The Auteurs: Luke back in anger

The crowd cheered at the mention of the song "Meet Me at the Airport", and Luke Haines was amazed, then sarcastic. "It was a big hit," he mocked. Just three years ago, he might have said those words and meant them. His band, the Auteurs, were frontrunners of British pop, their debut album, New Wave (Hut), beaten to the Mercury Music Prize by a nose - Brett Anderson's nose, as it happened. But since then, the mighty accomplishments of Cast and Northern Uproar have overshadowed them to such an extent that when Haines broke up the band earlier this year, no one noticed. When he formed a new band, Baader Meinhof, no one noticed either. And when he reformed the Auteurs as a support act for Baader Meinhof at Camden's less than over-sized Dingwalls on Wednesday, Oasis's squabbles were in little danger of being knocked off the front page.

It's highly unfair, considering Haines's prodigious talent, but it's not inexplicable. For a start, he is the least attractive member of his band(s), lacking Brett Anderson's hair, chin or cheek-bones, and compensating with a frightening expanse of forehead and brow. But the outside of his head is considerably more attractive than the inside. "I'm going to do all the talking during this half," he smirked during the Auteurs' opening set, " 'cos the other stuff is all about killing people." True enough, Baader Meinhof, named after the German terrorists, are not likely to have their songs covered by Celine Dion. But nor are the Auteurs. The song immediately prior to Haines's announcement was "Tombstone", the two that followed it were "Unsolved Child Murder" and "Light Aircraft On Fire", all from the last Auteurs album, After Murder Park (Hut). This is not a man who dreams of appearing on Top of the Pops. What he does dream of, I dread to think.

If Haines's bilious, literate lyrics rely more on shock value than anything else, at least all the death is brought to life by his trembling gasps and mad, vicious snarls, and the scratchy guitar texture is softened by James Banbury's velvety cello. Haines knows how to put a set of chords together, too. He is a consistently fine composer, whose post- lapsarian (inspired by The Fall) music can be pretty as readily as it can be ugly. "Unsolved Child Murder" is indeed "a tender folk song", of sorts, even if Haines meant the introductory description to be ironic.

Baader Meinhof (the Auteurs with a different bassist, and a woman in black lipstick on the violin) turn Haines's cinematic and experimental instincts in the direction of pulsating funk and noirish spy chases, like dance remixes of Nick Cave's Murder Ballads. Of the two incarnations, I think I prefer the Auteurs, but no matter. Whatever he's doing, Haines is the master of Brit-unpop.

As reunions go, it's not exactly up there with the Sex Pistols or the Beatles. As supergroups go, it's not exactly up there with Cream. As music goes, it's not exactly up there with Chas & Dave. None the less, the Power Station are back, for those of you whose idea of the creme de la creme is Robert Palmer, the drummer from Chic and the guitarist from Duran Duran. Their last (and first) album came out in 1985, back in the days when the number of cymbals on every drum kit went into double figures. The Power Station's hoary, subtlety-free pub rock hasn't changed much since then, but, my goodness, the Power Station certainly have.

The raison d'etre of their mini-gig at the Hanover Grand on Tuesday was to film a video for their upcoming single, "She Can Rock It" (Chrysalis). Unless they're planning to license it exclusively to Oldie TV, I'd beg them to think again. Is this really how they want to present themselves? Didn't Andy Taylor - a shaggy, frog-faced Jimmy Page-lookalike with a cigarette hanging from his pout - use to be a teeny-bop lust object? Let this be a warning to you, Robbie Williams. Then there is Palmer, sadly sans suit, his grey, shoe-salesman slacks pulled up, grandad-style, over his bulging stomach. "You've got to realise," he panted and puffed, "that these songs are a hell of a lot of fun to play." Really? Then why was he so twitchy and distracted? Indeed, why is he embarrassing himself in this manner at all? For the money? I wouldn't bet on the kids queueing down the street for the pompous, Deep Purple riffs of "Living in Fear", the synthetic funk-lite of "Life Forces", or a horrifying Eighties-metal version of the Beatles' already ropey "Taxman".

After all, Seattle's Grammy- winning Soundgarden do the heavy-metal thing with five times the creativity, 10 times the speed and 20 times the volume. But heavy metal it remains. I positively identified at least two instances of headbanging at the Brixton Academy on Thursday, and one of somebody making devil's-horns hand gestures. I don't care if Chris Cornell does have spikey hair, I'd recognise his throat-lacerating howl anywhere: it's Bruce Dickinson as I live and breathe.

To think it was only half a decade ago that grunge seemed to be metal's cooler, smarter, less posturing little brother. Now Soundgarden simply purvey heavy metal's breast-beating bombast while omitting the studded codpieces and the avian decapitation. And it's so self-aggrandisingly gloomy. Whine, whine, pseudo-poetic whine. "I play, I'm sick and lame," goes "Rhinosaur", "Drawing the hordes / I wait, and show the lame / The meaning of harm / The skulls beneath my feet ..." Doesn't this juvenile morbidity make you want to tickle them, or at least give their goatee beards a good hard tug? And Chris, what's with the line "Nothing seems to kill me no matter how hard I try"? Isn't that a bit sick, as well as being crassly untrue, bearing in mind that your fellow Seattle grunge star found that a shotgun did the trick quite effectively?

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