You know, there’s a lot of room in my life for books in which the creator of one of the best Britpop-umbrella bands details the life-and-death of his next project, writes a music featuring a Lord Lucan cameo, filches cash from a label even as they are dumping him, is told how to make decent scrambled eggs (low heat, folks, low heat) by a perhaps-imagined drug-addict cat, and receives album advice from dead rappers.
(Even though he’d hate the fucking Britpop bit.)
This is that book.
Ostensibly, the book is a follow-up to Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall, Haines’s first acerbic tome. The misanthropy is still there, though by the book’s end it is tempered somewhat. Still, there’s lots of choice bits; as much as I’d hoped, anyway.
This one charts the rise-and-fall (if that) of the stunningly underappreciated Black Box Recorder, in the same way Bad Vibes did for The Auteurs. Here, though, there’s much more an awareness of the game as it is played; the construction of pop records as wrangled by two old hands (John Moore and Haines himself) and Sarah Nixey’s ingenue. Throughout, the stupidity of record labels is apparent and uncontested: the first BBR record is made solely on demo money from a brace of labels, until the necessity of a hit – and its attendant ephemera, such as a turn on Top of the Pops (worth watching for the creeper-vibe the trio give off) – comes along. Throughout, the author’s displeasure is clear.
Hit singles are a tricky-dick business: if they really were a piece of piss even you would write one. To write a hit you have to swallow your pride and engage, really engage, with the populace.
There’s serial killers, David Essex, Gary Glitter and an explanation of why London Calling and Kick Out The Jams are dead-enders. I’m not sure there’s many with the balls to describe the sainted Clash as ‘musical bricklaying’ but here it is; have at it and be glad. Haines is a man probably justified in his pissiness – the Auteurs albums feature tunes so fucked and brilliant that it’s a peek into Bizarroworld to imagine what’d happen if they’d won the initial Mercury Music Prize instead of that other terylene-shirt-and-fringes mob.
But this isn’t alternate-history. It’s a funnily-told tale – with grimness behind the laughs – of the curious situation Haines finds himself in. He’s famous, but not major-league famous. He can, somehow, still release albums and workshop stage-shows even though labels shed him like dead skin, the stupid fuckers. It’s the sound of a sigh from someone who realises that in your thirties, there’s things you could – or should – be doing other than treading the boards like a tit.
One thing: this book uses the word cunt a lot, in the best Baconian sense. (Francis of Soho, not the other one.) Everyone is one: Haines, the head of Nude records, you. It’s a delightfully grounding expletive, used often in a book that – much more than the first tome – sees its architect coming to terms with age. Yes, marriage and a kid have a lot to do with that, but it’s quite entrancing to hear a guy who’s been on the inside of the record biz (if not the interior of its financial successes) signal the changes, and give good reasons why we shouldn’t go back. After all:
Selling rock ’n’ roll is like trying to sell a house built from asbestos. It’s no use and it will fucking kill you in the end.
I hope there’s a third volume in the works, because this one is as crackling, years later, as the first. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary if you don’t give a fuck about pop music, Britpop or English serial murderers, but if you’re someone who’s into those three – and enjoys dissection of people famous for being in Eastenders – then this is a book you should find.