[19 March 2008]
There’s a sort of hollow feeling that accompanies the music when one listens to Go Away White, Bauhaus’s first album in 25 years, probably stemming from the fact that nearly as soon as a new album became a reality, it was also announced to be the absolute final Bauhaus album. They toured for a while a few years ago and everything seemed peachy keen apparently, but then, once they got into the studio, these 50-year-old men bickered like they were 25 again. An incident of some sort was cited by the band, a few of them gave each other the finger (or whatever 50-year-old men do when they decide they don’t want to see each other again, ever), and that was that. Those who have spent the last 25 years wondering what might have been if these four could have gotten along in the first place now have their answer, as well as the knowledge that hoping for anything more in the coming years will be utterly futile.
Last time we heard from Bauhaus (not counting live albums and compilations, of course) was way back in ‘83, when they slapped together the very good but hardly climactic Burning from the Inside largely without the help of Peter Murphy, who was off trying to recover from something or other. Despite the lack of collaboration within the band, the product was fine, and “She’s in Parties” is a bona fide Bauhaus classic. Still, there was nothing final about it, nothing that said “That’s it! We’re done!”, so that the Bauhaus faithful could have some closure and move on with their lives. Go Away White, for all of its strengths and flaws, should be all the closure we need.
Go Away White is as close to a summary of Bauhaus’s career as we could get without buying a best-of compilation. Granted, it sounds better than anything Bauhaus has ever put out, largely thanks to the many advances in recording technology that can happen in the space of 25 years. Kevin Haskins’ drums pop right out of the speakers, Daniel Ash’s distinctive guitar style gets a space all its own, and rather than blending into the soup behind him, Peter Murphy croaks and croons and screams in crystal-clear digital fidelity. It’s almost enough to make you wish they’d just go back and re-record all of the other albums, just so we could hear what they might sound like cleaned up a bit.
The styles run the gamut from groovy rock ‘n’ roll (opener “Too Much 21st Century”) to creepy ambient soundscapes (closer “Zikir”), with a little bit of everything in between. One could even surmise that the narrative arc of the album follows the trajectory of the band’s reunion, as the shift in moods as the album progresses is anything but subtle. The first half of the album is quite obviously upbeat, with songs that are very much rock ‘n’ roll, some of them even danceable. “Adrenalin” is one of the greatest songs the band has ever written, a droning thing that lets the rhythm section roll along on a groove while Ash squeals like hell over the top and Murphy alternates between his spooky Bowie singing voice and his awakening-the-souls-of-the-damned shouting voice. The vitality that Murphy, particularly, brings to the song is surprising for a band of this age and stature, especially when you already know how the story of the band ends. “Adrenalin” is the sort of song a band writes when they’re going to be making music forever, not just tolerating each other for a once-off.
Alas, “Saved” would seem to indicate that such longevity was never to be. Almost horrifying in its atonality and sparse atmosphere, the song finds Murphy sounding far more tortured and despondent than anyone who was “saved” tends to have reason to be. “Mirror Remains” finds Murphy inhabiting a character, almost as an epilogue to “Saved”, out of tune in his emotions, in his moods and, appropriately, in his melodies. “Black Stone Heart” sees a brief return to the more upbeat nature of the first half, though the lyrical mood would indicate otherwise: “My heart is a black stone / A streaking meteor / An unseen creature”, sings Murphy, and gosh, it’s like nothing’s changed in 25 years.
That there is more of note in the latter half of the album than the former is notable; perhaps pointing out that Bauhaus was at its best when it was in disarray would be obvious, but also true. For all intents and purposes, “The Dog’s a Vapour”, originally released when Bauhaus first got together for a couple of shows and the Heavy Metal 2000 soundtrack (?!), punctuates the album better than any of the truly new material ever could have. Starting much like “Saved”—that is, dark, dank, and depressing—“The Dog’s a Vapour” eventually explodes into a squealing mess of screaming, guitar textures, and drum fills, an organized chaos that penetrates the skies and the soul. “Zikir” is mere epilogue next to “The Dog’s a Vapour”, a quick ambient reflection of the discord that broke the band.
The end result is an album that’s one half decent (even if it is a bit indebted to Ash, Haskins, and Haskins’ post-Bauhaus career) and one half incredible. In addition to that, it’s closure, mostly because this time, we know it’s closure. It’s closure on Bauhaus, and for all intents and purposes, despite the odd stragglers who cling to it in religious sorts of ways, it’s closure on the genre that Bauhaus so ceremoniously ushered in.