Just to clarify, I was never goth. I never wore black nail polish. Jeans are just plain more comfortable than fishnets. And though I have, on occasion, dyed my hair black, it was only because I thought it looked good, the same which cannot be said of the great bleach fiasco of ’96. No sir, I just couldn’t get into it. And that goes beyond mere wardrobe; just about every goth rock band since Disintegration has outright sucked. Diatribe, Switchblade Symphony, 16 Volt—I tried, really I did, but they just couldn’t cut it. And it’s all because of Bauhaus.
Nobody did goth better than Bauhaus, and nobody ever will. They left some massively big shoes to fill when they broke up in the early half of the Reagan decade, and suffice to say, the genre hasn’t been shod since. Even contemporaries The Cure, who are typically credited as being the biggest band ever to emerge within the movement, weren’t really that goth. Sure, Robert Smith’s mopey lyrics and smeared makeup fit the bill, but they were always a bit too mainstream to have been a part of the mascara underground. Bauhaus, however, were the true forefathers of gothic rock, combining the abrasive sound of punk with the theatricality of glam rock and a penchant for the dark, the spooky and the disturbing. All of these traits were poured into the Northampton (England, not Massachusetts) band’s debut, In the Flat Field, a harrowing and intense set powered by Kevin Haskins and David J’s brooding low end, Daniel Ash’s screeching guitars and the charismatic, at times seemingly possessed vocals of Peter Murphy.
In the Flat Field is the rare album with the unique adrenaline-rush flow of a great live set. Beginning with the moaning drone of “Double Dare,” Bauhaus slowly pull the listener in, as if to put him in some sort of trance. Not content to merely pummel from the get go, it’s a sultry lure, yet a brutally ugly one, as “Double Dare” is a raw and choppy rocker that almost took the opposite approach to the fast-moving single that preceded the release of the album, “Dark Entries.” From there, however, the pace quickens, the album heats up and the phantoms begin to emerge from the woodwork in the title track. Daniel Ash’s guitar riffs howl and scream in one of the most frightening melodies ever recorded, while Peter Murphy shouts the unforgettable chorus, “I get bored/ I do get bored/in the Flat Field.”
There were more stylish noir moments, such as the John Barry punk rock of “God in an Alcove” or the bare bones dirge “A Spy in the Cab,” both essentials in the Bauhaus canon. Yet the majority of In the Flat Field consists of twisted, glam-inspired post-punk raveups, seldom straightforward, but mostly quite accessible. Bauhaus were all about a visceral experience, and in the spastic no wave jam “Dive,” that’s exactly what you got. Though on a track like “St. Vitus Dance,” they did it not only with amps on 11, but with a sense of humor as well, a trait shamefully absent from subsequent goth movements. Cheekily describing a “dance” with allusions to the disease from which the song is named, Peter Murphy sings, “Back in the good old days when dancing meant exploding/ the idea was simple for a decent overloading.” It’s the perfect complement to Ash’s Mick Ronson-inspired riffs and J’s bizarre filtered bassline. Likewise, “Stigmata Martyr” with its descending riffs and guitar scratches make a disconcerting bed for Murphy’s screaming in Latin tongues.
As great as the original nine songs on In the Flat Field are, the 1998 reissue of the album only adds to its brilliance, with the addition of eight extra tracks. Their cover of T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam” is an essential, as is their cover of John Cale’s “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores” and single “Terror Couple Kill Colonel.” Still, the most peculiar addition is not at the end of the album, but at the beginning, as “Dark Entries” is the opener for the re-release. Though one would almost hate to mess with the original, it actually makes for a great, rocking beginning to an essential album.
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