Their scream of chatter is just a little parasitic scream of whores.
But Bauhaus--there was a band! I think it's perhaps telling where the weakness of the modern bands are concerned that my favorite Bauhaus release is a live album. None of the current bands even exist as live units, unless you consider some guy singing over a backing track to count. Of course, I say that, but I've loved that kind of thing under certain circumstances, so I guess I shouldn't talk shit. My real problem with those modern bands is how they sound, not how they perform. But a lot of what made Bauhaus's sound so great gets spotlighted by the live performance recordings, so I still think it's worthwhile to discuss their live album.
"Press The Eject," named after the sound of a crew member demanding a recording from a bootlegger--was this album recorded by a bootlegger? God, I can't imagine. It sounds way too good--is full of raging noise and dark, creepy atmosphere. That's what Bauhaus is all about, really. The thing that I wanted from goth music when I started listening to it was for it to sound like a horror movie. I wanted the bands to scare me. Bauhaus's most famous song being entitled "Bela Lugosi Is Dead" seemed promising, and the first version of the song that I ever heard delivered on that promise in a big way. I was watching MTV late at night in 1992 when I heard it--"Alternative Nation" played a video for it, and that's how it happened. The video was actually from the David Bowie/Catherine Deneuve film "The Hunger," which begins with Bowie and Deneuve's vampire characters from the movie roaming through an ill-lit underground club. As they do, Bauhaus performs "Bela Lugosi Is Dead" onstage, with singer Peter Murphy writhing in a cage. The version of the song that appeared in the video blew my mind and made me want to hunt down more Bauhaus material, but when I borrowed the "Bela Lugosi" single from my drama club friend, the version on it was tamer, colder, not nearly as frightening as the version from the video. Imagine my joy when, months later, I dubbed a copy of "Press The Eject" from him and learned that the version of "Bela Lugosi" from the video was the version on "Press The Eject."
"Bela Lugosi Is Dead" is most interesting and enlightening if you approach it with a completely open mind. Ignore the lyrics, and forget everything you think you know about what "goth" is as a musical genre. Listen to the strange construction of the song, nearly 10 minutes long in the version on "Press the Eject," and particularly to Daniel Ash's guitar. As the song is brought in by the Haskins brothers (David on bass, Kevin on drums), Ash plays nothing as recognizable as a note or a chord. Instead, he scrapes his strings atonally, wringing shards of distorted noise from his instrument and scattering them haphazardly over the dub-like rhythm. Yes, I said "dub-like." One thing that becomes clear if you ignore everything else but the rhythm section is just what a big influence reggae had on Bauhaus's song structures. It makes sense, considering that they emerged from the same post-punk underground at the same time as bands like the Pop Group and Public Image Ltd, but more recent attempts at categorizing music have made a lot of people forget this in favor of boxing Bauhaus into the "goth" category, as if they were so separate from the reggae-influenced post-punk that dominated their country's music underground at the time of their formation that they could have absolutely no influence from it. All you have to do is recognize that such an influence could be there, and it fairly leaps out at you.
90 seconds into "Bela Lugosi Is Dead," David J (as their bass player is most often known) begins playing the gloomy, descending three-note bassline that anchors the song's verses. At this point, Daniel Ash forgoes his sonic experimentation in favor of jangling minor chords that echo the bass line. This is when the song goes from strange noise to outright creepiness. That creepiness is cranked way up when Peter Murphy begins singing, in his deep, authoritative voice, about Lugosi resting in his casket. "The bats have left the bell tower," he intones. "The victims have been bled. Red velvet lines the black box." The words he's singing paint a gorgeous portrait of a glamorous, decadent, and frightening funeral. And of course, Bela Lugosi's association with his most famous role as Count Dracula in Tod Browning's 1931 film is one that Murphy plays to a hilt. As the song builds in intensity, Murphy sings, "Alone in a darkened room--the Count." We all know what he means. It becomes even more specific on the climactic chorus of the song. "Bela Lugosi is dead," he sings, then follows the line with several repititions of "undead undead undead." He's fairly howling it at first, then drops back into a passionless intonation, as Daniel Ash's ringing chords reach a crescendo beneath his words. It's at this point that the song has reached its impassioned climax, but instead of some sort of explosion, the band pulls back, never quite taking the song to the level that it seems to be building towards from the moment it starts. Instead, the bassline suddenly drops out, and Daniel Ash returns to his scraping noise volleys of the song's beginning. Eventually, David J brings the bassline back in, overtop of Kevin Haskins's steady pulsing drums, which have continued on throughout the song, no matter what has happened overtop of them. They continue even as the guitars drop out once again, leaving Peter Murphy, who disappeared from the song minutes ago, to return and gasp out, "Bela's undead!" over and over, which finally brings the song back to its basic verse-chorus structure. The fact that Bauhaus wring 10 minutes of stark, strange atmosphere out of what is, in the final analysis, a three-chord song with two verses, demonstrates their talent at creating moods of atmospheric terror, but more importantly, doing so through a strange combination of postpunk noise and dub reggae.
