Saying that Peter Murphy is a slightly ridiculous performer is probably not the most controversial opinion one could hold. This is, you’ll remember, a man who has willingly performed suspended upside-down like a bat. Yet, Murphy is hardly lacking for substance; he has an impressive enough back catalogue to prove this. Murphy’s vigor (and slight ridiculousness) is apparent as soon as “Velocity Bird” opens his latest solo release, Ninth. It sounds like the Stooges fronted by a yabbering and forgone for the very last time Iggy Pop. Somehow — like much of Ninth — it works.
The last we heard of Murphy in recorded form, it was via a reformed Bauhaus on 2008’s Go Away White. Ninth appropriately follows that release more closely in sound than previous solo releases, which were far more subdued. It seems as though few of the originators of goth deign to be labeled as such, but after a certain age has been reached or looms ever nearer, and the jet black hair dye seems more and more mandatory, those artists make similar stylistic regressions. Although their return does not see a full embrace of goth, the revival of youthful fixations and darkness is significant. Think of how Nick Cave balked at balladry and went back to singing about either finding or being denied entry into ladies’ undergarments with Grinderman. Now Peter Murphy has done and gone back to being glam and feral.
That glam ferity (or feral glamness) works best on Ninth‘s first single, “I Spit Roses”. Murphy’s vocals have never sounded better, especially when contorting them into something somewhat beautiful each time he strains out the song’s title. “Crème de la Crème”, the album’s closer, works in similar ways, but much of the bite is tampered by lush strings and near crooning from Murphy. The end result is more delicate than cheesy, proving that Murphy — the bat-aping goth prototype — has the talent and restraint to refuse succumbing to schmaltz.
But what of the more rocking cuts? Of the many, the three true standouts are “Seesaw Sway”, “The Prince & Old Lady Shade”, and “Memory Go”. Much of Murphy’s solo material is rooted in a very ’80’s sound, usually synth-gothy in feel and production. Ninth, while better produced, is similar, but this time Murphy embraces goth’s meatier side. “Memory Go”, however, sounds wholly modern, or at least similar to 21st century songs that have appropriated past post-punk styles. It stands apart from lesser modern post-punk songs thanks again to Murphy’s mighty vocal performance and the fullness of the music. “Seesaw Sway” contains its share of wordplay and seems to in part concern lunar effect; it serves as a strong follow-up to “Velocity Bird”, albeit with slightly lower energy. “The Prince & Old Lady Shade” is both Ninth‘s most epic moment and the last standout track before the album reaches its beautiful conclusion with “Crème de la Crème”.
Ninth has a few overindulgently drony moments, particularly on “Secret Silk Society”, but for the most part it is a virile return to form. If something is to be said for the undead, it is that their second wind appears to endure longer than that of mere mortals. If Ninth is to be seen as Peter Murphy’s renaissance, then we have far more to look forward to than a goth of a certain age in a leather studded rocking chair croaking “undead undead undead” forevermore.