Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines is a curious beast. It’s a part-swan song to Haines’ 90s indie group, The Auteurs, a part-bridge to his new solo career, and a not-quite greatest hits. But most of all, it was a scam.
Hut Records, the Virgin subsidiary that Haines spent the 90s signed to, was being shut down. As a final fuck you to the Virgin overlords, Hut boss Dave Boyd exploited a loophole whereby he could siphon off a substantial chunk of money from what remained of the Hut coffers and give it to Haines under the guise of ‘back catalogue’. The catch is, Haines would have to re-record a selection of his old songs, maybe as an acoustic album.
Instead, Haines went wild with the budget, smothering re-recordings of tracks from the four Auteurs albums proper and his Baader Meinhof concept album – along with a handful of new tracks – in stately orchestration.
“The sessions went well and nearly every song that have been re-recorded are better than the originals,” Haines wrote in his second autobiography, Post-Everything, “though I know I’ll have a hard job convincing ‘the kids’ about that one.”
And certainly, others were not convinced. Pitchfork, for instance, commented:
“Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines and the Auteurs is a primo Situationist stunt. From the title on down, it concerns itself purely with the sound of money. Fat with winds, strings, chimes, echo chambers the size of Wembley stadium and, per liner notes, ‘the greatest sax solo in the history of popular culture,’ the album is meticulously designed to mimic fundraiser quickies like The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays the Music of Oasis. There’s even an overture, ingeniously hidden before the first track (you have to hit pause and rewind well into negative numbers to play it). The result, needless to say, is patently and intentionally ludicrous; it could be one of the greatest jokes ever played on a label by an artist.
I can’t help but applaud Das Capital’s meta-architecture, which incorporates everything from the cover art to the attendant interviews filled with bragging about the project’s cost (press manipulation has always been an integral part of Haines’s work– his solo debut came out the same week he called for a ‘pop strike’ from the op-ed page of The Guardian). One small quibble, however, remains: The album is unlistenable.”
In truth, the album isn’t bad. Probably not a lost classic, but better overall than similar efforts like Tori Amos’ Royal Albert Hall-debuted Gold Dust. The new songs – usually filler on these albums – end up being some of Haines’ best, and would have made a classic EP if on their own.
Although Haines’ solo work would tend towards concept albums, where the sound of the song and its theme are tightly meshed, The Auteurs albums were just Good Songs that happened to be performed by an indie band that featured an electric cellist rather than a lead guitarist. So recontextualising them as ‘last night at the Britpop Proms’ anthems doesn’t hurt them at all.
Take the reversioning of lead track from The Auteurs’ Mercury-nominated debut:
Also, the tongue-in-cheek overture that opens the album is not only pretty funny, but kind of great, a medley of stand-out melodies from Haines’ premium-grade songbook thus far.
Art: Der Orchideen Garten