Bauhaus – In The Flat Field/MaskBy Craig Smith • Oct 21st, 2009 • Category: Album Reviews
Defied by some, loathed by others, Bauhaus’ musical legacy is an uncertain one. In the five years they were active, releasing four musically divergent studio albums and one snarling snapshot of the band in live repose, Bauhaus were an electrifying and provocative presence whose releases still have the power to stun into submission. In the near 30 years since the release of their towering debut album, In The Flat Field, the lack of success and notoriety deserving of an innovative and influential act like Bauhaus beggars belief. Few debut albums will birth a genre. Fewer still will retain their mystique and mystery, years after their graves have been robbed and secrets sold on.
Arriving in the midst of the post-punk wilderness in Northampton, England, Bauhaus were art school friends influenced by glam rock, yet for all the pop and pastiche of the glitter bands, they conspired to create a sound that bore the barest semblance to the prim pout of Bolan and Bowie. Theirs was an primal kind of rock and roll, both brutal and barren, that when projected upon the louche and lean frame of vocalist Peter Murphy, became something quite unlike anything else. In The Flat Field appeared on the back of a succession of singles, beginning with the mock horror of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and ending with a decorous dalliance through T-Rex’s “Telegram Sam”, its nine songs acting as lightning rods, illuminating the dark and creating an ugly, electrifying presence.
From the twisted snarl of Murphy’s “Double Dare” to the heavy metal gallop of the title track, Bauhaus had created a musical palette, steeped in melodrama and drained of all colour. Daniel Ash’s guitar work played Mick Ronson to Murphy’s Bowie meets Iggy Pop contortions. The rhythm section of brothers Daniel Haskins and David J. gave Bauhaus its forward foundation, mixing fretless bass-playing with synthetic drums, leading to the leadened bass footsteps of “Spy In The Cab” and the driving electro pulse of “Dive”. The highlight of the album, and long-standing fan-fave, lie in the possessed incantations of “Stigmata Martyr”, Murphy rebelling against his Catholic education and turning the song into a volatile Exorcist-like moment that the mounting tension of closing track “Nerves” would only go on to exacerbate.
Their 1981 follow-up Mask would eclipse the bloodless boogie of their debut, but was one not without its false starts (something that can be tracked via the rejected album mixes featured on the bonus disc). Mask thrived on the contributions made from each of its members, from Murphy’s vocals, both haunting and sharp, devious and direct, enacted in the gutteral ferocity of opening track “Hair of the Dog” and his eerie encounters in “Hollow Hills”. David J’s funk bassline defines the near pop of “Kick in the Eye”, and later collides with Daniel Ash’s wailing saxophone on “In Fear of Fear”. Ash himself veers between the acoustic rabble-rousing of “The Passion of Lovers” to the manic electric guitar squeals of “Muscle in Plastic” while Haskin’s restrained playing on “Hollow Hills” and his brooding tribal beat of the title track trades drama with despair and triumphs.
Taking the same format as the recent reissue of The Cult’s Love, each Omnibus Edition album is accompanied by a 48 page insight into the album, replete with memorabilia and rare photographs as well as a second disc of previously unreleased recordings and alternate versions matched with more familiar b-side tracks, culminating in a powerful live disc on the Mask edition which leaves the previous period live recording Press The Eject and Give Me The Tape for dust. It’s as much a detriment to the band as it is music in general, that the ‘Goth’ tag has engendered such a tainted reputation over the years, as both these albums, Mask in particular, represent some of the most compelling and original music ever recorded.