In the ‘haus

Way back in the early ’80s, before “goth” had become a societal punchline, and when “alternative music” actually meant something, I was a big, big fan of Bauhaus, whose 1979 single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” was a masterpiece of dubby, ambient vampire rock, the cornerstone upon which countless bands have since built their careers. Back in those days, the stuff Bauhaus did actually felt scary to a lot of folks, what with the disturbing lyrics, portentous vocals, skritchy-skratchy instrumentation and creepy pictures on the singles and album covers. I had a dorm neighbor in college at the time who came in my room one night to sheepishly ask me to turn down my stereo as I cranked their dark and dismal In the Flat Field album. He didn’t have any idea who or what it was, but he knew it bothered him. After he left, I turned the stereo up louder. Because that’s the type of person I was then.

Bauhaus released their last studio album in 1983. They regrouped to play a couple of tours in 1999 and 2006, before deciding to craft one final document, a new studio album, Go Away White, which was released yesterday. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I played it the first time. Would it sound like Peter Murphy (their singer) fronting Love and Rockets (the other three members of the band, who achieved some crossover success in the ’80s and ’90s)? Would it sound like 1983 Bauhaus gussied up with 21st Century production techniques? Would the songs be as memorable as those they crafted back in the early ’80s? Given how fond of the group I had been, I actually had a little bit of trepidation in my heart as I pushed the “play” button on the new disc for the first time.

Fortunately,  I wasn’t disappointed by what I heard. The album sounds not quite like 1983 Bauhaus, but more like the 1981 version: no acoustic guitars, more riff driven, Peter Murphy singing all the lead vocals with David J and Daniel Ash providing backup. The first half of the album is actually quite strong, with several quickly catchy, muscular songs. The second half slows things down some, making it a bit harder to engage, but I think it’s going to be worth the time it takes to see how these songs develop after repeated spins.

Bauhaus allegedly wrote and recorded this album over two weeks in a studio, having arrived with no material beforehand. If this is so, then it’s a fine example of the ways in which musical chemistry works, because the riffs, words and moods feel well-realized and complete, and certainly like more than Peter Murphy over-dubbing his voice onto some leftover Love and Rockets tracks. I recommend this album, either for old fans or new ones wondering what the fuss was all about. They’re calling it their “new and final album,” so I don’t think there will be any sequels.

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