I’ve been having a jolly good musical nostalia wallow for the past month or so, having finally acquired the entire Bauhaus collection on compact disc. I remember when the stuff first came out on vinyl, way back in the day, that it was a real obsessive chore to get your hands on all the singles and b-sides and whatnots. Not so these days: they’ve put most of the non-LP releases on the CD’s as bonus tracks. Which was nice when it came to buying them, but I guess on the other hand it means all those old, hard-to-find vinyl singles I’ve been hoarding aren’t as valuable as I thought they might be.
Bauhaus’ debut album, In the Flat Field, (not my favorite at the time, mind you) becomes unspeakably good with the addition of all the key early singles except for “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” “Dark Entries,” “Crowds,” “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores” and “Terror Couple Kill Colonel” are some of the best things they ever recorded. Mask has probably fallen a little bit in my estimation, rehearing it all these years later. “Passion of Lovers” and “Kick in the Eye” remain exceptional and strong, but some of the other tracks seem thin to me now. The Sky’s Gone Out was (and remains) my favorite, one of the most intense, evocative records ever made. Nice to have “Ziggy Stardust” and the single version of “Spirit” tacked onto the end (among other things). Burning from the Inside, on the other hand, remains their weakest point, an obviously transitional disc as Daniel Ash and David J attempted to step out from behind Peter Murphy’s shadow. I love “Antonin Artaud” and “King Volcano” and “Slice of Life,” but I can pretty much let the rest of the album go. “She’s in Parties,” while one of their more popular tunes, has always been kinda boring to me: it seemed they’d really started to act like the hashed-out goths who were inspired by them by that point, instead of chanelling Iggy Pop and David Bowie and T. Rex through a heroin-fueled after-punk filter as they’d done on the earlier discs.
I also got the DVD of the reunion tour, called Gotham, and was very impressed at how well they pulled off the material 15 years after ending their work together. It kind of proved that the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts in Bauhaus: while I love Tones on Tail, really like Love and Rockets, enjoy David J’s solo discs, and am lukewarm toward Daniel Ash and Peter Murphy’s solos, when they all get together, big sparks, man, hair-raising stuff.
And to all you smug teenaged goth-lite types smirking at someone my age enjoying stuff like this: I was playing it and getting weird looks from my friends when it really meant something to listen to stuff like this back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I can remember people being particularly offended when I played “The Sky’s Gone Out,” which was a strikingly dark and dismal and despairing record for its day, when the radio was filled with the classics of early ’80s synth pop and cheery post-New Wave pap. Bauhaus was scary then, and it felt truly menacing to listen to them alone in a dark room, late at night when the haints and boogers came out to play.