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Friday, December 27, 2013

Bauhaus: Burning From The Inside


1) She's In Parties; 2) Antonin Artaud; 3) Wasp; 4) King Volcano; 5) Who Killed Mr. Moonlight; 6) Slice Of Life; 7) Honeymoon Croon; 8) Kingdom's Coming; 9) Burning From The Inside; 10) Hope.

Considering who we are talking about here, the phrase «nothing predicted a bleak future for Bauhaus in 1983» sounds rather silly — this is one band that could always do with some bleak future, the bleaker the better. Let me try and rephrase that: by early 1983, Bauhaus were going stronger than ever, and there is no telling how many successful results this Murphy/Ash colla­boration could yield throughout the decade. But fate commanded that, just as the band entered the studio to begin sessions for their fourth LP, Murphy fell ill with a real heavy (some say life-threa­tening) case of pneumonia — and the remaining members actually had the nerve to carry on re­cording without him, even to the point of Ash and David J singing lead vocals on several tracks. Whatever tensions between the vocalist and the instrumentalists there were up to that point were instantly magnified tenfold, and the band played their last show at the Hammersmith on July 5, one week prior to the release of Burning From The Inside.

Tension, dissent, and various forms of cracks within a band are not always detrimental — quite often, this actually stirs and freshens creative juices, and there is nothing like a heavy splash of healthy hatred to produce great art, anyway. Unfortunately, this is not what happened here — with the partial absence of Murphy, Bauhaus... well, it just isn't Bauhaus any more. Apart from a few trademark songs, Ash and David J push the band into softer, more «melodic» territory that draws its inspiration from dark folk and Kurt Weill rather than Joy Division. It may be tasteful and relatively interesting territory, but it puts The Bauhaus Beast to sleep (and it sometimes puts me to sleep, which is not good at all).

There is really only one classic number here, which accordingly opens the album and was also released as its only single — ʽShe's In Partiesʼ has everything you could expect from a Bauhaus song: dark «glam-hellish» delivery from Peter, going into a nostalgic trance for the glitz, the vanity, and the noir of the classic age of Hollywood; a simple, nasty, unforgettable riff from Ash, even­tually mutating into a series of heavily treated swoops and meltdowns, as if somebody were pouring acid on the amps; and a gloomy solo dance by the bassline for a coda. The song is so good that its very presence already sort of redeems the album, so that the ensuing disappointment is not so disappointing — then again, it is hard not to be disappointed when you slowly under­stand that nothing else here comes close to matching the dark power of its opening number.

Most of the Murphy-less stuff is what I'd call «for the fans». The boys mean well and have no in­tention of simply pelting us with filler: ʽWho Killed Mr. Moonlightʼ, for instance, is a carefully thought-out epitaphy to starry-eyed romance, a piano / organ-dominated melancholic ballad on how "someone shot nostalgia in the back, someone shot our innocence". Problem is... it's boring. They do not seem to be able to do anything interesting with these instruments, let alone the saxo­phone doodling that Ash is quietly arranging in the background. It's basically just five minutes of fluffy atmospheric wallowing that is neither too pretty nor too sad to activate the emotions. It's just something that is not-theirs-to-do.

Nor am I too impressed with the half-drunk, half-tribal waltzing of ʽKing Volcanoʼ (tries to achieve a phantasmagoric effect but fails), or with the acoustic folk balladry of ʽKingdom's Co­mingʼ (monotonous, instantly forgettable); ʽSlice Of Lifeʼ is a little better because Ash's vocals at least match the nervous tension of the instrumental melody, and this is the only track on which he succeeds in building up some maniacal paranoia — still, Murphy would have handled that so much better. Really, none of these songs has any genuine staying power. In addition, it is a little weird that, all of a sudden, without Murphy in the studio, Ash so abruptly decided to place his faith in the acoustic guitar: he is not a master picker, and his greatest talent was always in the sheer number of different effects and impressions he could derive from electricity.

Things do not always work out fine with Murphy, either: case in point is the title track, which starts out nice enough, with cruel, brain-melting riffs and pleasantly extremist abrupt jumps from dirge-goth to «punk-funk» and convenient lyrics about "razor weeds" that reach up to one's knees, but then somehow gets stuck in a five-minute repetitive coda that annoys rather than enchants, as if your vinyl got caught in the groove for some purely mechanical reason. Those five minutes, I doubt it not for a second, were clearly thrown in to fill up space: there must be more atmospheric ways of getting the message of "I don't see you anymore" into your listeners' heads than this.

Finally, what sort of a Bauhaus record finishes with a song called ʽHopeʼ? Uplifting acoustic gui­tars? Hippie-style choral vocals? "Your mornings will be brighter, break the line, tear up rules, make the most of a million times no"? Who do they think they are — Jefferson Airplane? Time to call it a day, boys; I have no more interest in hearing this from my Bauhaus than in listening to the Beach Boys doing hip-hop or to Elton John singing opera arias.

Of course, the album is not really a «sell out»: it is simply plagued by circumstances beyond ar­tistic control, and a failed attempt to compensate for these circumstances with a series of experi­ments that downplay the band's traditional strengths and lay open their weaknesses. Many fans are still willing to accept it, particularly since ʽShe's In Partiesʼ is such a strong opener that it does set the tone for the entire record, and that's quite alright. My point is simply that Burning From The Inside is «diluted Bauhaus», and that I'd rather go listen to R.E.M. than to ʽKingdom's Co­mingʼ, or to Peter Hammill rather than to ʽWho Killed Mr. Moonlightʼ — why settle for anything but the best, after all, when history has already provided you with such an ample choice?

Check "Burning From The Inside" (MP3) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I, too, love "She's In Parties". I also like their dark folkie stuff, but maybe that's just cause I'm a fan?

    Great review, all the same. You've come a loooong way from your old website.