Evidence that the British are very different from you and me is in fine supply on the Auteurs' Now I'm a Cowboy. The group managed to get its debut, New Wave, short-listed, as they say, for the British Mercury prize, a fairly prestigious award for album of the year given by an independent group of critics and radio people led by Simon Frith. What's interesting about the Auteurs (and the Mercury's eventual winner, Suede) is how the English critical establishment still hangs on to the ideal of the pop-rock band of ages past. Groups are expected to be both critically and commercially respected, abide by the pop verities--hooks, cool guitar arrangements, and silky, cascading vocals--and have something to say. The rules aren't rigid--quite a few of the usual suspects (U2, Sting, and so forth) make the Mercury finals and critics' year-end lists--but they're certainly there. What the Auteurs do is use that pop-rock foundation as the setting for what some take to be devastating class analysis by songwriter Luke Haines. It tends to be less than subtle ("Put it all in a trust fund / She can't touch till she's twenty-one") or what you'd call radical, but I'll concede the point: the Auteurs do write about stuff that's a cut above your average Mariah Carey song. The actual tunes, too, range from the fine to the dandy: on the new album there are the driving guitars that start out "Lenny Valentino," the delicate lilt in the melody of "New French Girlfriend," and the catchy chorus of "Chinese Bakery." All of which is to say that the Auteurs are a relatively smart if overly derivative band that occasionally both lives up to the pretentiousness of its name and delivers the goods. But a band capable of producing one of the best records of the year? I don't think so. Tuesday, 10:30 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Cheeves.