BAUHAUS: THE SKY'S GONE OUT (1982)
1) Third Uncle; 2) Silent Hedges; 3) In The Night; 4) Swing The Heartache; 5) Spirit; 6) The Three Shadows, Part 1; 7) The Three Shadows, Part 2; 8) The Three Shadows, Part 3; 9) All We Ever Wanted Was Everything; 10) Exquisite Corpse.
With Bauhaus now firmly marketed as a «goth» band, their third album seems to have been seen by many critics and fans alike as straying too far away from a formula to which the band had actually never ever subscribed in the first place. Essentially, The Sky's Gone Out is frequently accused of being too meandering, too scattered, too unsure of where to go. But if you ask me, I much prefer this «insecurity» to the way-too-predictably-monotonous formula of Mask — just how much more «dark dance music» does one really need?
This is, indeed, the peak of Murphy and Ash's experimentalism: not always succeeding, perhaps, but not afraid, either, of risking an occasional miss among a bunch of successful hits. The idea to open the proceedings with a cover of Brian Eno's nearly decade-old rocker ʽThird Uncleʼ, in particular, is brilliant — Bauhaus' transparent link to Joy Division had always obscured their earlier roots, but they are really much closer in spirit to the «morose glam theater» of early Roxy Music and early solo Eno, and they slice through the insanely fast drone chords of ʽThird Uncleʼ like butter: not adding much to the original, I guess, but perfectly capturing its joint vibe of lunacy and irony — and, although Ash's technique does not fully match Phil Manzanera's, this is barely noticeable, because the spirit of that original solo is reproduced to a tee.
None of the originals come close in terms of general frenzy, but they do not intend to: ʽThird Uncleʼ is just a benevolent warm-up, followed by one «big freeze» that comes in several different models. If you expected to be able to dance the night away, clad in black cloacks and mascara shades, you will be disappointed. But stepping away from pop rhythms allows them more space for invention — with a little patience, it becomes obvious that every song has something to offer, and a few of them have something incredible to offer.
Actually, when I use the term «incredible», I am mainly referring to ʽSwing The Heartacheʼ — a track like no other in the Bauhaus catalog. This is the Ash show all the way: after a long, intriguing set-up of electronic howling, he kicks in with such a nasty loud riff that I can't help being reminded of Black Sabbath and ʽIron Manʼ — that «earth ripped apart» effect! — and from there on, the whole song becomes a test pad for all sorts of guitar madness, including a repetitive «whistling» effect that may easily wreck an unstable nervous system. Altogether, there are enough cool musical ideas in this song to fuel a small album, but they all work together towards a common purpose: drive you right out of your head. (And I'm pretty sure that will happen the minute you turn the volume up real loud in your headphones).
The band is being more merciful to the listener on such classics as ʽSilent Hedgesʼ (featuring the album's meanest bassline) and ʽIn The Nightʼ, which is lyrically a song about suicide, but musically more of a pissed-off «slow punk» rocker, drastically speeding up towards the end. ʽSpiritʼ is a portentous anthem — Bauhaus' own idea of a ʽWe Will Rock Youʼ, culminating in an endless loop of "we love our audience, we love our audience!", clearly written for the fans but, considering that Murphy's image does not require «loving» anybody, coming off as ironic all the same. The best thing about ʽSpiritʼ, anyway, is how they manage to combine an essentially rockabilly bass line with a folk-themed melody — somehow, it works.
Experimentation hits hardest on the second side of the album, especially with the three-part suite ʽThe Three Shadowsʼ, its first movement purely instrumental and atmospheric, its second one a melancholic funeral waltz, its third one a short «folk-punk» coda with a little Irish dance flavor. I guess this description alone helps understand why the «scattered» nature of the album was so confusing, but, really, this odd mix of different elements should hardly be any more confusing than, say, Kate Bush's much-revered suite on the second half of Hounds Of Love — it's just that the «point» of it may not be for everyone. Murphy's lyrics hardly make any sense, and sometimes seem drastically underworked ("but I... will always... exist... because... I always... exist" — nice logical chain out there), but it is the music, not the words, that matter, and there is a clear emotional link between all three parts, from the somber ricocheting guitar licks of the intro right down to the slightly dissonant piano / fiddle duet on the outro.
What may really count as scattered is the last track — ʽExquisite Corpseʼ is more like a collection of loosely, if at all, connected snippets than anything else, as if, having recorded 35 minutes worth of material, they simply decided to cram all their remaining ideas into the other five, regardless of how well they could be sewn together. Indeed, the coda, especially coming right after the lovely acoustic balladeering of ʽAll We Ever Wantedʼ, is a bit anti-climactic: some of the snippets are okay, but I was really looking forward to some grand conclusion after all the freaky imagination outbursts. Still, that's a small price of disappointment to be paid for such an overall satisfactory experience.
In any case, do not follow the naysayers — The Sky's Gone Out still captures Bauhaus at the top of their game, and just because it refuses to conform to the clichés of «goth» does not mean that these guys do not know what they're doing. Okay, so they probably do not know what they're doing, but they're doing it fine anyway: not even on Flat Fields has Ash been more thoughtful about his instrument, or more lucky about putting those thoughts in practice.
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