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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bauhaus, "In The Flat Field"

"In The Flat Field"
4AD (1980)

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Bauhaus is somewhat the rarity between my two books. As hard as they try, Tom Moon and the authors of 1001 Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die tend towards safe acts, if not always popular ones. By safe I mean acts that have attained wide critical acclaim. Although Bauhaus is featured in both books, albeit for different albums, there is at least half of the critical mass that hates the group's guts.

But then again, when you're the original goth rock band, it's unlikely that critical alienation bothers you.

As usual, dubbing any particular artists the original anything is an imprecise business. But, goth rock is a small enough alternative sub-genre that it's not too difficult to explain how Bauhaus set the mold for musicians like Gary Numan and the ultimate goth rockers, The Cure (prickly readers will note that The Cure released its first goth rock effort a year before "In The Flat Field." However, critics generally award Bauhaus the title of original goth rock band because it had been releasing singles in the style for two years before its debut album emerged).

So what defines "goth rock?" The stereotype is a monotone British voice delivering dry and dreary lyrics. This is partially true. Vocalist Peter Murphy can certainly stretch out a somber phrase as well as anyone. But in the same song, his voice can become a harsh and nasally wail. His vocals are abrasive and dissonant, but it fits in with the music, and they aren't emotionless. Guitarist Daniel Ash either piles on sludge ("Double Dare") or crescendos of static and chirps ("Spy in The Cab"). He also contributes saxophone as an interesting method of dissonance on tracks like "Dive." He'll do anything that doesn't sound clean. It's interesting that Bauhaus tended to dress sharply onstage (unlike The Cure), because everything they do makes you feel dirty listening to it.

The tones of voice and the unsettling instrumentals aren't what bother people most about goth rock however. It's the fatalistic and angst-ridden lyrics that irritate more optimistic listeners. Tracks like "Nerves" and the two previously mentioned aren't too mind-numbing, but the band can certainly descend into the melodrama and whininess that goth rock would inspire in future genres, such as emo. "Small Talk Stinks" is essentially a sermon on the title, and "Stigmata Martyr" is as histrionic as it sounds.

Take the good with the bad, I say. Critics mainly pointed at Bauhaus' staunch gloom as pretension, and I'm not going to say they're wrong. However, I would never say that the band wasn't impassioned. Add its distinctively dirty instrumental assault, and this group is worth at least a listen.

INTERESTING FACT: Being in a band as pretentious as Bauhaus, you'd figure drummer Kevin Haskins would be drawing up scores for four-hour indie films. Quite the opposite in fact. Haskins' name is on "Species: The Awakening," the pseudo-pornographic sci-fi flick, as well as "Employee of The Month" and "Good Luck Chuck," both of which star Dane Cook.

Double Dare by Bauhaus on Grooveshark

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