Bauhaus: Go Away White


Review by Gregory S. Burkart
Those of you who are unfamiliar with the band whose works represent the artistic nexus of the cultural movement surrounding Gothic rock, I?ll do my best to bring you up to speed. For the already-initiated, just hold tight, because I?ve got a lot to cover here.

Formed in 1978 just as the UK punk movement was struggling for relevance, a quartet of young men ? Peter Murphy (lead vocals), Daniel Ash (guitar), David J. Haskins (bass) and his brother Kevin (drums) ? sought an entirely new, but equally dangerous sound, built on the basic foundations of punk and dub with stylistic nods to early-?70s glam, but employing a more sly, cerebral edge, drawing inspiration from artistic movements, anarchist poetry and a touch of Grand Guignol showmanship for spice.

With the surprise success of their epic demo-turned-single ?Bela Lugosi?s Dead? ? thanks to heavy airplay on legendary DJ John Peel?s BBC radio show ? they were suddenly catapulted into the limelight and became favorites of the British underground music scene, with successes including a popular cover of David Bowie?s ?Ziggy Stardust? and a prominent appearance in the opening credits (playing ?Bela,? of course) to Tony Scott?s 1983 vampire film The Hunger, before tensions within the band resulted in their breakup shortly after the release of Burning from the Inside that same year. In the years to follow, the various members started new projects: Murphy enjoyed repeat success as a solo artist, while the others eventually found their own niche as popular alt-rock band Love and Rockets. While all this was happening, ?Bela Lugosi?s Dead? became the definitive anthem for disillusioned, misunderstood young romantics who continue to drift languidly through Gothic dance clubs to this day.

As unlikely as it seemed, rumors began to circulate among fans in the late ?90s about a possible band reunion, and those dreams were finally realized in 1998 with the band?s ?Resurrection? tour, and their contribution of ?The Dog?s A Vapour? to the soundtrack for Heavy Metal 2000. That seemed to be the end of that... until 2005 when the group joined up again in 2005 for the Coachella festival, and subsequently joined Nine Inch Nails? With Teeth tour in 2006. I was fortunate enough to catch their act during this tour, and was surprised to hear a few new entries in their set. Not only did they include ?Vapour? and a well-received cover of Dead Can Dance?s ?Severance,? but also tossed in tunes I?d never heard before: ?Adrenaline? and ?Endless Summer Of The Damned.? I found out shortly afterward that these new songs would be included on a forthcoming album, the first studio release for the band in a quarter-century. That album, Go Away White, is at last in my possession, and if you care at all about Bauhaus and the stamp they placed on modern rock music, you owe it to yourself to obtain your very own copy.

Okay, fans ? school?s out, you can come back now.

As any Bauhaus acolyte would, I held my breath in anticipation of the largely unknown contents of this white-on-white CD? I?d heard three of the songs performed live, and enjoyed them as such, so that was a good omen. But what of the rest? I?m relieved to say that these tracks are fresh, interesting and distinct, free of historical baggage and infused with the eccentric greatness that marks a true Bauhaus work. On the downside, it?s not quite on the epic level of past creations like ?Dark Entries,? ?In The Flat Field,? ?She?s In Parties,? ?Hollow Hills? or ?Stigmata Martyr,? but any attempt to emulate that sound would seem like a futile grasp at nostalgia rather than a distinct creative effort? and frankly, a lot of what I love about the old tunes cannot be separated from my own sense of nostalgia for those days. But that?s not to say they don?t sound exactly like Bauhaus should. It may not sound like it was recorded in 1984, but it?s surprisingly true to the core energy of the band as I remember them at their peak. It?s also not a synthesis of the various creative directions each band member took after 1983, but you can hear tastes of those influences nonetheless.

Recorded over an 18-day period (except for ?Vapour,? which is reworked slightly here), many of these tracks were captured from the first take; this spontaneity lends a jam-session feel that would cheapen the work of less masterful artists, but is pretty savvy in seasoned hands like theirs. Modern production techniques do not diminish this vibe in any way. Ash's guitar licks are gritty, slippery and screaming with feedback (he still has a nice touch with the sax too), and David J's dub-flavored bass rolls effortlessly as always. Haskins' drumming, while not technically flamboyant, is appropriately intense as he smacks the skins with wild abandon. Murphy's dynamic voice ? one of the finest in modern music ? is typically polished to an elegant gloss on his solo work, but here is stripped-down, unaffected, raw and entirely in the moment. Whether this calls to mind the old Bauhaus or not, it doesn't sound like washed-up aging rockers struggling to stay relevant. This is something new.

The high points are many: the T-Rex glam of opener ?Too Much 21st Century?; Murphy's intense vocals on down-tempo cosmic dirge ?Saved?; the punk energy of ?Endless Summer Of The Damned?; sweeping synth washes in ?Undone,? a cool rhythm line and Bowie-like feel in ?Black Stone Heart?; and the cool piano breaks in the campy ?Mirror Remains? (which also features Murphy lapsing into a coughing fit after belting a particularly harsh note). The new version of ?The Dog's A Vapour? is darker, more intimate and ultimately more menacing than the original, and the percussion and vocal drones on closing track ?Zikir? reveal the Middle Eastern influence that has permeated much of Murphy's later work.

I might have felt differently had I not experienced this band onstage, and this awareness might have colored my judgment slightly... but I do sense a real ?live? feeling in these performances that comes across as genuine, unforced and unassuming. It's that indescribable energy that emanates from a group of musicians who are perfectly attuned to each other, at least for one glorious moment in time. Go Away White is a collection of moments like these.

Sadly, it seems this brief taste of delight was short-lived, as Kevin Haskins has reported that the group has once again disbanded (due to some undisclosed dissent among the group while touring), very likely for good. I myself am saddened, but comforted by the fact that we have been spared any attempts at grasping their former glory ? you really can?t go back to 1983 again, and they knew it. But I?ll take what they gave us and treasure it, as a memorial of an inspiring time in music history. As a fan once declared in a segment from ?98 tour video Gotham: ?Enjoy them while you can, for we will never see their like again.?

Amen, brother.