Bauhaus’ original swansong, released almost 25 years ago now, was a recording halted and hindered by singer Peter Murphy catching pneumonia and being hospitalised, meaning the finished product, entitled Burning From the Inside, was largely put together without him.
Despite such an obstacle, …Inside allowed the band to stretch out and experiment, with guitarist Daniel Ash and bassist David J both contributing and singing their own songs. When Murphy returned to the studio and realised the band had begun in his absence, he was less than impressed, and the rest of the sessions were not without incident. It was an act which would sow the seeds of the bands demise, and before the album could be released, Bauhaus had already called it a day. In some ways …Inside could be regarded as a precursor to the first Love and Rockets album (the band which was formed by the remaining members after Murphy went on to forge a solo career) but also a document of a fractured band before the fracture began. Go Away White, their first (and last) new album in a quarter of a century is the sound of a fractured band making the worst record of their career, bearing forth another posthumous presentation, dumped like an unwanted child on the steps of a burning orphanage.
Bauhaus were often considered pretentious doom merchants with a love of Bolan and Bowie, and a penchant for theatrics and homoeroticism. It was just the right kind of music for the disenfranchised teenager in an age before the internet to dive right into. My mother would walk in my room wondering out loud “What is this ‘undead, undead, undead’ rubbish! Enough already!”. Lord, how I loved this band and I wasn’t alone. Bauhaus would come to be regarded and revered as an innovative and influential English act, vouched for and emulated by the likes of Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, and much later the Dresden Dolls. From the scratchy post-punk torpedo debut of “In the Flat Fields” to the schizophrenic dub-reggae and Eno-love of “The Sky’s Gone Out”, there was no denying that Bauhaus made some intensely powerful and captivating music. Stark and abrasive, dark and anxious, Bauhaus were like the poetry of Rimbaud put to song and it frightened the fuck out of me.
As their various solo careers began to suffer diminishing returns, Bauhaus reformed briefly for some dates in the late 90s, but it wasn’t until a 2005 reformation for the Coachella Festival in Palm Springs (indeed, I was there) that the band began to write together again. Further touring throughout 2006 incorporated two newly written songs into the set and plans were made to go into a studio to a record an album proper. This was done over 18 days in Ojai, California, the ten songs were recorded quickly, a batch of first takes and rough mixes, with the band intending to finish the job at a later stage when the tour had finished, but an incident occurred during the European leg that made their relationship untenable, rendering those recordings an imperfect and unfinished document.
Go Away White is the limp shake of a band both out of place and out of time. Incredibly, Bauhaus sound less like themselves and more like the bands that spent the nineties being influenced by them. “Too Much 21st Century” shatters all illusion of promise, the band lacking any chemistry whatsoever, jamming over the same unenthused riff as Murphy gripes about the state of the world. “Adrenalin” is Marilyn Manson without the tourniquet. Strip the vocals from “Endless Summer of the Damned” and you’re left with TV on the Radio. “International Bulletproof Talent” is an amalgamation of those musical abortions that rode in on the coat-tails of Manson/Reznor et al. “Saved” does at least give rise to the old Bauhaus sound in the wail of Daniel Ash on saxophone and the hum and throb of David J’s fretless bass.
It would be naïve to expect that these 50 year old men would be able to don the greasepaint and recapture the past, but sue me for dreaming. Isn’t that what you expect from a reformation album? Validation that youth and inexperience isn’t the only pre-requisite for greatness? Go Away White sounds half-formed and ill-conceived because it is. It lies in the realm of the “could’ve been” and “might’ve been” and only Bauhaus know the true potential here. The nadir of the album occurs during “Mirror Remains” where Murphy expecting Daniel Ash to break out of his guitarist-in-a-holding-pattern playing interrupts the song with “there’s a solo here of some kind,” to which he replies aggrieved “this is the solo!” and Murphy humouring him, laughs, “oh right, that’s good!” It was at that exact moment my attention-span walked over to the stereo, turned it off, and left the room.
Well, i for one, am happy they didn’t recapture the past. I think this is one of the best discs of 2008 thus far.