Perhaps best known as the lead-singer for Bauhaus and gothic poster boy (those prominent cheekbones made him the original man in the armchair, or “Blowaway” icon, for the Maxell ad campaign), Peter Murphy’s solo work has veered more in the direction of pop. Though he has a following, his solo work has not been influential in the same way as that of Bauhaus. Wild Birds 1985-1995: The Best of the Beggars Banquet Years should make his fine solo work better known.
The release of this album coincides with Murphy’s current tour. But if one is meant to support the other, the collection is a bit of an odd bird. As is apparent from the title, the record limits itself to a 10 year period and Murphy’s work for the Beggars Banquet label. But the five years since 1995 have seen Murphy release an EP—Recall on the Red Ant label—with a newer musical direction (and last year saw him reunite/record/tour with Bauhaus). The tour seems to focus on this newer material that one cannot hear on this record.
So what is here? As a “greatest hits” package, the album is clearly aimed at the marginal fan, one who has heard some of Murphy’s material—probably a single or two—and enjoyed it. To this end, Wild Birds kicks off with “Cuts You Up” (Murphy’s biggest hit, and one of the biggest early ‘90s American modern rock hits) and continues with “Radio Edit” versions of nearly half of the tracks.
Murphy hand-selected these tracks and we can see both his shifts in style and his own current preferences from his choices. Only two tracks are from the first record, Should The World Fail To Fall Apart, and one of them is a cover (Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution”). Murphy’s second and fourth records fair slightly better with an equal treatment of three songs each, though Love Hysteria‘s “Indigo Eyes” and “All Night Long” stand up much better in this setting than some of Holy Smoke‘s more blatant pop fare such as “The Sweetest Drop”. Murphy gives the most space (four songs each) to his two strongest albums, the third and fifth. 1990’s Deep, easily his one ‘classic’ record, shows Murphy perfecting his own style of pop and is the peak of his work with backing band The Hundred Men. 1995’s Cascade is a shift towards a more textured, atmospheric sound largely due to Pascal Gabriel’s production and Michael Brook’s work on the ‘infinite guitar’. Another point that becomes clear as one listens through this collection is that Murphy does his best work with strong collaborators. His work with Bauhaus continues to influence other artists, and his solo work with keyboardist/collaborator Paul Statham is among his best. Indeed, Statham co-wrote 12 of the 16 tracks that Murphy feels are his finest (and one of those other four is the cover song mentioned above).
This collection will not likely appeal much to those who already own a few of Murphy’s albums. The alternate version of “Jemal” is the closest Murphy comes to providing a rarity for the die-hards. The vinyl-only non-album single “Tale of the Tongue” would have been a more welcome addition. Those interested more in the music they heard on the current tour are encouraged to track down the Recall EP. Its two new songs and the drastic re-workings of two older songs are a better indicator of Murphy’s direction than this collection. (Since Red Ant is in financial limbo, one can speculate that record-label complications resulted in the exclusion of material from Recall) Murphy has also expressed an intent to enter the studio soon and begin his next album which makes this collection seem almost premature.
In general, the song selection here is strong; most of the highlights from each record are present and in an enjoyable order. And while one may argue over the inclusion or exclusion of a particular song (perhaps notable for their absence are “Crystal Wrists”, and “Wild Birds Flock To Me,” the song from which the collection draws its title), one can not argue with the goal of providing a concise overview of Murphy’s solo output.