Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bauhaus – In The Flat Field (4AD-1980)

Seriously, what do you want me to say?
The mere idea of trying to objectively review this one actually terrifies me beyond belief.

As with any scene, there is justifiable argument about where Goth started; Siouxsie, Joy Division, Gloria Mundi, Killing Joke, UK Decay and others all laid the groundwork, but it was Bauhaus with the deliberately toungue-in-cheek Bela Lugosi’s Dead (Small Wonder Records, 1979) that unintentionally both defined and refined a genre.

Although three-quarters of Bauhaus had known each other through various bands kicking around Northampton previously, the band coalesced when Pete Murphy was asked to join as vocalist, an inspired choice since despite a lack of either musical or lyrical experience he would go on to become one of the most legendary front men the post-punk scene would ever produce.

Initially known as Bauhaus 1919, the numerals were long gone by the release of Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Several more singles followed; Dark Entries (Axis, 1980), Terror Couple Kill Colonel (4AD, 1980), and  a cover of T-Rex’s Telgram Sam (4AD, 1980) before the band rolled out In the Flat Field (4AD, 1980), thereby releasing the first full length LP that indisputably belonged to the then nascent scene.

After so many years of DJing Goth clubs and radio shows, this seems a quite extraordinary mea culpa, but apart from compilations and the exemplary Press the Eject and Give me the Tape live album (Beggars Banquet, 1982), it’s only in recent years that I’ve ever owned an actual studio album by Bauhaus, so it’s genuinely interesting to hear this.

While I usually place much emphasis on listening to the original album under discussion, in the case of In The Flat Field this doesn’t actually add much since so much of it  has already included on many well-known compilation albums. Nevertheless, these familiar numbers set the template for everything that followed and are well worth revisiting.
Anyhow, no serious exploration of the early scene can realistically avoid including them.

Although the album does include lesser tracks like “Dive” and “Small Talk Stinks”, I do think the closer “Nerves” is frequently overlooked, is generally not included on best-ofs and rates a special mention. Beginning in a fairly nondescript fashion, this number builds and builds until the album climaxes in an aggressive and neurotic explosion as Pete chants “NERVES OF NYLON, NERVES OF STEEL” over and over again, thereby concluding In the Flat Field in a manner both disconcerting and unforgettable.

Reviews in the British press were predictably negative, most bizarrely from Dave McCulloch who, with unintentional irony wrote:
"No songs. Just tracks (ugh). Too priggish and conceited. Sluggish indulgence instead of hoped for Goth-ness. Coldly catatonic."  Sounds, November 1980.

Given the album in question, one is left in jaw-dropping bewilderment as to exactly what Mr McCulloch esq. actually thought "goth-ness" might entail. It remains an interesting review anyhow, since it is also one of the earliest uses of the term "Goth" I've seen applied to the genre.

Bauhaus would go on to release another three full length albums and numerous singles before breaking up in 1983, ironically just as the scene they had given so much to was beginning to be universally understood as “Goth”. Peter Murphy went on to a solo career best remembered for the awesome if very Bowie-esque single "Cuts You Up" (RCA, 1989) while the rest formed first Tones on Tail followed by the much better known Love and Rockets.

They’ve reformed several times since, the most recent reformation resulting in the new studio album Go Away White (Bauhaus Music, 2008). 

This project unfortunately seems to have ended badly with no supporting tour and vows to never work together again following what is now referred to only as “the incident”, details of which the band seem exceedingly coy to reveal.

Track listing:
  1. Double Dare
  2. In the Flat Field
  3. A God in an Alcove
  4. Dive
  5. The Spy in the Cab
  6. Small Talk Stinks
  7. St. Vitus Dance
  8. Stigmata Martyr
  9. Nerves
In the Flat Field has since been re-released an astonishing number of times by many companies around the world, the CD versions generally featuring numerous bonus tracks.

Line up: Peter Murphy (vocals), Daniel Ash (guitar), David J. Haskins (bass), Kevin Haskins (drums).

What’s that?
You wanted Bela Lugosi’s Dead?
Sorry, not on the album.
Then again, I guess not including it would be a bit like reviewing Led Zeppelin without talking about Stairway to Heaven, so by way of compromise, here it is, all 9+ glorious minutes of it - Goth's very own Stairway to Heaven.

No comments:

Post a Comment