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Friday, January 17, 2014

Bauhaus: Go Away White


1) Too Much 21st Century; 2) Adrenalin; 3) Undone; 4) International Bullet Proof Talent; 5) Endless Summer Of The Damned; 6) Saved; 7) Mirror Remains; 8) Black Stone Heart; 9) The Dog's A Vapour; 10) Zikir.

Was there any sense in Bauhaus reuniting, this one last time (or so they insist, at least), to write up and produce a brand new studio album? A reunion tour for nostalgic reasons is one thing, but the band as a creative unit was so definitively tied in to the early Eighties, it is almost impossible to imagine how they could have made up for all that lost time. It's not as if, during their relatively short career, Bauhaus showed no will for or capacity of evolving — it's just that they didn't have the time to completely break out of the stereotypes, and a 2008 album that would have had to pick up from where Burning From The Inside had left us twenty-five years earlier might easily have been a misguided embarrassment — curious, perhaps, but embarrassing all the same.

Indeed, when Go Away White made its first rounds, some of the reviews were mighty skeptical — comparing the band to a «stately stone mausoleum», for instance, not particularly relevant, not to mention necessary, in the 21st century. A moot argument, that, for if the 21st century did not need stately stone mausolea, all of them would have been demolished long ago anyway. In fact, the band itself takes care of that argument right away: the very first track is ʽToo Much 21st Cen­turyʼ, on which Murphy complains that "they all wanna be something better", and that there is "too much fake... too much to take". Not a particularly fresh or original complaint, but one to which I can always relate, and delivered with so much energy and conviction that the listener has to take it seriously. Bauhaus have returned to take one last look at this world, decide that it ain't worthy, and then go away forever, like the Angel of Bethesda, appropriately photographed from the back for the spooky album sleeve.

But when they do take that one last look, they do not take it quite the same way as they used to. Self-produced as usual, the album does make use of improvements in technology — the mix is crisper, subtler, more aurally satisfying than on any old Bauhaus record, with each of Ash's over­dubs, effects, atmospheric layers etc. perfectly discernible, and Haskins' drums retain their gothic sternness without having to depend on epoch-bound electronic enhancements (although, where they find it more to the song's benefit, the drums are still electronic, especially when they drift into mystical atmosphere, e. g. on ʽThe Dog's A Vapourʼ). Another difference is that Ash has de­veloped a taste for distortion, and many of the riffs that push the songs forward have a brawny crrrrunch that was not at all typical of early Bauhaus, with the exception of a few special show-stoppers like ʽStigmata Martyrʼ. ʽToo Much 21st Centuryʼ, in fact, kicks off with a rumbling riff that borders on heavy metal (one tone lower and that'd be it), and ʽInternational Bullet Proof Ta­lentʼ rocks as hard as if they'd let the Young brothers guest star — again, not something you'd want to directly associate with «classic» Bauhaus.

Comparisons aside, though, it mostly works. Murphy's voice alone, retaining all of its tombstone solemnity of yore and even lowering it just a wee bit more due to age reasons, is enough to make one suspect that these guys, or at least their frontman, are still living in the past, but they succeed in making this «peek from the grave» thing into an interesting experience. The first half of the al­bum is, in its essence, almost completely sarcastic — instead of plunging you into a phantasma­goric setting à la ʽBela Lugosi's Deadʼ or revving you up for breakneck dancing with the spirits à la ʽIn The Flat Fieldʼ, Murphy uses the potential of his musicians to grin and jeer at the uncon­scious evil-making of the modern world. This prevents the songs from becoming too haunting or en­snaring, but helps enhance their intelligence quotient.

ʽAdrenalinʼ, for instance, is far from the best song the band has ever come up with, but its superimposition of bubbling-buzzing high-pitched guitar and distorted bass over Murphy's sar­cas­tic lyrics about how «adrenaline» (in this modern world of ours) is the answer to all the problems is one of the smartest ideas in Bauhaus history. And when they throw in a one-finger-on-the-pia­no bit in the middle of the song, it is almost like a tribute to John Cale and his production of ʽI Wanna Be Your Dogʼ — a hidden (unintentional?) reference to those heroes of long ago who, too, found themselves stuck in the ambiguous position of enjoying the temptations of the modern world and hating them at the same time.

As the album progresses, though, the sarcastic riff-rockers become fewer in numbers and eventu­ally give way to atmospherics — beginning with the psychedelic oratorio of ʽSavedʼ (where the state of being «saved» is made equivalent with «unconscious») and reaching its culmination with the final double-punch of ʽThe Dog's A Vapourʼ and ʽZikirʼ. The first of these is unquestionably the highest point of the album, a complex, multi-layered midnight concoction with Ash and Mur­phy at their very, very best. When the sirens and banshees make their major strike at 4:12 into the song, it produces the eeriest, most jump-starting effect since ʽSwing The Heartacheʼ did some­thing similar (but on a much humbler sonic scale: ʽThe Dog's A Vapourʼ, in comparison, would be on the level of Mahlerian polyphony).

The fact that this is a «Bauhaus»-type record indeed, and not just a combination of whatever the individual musicians were doing at the time, may be seen from the fact that Murphy's Islamic (more precisely, Sufi) adherence is mostly saved until the last track, ʽZikirʼ, a three-minute-long atmospheric fadeout that reflects his past experiments with Turkish music, but does not fling them too abruptly in the listener's face. It is, indeed, quite impressive that, despite the huge artis­tic differences that continued to accumulate between Peter and the rest of the band, and despite some hard times that they had to endure together in the studio, they were able to bring the project to completion and release the record — a little less tolerance, and none of this would happen. As it is, Go Away White is clearly not the record by which this band will be remembered in history, but it is an adequate, respectable, and enjoyable epilog. One of the worst things about Burning From The Inside was that ʽHopeʼ as the final Bauhaus song was as confusing and fake as it could be: it had to take them a quarter century to rectify that mistake, but better late than never, and for that alone, Go Away White would already be eligible for a thumbs up. As it happens, it never once makes a false move, even if only a few of the moves it makes deserve the status of a «classic Bauhaus moment», ʽThe Dog's A Vapourʼ being transparently the No. 1 candidate.

PS. Funny bit of trivia: out of several indignant one-star reviews of this album on Amazon, at least one explicitly states that «this is not Bauhaus, this has more of a Love and Rockets feel to it» and at least another one states with the same forcefulness that «I have not heard Bauhaus, I have heard a Peter Murphy solo album here». Count me happy on this.

Check "Go Away White" (CD) on Amazon

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