were actually needed?) that Luke Haines is, without question, one of the most gifted and vital songwriters currently at work. A mid-nineties masterpiece, then... that not enough people know about.

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