the observer Sun 18 January 2009
Someone was bound to do it sooner or later. And who better than Luke Haines, rock music's perennial underachiever, its king curmudgeon, to pen Britpop's very own misery memoir? Over 256 agreeably spite-filled pages, he spins a series of tall tales involving personal ignominy, drug psychosis, commercial failure and profound physical self-harm. He is a self-confessed misanthrope, a bad seed who hates everyone and everything and, to begin with, I couldn't help but love him for it.
It shouldn't be so. Haines and I are matter and anti-matter. Dark and light. Had we run into each other in the mid-90s - if we did, I don't recall - it's likely we would have cancelled one another out. Haines was a grim-faced art-rocker who wrote lyrics about French girlfriends and 70s terrorists. I was a doe-eyed siren who sang with my band Sleeper about sex and suburban angst. While Haines feigned contempt for the Britpop circus that cast him to its margins, I clung to the greasy pole of its merry-go-round and rode it for all it was worth.
Haines's pet peeve, the fuel that stokes his "biblical desire for revenge", is that he should have been more successful. As the 1990s got into their stride, his ascent to glory seemed assured. He was "the new girl in town that everyone wants to fuck". His band, the Auteurs, were feted by the press and nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, an event he describes, with winning disdain, as a "feeble-minded sports day for the music biz".
It wasn't to be. In what strikes Haines as an act of supreme injustice, the Auteurs lost to Suede by a single vote and so began a tailspin of malfunction and self-sabotage from which Haines never quite recovered.
By the end of the night, he was in hospital, bleeding and drunk, after an argument between a window and his fist. A year on, lost in a fug of dope smoke and alcohol, he heard voices that goaded him to leap from a 15-foot wall on to concrete. He broke both his legs and spent months in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, the world moved on.
The further Haines slips from Britpop's orbit, the more scabrous he becomes. He dissects the hypocrisies of the music business with the subtlety of a butcher's dog and heaps scorn on his "rinkidink", "light entertainment" contemporaries. Blur are "habitual bandwagon jumpers"; Oasis "mindless northern bluff'; the Verve "shmucks" with "simpleton lyrics". It's hard to take this too seriously and, initially, the schoolboy score-settling is rather enjoyable. Haines is a malevolent Tiny Tim tossing stink bombs into Britpop's shiny toy shop. At one point, he takes aim for real. Hours after performing at a Swedish festival alongside the "schmucks" and the "northern bluff", he fires on them from his hotel balcony with a flare gun as they dance, boorish and drunk, around a fountain, singing choruses of "two world wars and one World Cup".
In 1996, as Oasis were playing their vast sell-out concerts at Knebworth, Haines began a side project called Baader Meinhof. He wrote an album, an "ogre-funk opus, in praise of 70s terrorism", and in place of a press release, sent out photocopied pages from The Anarchist Cookbook, detailing how to construct a nail bomb. Unsurprisingly, the response was mixed. He was accused of being obscure, of wilfully concealing any moral point. But he's waited until now to confess that there was no point. He simply had the hots for the iconography: Patty Hearst posing with an AK-47, Andreas Baader with his long hair and Ray-Bans. "Terrorist chic," he writes. "You got to love it." Indeed, Haines loved it so much that he had his drummer dress as a member of the Provisional IRA during TV performances.
This moral vacuity gets to the heart of Luke Haines. His career faltered, despite a late renaissance as part of Black Box Recorder in the late 1990s, not because of the vagaries of timing or even his own acts of supreme contrariness. It's not the fact that he writes "difficult" songs with titles like Unsolved Child Murder that defeats him - it's the fact they aren't about anything. You might as well listen to Wonderwall. At least it had a good tune.
Haines luxuriates in his role as pantomime villain, but there's an undercurrent of misdirection in what he writes. The real Luke Haines is missing. He gives only the barest details of his personal life or history and, as a consequence, this reads more like a comic novel than a memoir. Despite his contrarian views, it's painfully apparent that Haines's political views are a matter of style, not substance. For instance, though he rightly calls Gallagher and his pals "ignorant vulgarians" for toadying up to Blair at Downing Street, he didn't have the nerve to criticise them at the time. I would have remembered - I was one of the few who did.
If Sideways makes your list of top 10 films, if the thought of going to see Soderbergh's Che is already giving you a hard-on, if you remember Lawrence from Felt and care that the lead guitarist from Television played a Fender Jaguar, not a Telecaster, then this book might just strike you as a gem. For me it was a period piece: undeniably entertaining but far less precious.