It Is The Best Ones (freakytigger) wrote,
It Is The Best Ones

100: 90s No. 83 THE AUTEURS - "Unsolved Child Murder"

Anyone who's read the British tabloids in the 1990s learns to recognise the purse-lipped nudges and twitched-curtain insinuations that have become the endlessly reported cousins of inexplicable crime. Always a loner. I blame the parents. No smoke without fire. Kept himself to himself. If it had been my daughter.....

Luke Haines knows them too: "More hate mail through the door / Didn't know that Sundays could be useful after all". The lilting cello-drawn melody of "Unsolved Child Murder" dilutes and disguises the song's sting. This track was where Haines - long acerbic, curdled and vicious to no great effect - widened his focus and, darkly, blossomed. His clipped, two-minute pen-portrait of the desperation, horror, vulturism and hypocrisy surrounding public tragedy is the equal of anything Costello's done since "Night Rally", and is all the better for its whispery detachment. Haines is too tired to be angry, and too fascinated to be preachy. The unassuming music shows his gift for prettiness well: (you'd say it was ironic if Luke Haines' every song didn't hammer home what a useless, inevitable response irony has ended up being.) "Unsolved Child Murder", short but infinitely listenable, switches queasily between reportage and first-person straw-clutching, and is in the final analysis as unknowable as the events it sketches.

Odd little rhetorical flourish at the end there, given that I've just analysed the song quite well. Anyway...

I've come to find studied misanthropy awfully exhausting: it makes the heart sink. I'm sure its devotees would find me a tedious Pollyanna, too, so we agree to disagree, and incidentally I don't listen to Luke Haines' records as often as I used to. As with the better misanthropes there's a pretty strong moral core to his work that informs the sneers and contempt, but after a while the sneering seems to become the point and I start losing interest. "Unsolved Child Murder" is still one of his best records, though - using pop to talk suggestively about a situation that the media have made it hard to address directly.

What I'm trying to say with the Costello reference, I suspect, is that at his best Haines bites Costello very effectively. One thing Elvis Costello managed as a performer which Haines hadn't by the time I stopped listening, though, is to make a voice often stuck on "contemptuous" work to express a wider emotional range. So I might be being unfair on Luke Haines - he's not hateful, he just sings that way.

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