The Auteurs: New Wave (Hut Hut)

A NAME that the nation’s tastemakers have been looking up in their dictionaries and dropping in the right circles for, oh, weeks.

The Auteurs have emerged, apparently out of thin air, to steal a march on Suede as the Next Big Thing Of The ’90s To Remind You Of The ’70s. Convened about a year ago, they are a trio from London led by an appropriately slack and mysterious charmer called Luke Haines (ex-Servants) who writes, sings, plays guitar and generally calls the shots. They supported Suede on tour last year, and although their music is more delicately styled than Suede’s, it undoubtedly taps into the same lodestone of inspiration.

Combining art school smarts with a gorgeous strand of romantic, world-weary escapism, their debut is a seductive affair, steeped in the decadent lore of glam rock England circa-Ziggy Stardust. Far from being embarrassed about this, Haines deliberately echoes the strange, semi-fictional world of possibilities which Bowie created nearly 20 years ago by fashioning the “star” word itself into an unofficial leitmotif for the album, linking the songs ‘Don’t Trust The Stars’, ‘Starstruck’, ‘How Could I Be Wrong’ (“I’ve never seen so many stars”) and ‘Showgirl’ (“Sprinkled Stardust on my wife”).

Like Bowie’s best work, New Wave is an album rich in melodic detail. Opening with the ripe promise of last year’s single, ‘Showgirl’, it immediately establishes the uniquely heart-tugging tone that is the hallmark of Haines’s songwriting. Always understandable, but never too literal, his lyrics about American Guitars, Junkshop Clothes and Early Years are both clever and stirring in a way close to the great Ian Hunter’s writing for Mott The Hoople. As with Hunter, Haines uses his songs to create a persona that is an artful mixture of myth and reality: “Mother died in rehab and I was born/…My career took its first nosedive/I’ve been starstruck all my life” (‘Starstruck’).

Behind Gaines’s quavery English voice, the band dishes up tastefully loud guitars and a choppy beat one minute, plinking pianos, acoustic guitars and harpsichords the next. They’re at their best with the sort of sparkly, radio-friendly riff that drives ‘Idiot Brother’, a wryly unflattering song, apparently inspired by the people at Gaines’s former record label.

Derived from the French word for “author”, auteur is a faintly pseudish name for a film director. Its resonances, like this album, are unmistakenly artistic, intellectual and London/European in provenance. As well as charm, arrogance and a knowing poise, New Wave has got that elusive vision thing. Coming as it does just weeks before the promised Suede debut, its title could be prophetic, suggesting the first signs of a credible English counterweight to the current wave of power-crazed American groups which has been noisily crashing against these shores for the past 18 months or so. Well, it’s about time we came up with something.

© David SinclairQ, March 1993

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