Luke Haines, the curmudgeonly, darkly sarcastic misanthrope behind The Auteurs, Baader Meinhof and Black Box Recorder, is unsurprisingly scathing about Britpop, the musical movement that dominated the 90s. In Bad Vibes, Haines offers his view of the Britpop years, as he watched the scene he helped to create turn monstrous and stomp across the country. Beginning in late 1991, as he was preparing the first Auteurs record, and ending in late 1997, with the first Black Box Recorder album being finished, Haines focuses on "what I thought then, not necessarily what I think now". The result is a vicious and hilarious savaging of British alternative music in the 90s.
As a self-confessed egomaniac, Haines has barely a good word to say about anyone else. During the course of the book he aims barbs at Damon Albarn, Justine Frischmann, Sting, Brett Anderson, Chris Evans and numerous others. He's not even that taken with his own band. James Banbury, the Auteurs' cellist, is never referred to by name; he is simply The Cellist.
Mostly though, Haines reserves his ire for the "rinky-dink Britpoppers" whose music is distracting the masses from his own masterpieces - and he is convinced that at least two of the Auteurs albums are masterpieces.
But the book is not a bitter exercise in score settling. Well, not entirely. At worst, it's a very funny exercise in score settling. In addition, it's a very honest portrayal of life in a mid-level band. There are drug busts as the Auteurs travel through Europe and a Spinal Tap-esque tour of the US with most of the dates cancelled and the band reduced to playing sports bars.
I've never been sure how seriously to take Haines's misanthropy. Is he really that spiteful, is it just a pose or is he just amusing himself? I suspect the latter. Haines seems equally happy sarcastically belittling his own achievements as he is savaging others. Even his proclaimed self image - the bitter genius, shunned by a moronic public - seems to be partly tongue-in-cheek.
Perhaps that's just me. I've enjoyed Haines's music for a long time and I like his persona. Others are less keen, notably Louise Wener, the former singer for Sleeper, who savaged Bad Vibes in the Observer recently. Anything that annoys Wener - who since her days with the godawful Sleeper has turned her inconspicuous talents to writing - must have something going for it. Perhaps she was just annoyed that Haines spelt her name wrong.
There are quite a few names spelt wrong, in fact. That's probably something Haines's editor should have picked up. It's more problematic that Haines is a mediocre writer. His writing is energetic, descriptive and, as mentioned above, funny but he writes very clumsy sentences. He's also pretty lousy as a rock critic. His descriptions of music, whether he's praising it or criticising it, are cliched and uninspired.
Never mind. It's a great book, in spite of that. Anyone who followed indie music in the 90s will enjoy it immensely.