I imagine this must be why a lot of goth kids hear Bauhaus as some sort of ground zero for their entire movement; the influences they combine together are so disparate, and the sum of their parts is so different in mood and feel from anything that the constituent parts even approaches, that it might be hard to even see what those constituent parts are when you're working backwards from a frame of reference extending only from The Cure to the Sisters Of Mercy. It would be a mistake, though, to allow the frame of reference through which Bauhaus is most commonly viewed to be used as an excuse to write them off musically. Personally, I thought Angel Hair proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt when they covered "Stigmata Martyr" on their chaotic hardcore masterpiece, "Insect Mortality" (now collected on the Angel Hair discography CD "Pregnant With The Senior Class"). I have to wonder, though, whether the Angel Hair version of "Stigmata Martyr" sounding so much like the other Angel Hair songs on the album gave their fans the impression that they'd completely dismantled and rearranged the Bauhaus track they were covering. Maybe none of those kids ever went back and checked out a Bauhaus album. If that's the case, it's a shame.
But it's never too late. After all, there's plenty on "Press The Eject" to appeal to a fan of noisy, chaotic hardcore, most of which will probably end up being more appealing than "Bela Lugosi Is Dead," which is interesting but ultimately not very heavy. For real chaos, real heaviness, the album's first two songs provide a pretty great example. "In The Flat Field," the title track from Bauhaus's debut LP, is an uptempo rocker propelled by Kevin Haskins's rolling floor tom beat. Daniel Ash switches between sustained, distorted chords and high, staccato shards of noisy guitar, while David J locks in with Kevin Haskins's fast beat and holds down a steady rhythm. Over all of this, Peter Murphy sings dramatically of decadent sexual behaviors and their influence on interpersonal relationships. "Mirrors multi-reflecting this between spunk-stained sheet and odorous whim," he states harshly. "Calmer eye-flick, shudder within, assist me to walk away in sin. Where is the string that Theseus laid? Find me out of this labyrinth place." That's most of the first verse, and when the poetry is analyzed, it seems that he's discussing some pretty insane sexual behavior--behavior that is no longer holding his attention. He's had enough, he wants out. Then the chorus: "I get bored. I get BORED! In the flat field!" Murphy is screaming now, moving away from his usual unemotional, declarative baritone. The emotion he generally keeps locked away is coming out, and instead of sounding bored, what he really sounds is freaked out. Could it be that a pose of studied indifference is cracking? Bauhaus songs don't really lend themselves to an obvious lyrical interpretation, but there are unsettling lyrical images aplenty in many of their songs, and "In The Flat Field" is no exception. The second verse contains references to "wetting dreams," which Murphy tells us in the next sentence are "of black matted lace, of pregnant cows." What? That's nothing compared to the final verse, though, in which he makes seeming reference to taking a woman's virginity in the lines, "Let me catch the slit of light, for a maiden's sake on a maiden flight," only to follow this by telling us again that "in a flat field I do get bored--replace with Piccadilly whores." Daniel Ash is, by this point, blasting out high, wailing chords, over the unchanging rhythmic lockstep of the Haskins brothers, and the song seems primed for a blast back into a final chorus. Instead, though, Murphy moans "field..." a few times and the whole song winds down.
Almost immediately, though, the band is priming itself to launch into their next track, a cover of John Cale's "Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores." The Velvet Underground, with their love of noise and decadence, are another huge influence on Bauhaus, and this song makes that clear not only in its being a cover of a John Cale track but also in its lyrical harmony with the original Bauhaus tunes that surround it. Another interesting fact that points even more strongly to Bauhaus's Velvet Underground/John Cale fandom: I just learned through googling around that John Cale's original version of "Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores" was the B-side to his "Mercenaries" single, released in January 1980. The song was never featured on any of his albums, but not only did Bauhaus track it down, they released their own version of it as the B-side to their "Telegram Sam" single, which was released in December of 1980, only 10 months later. Pretty impressive. Of course, while "Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores" was merely a non-LP B-side for Cale, it became a concert staple and signature track for Bauhaus, such that it is identified far more with them than with Cale at this late date.
But let's get back to the music. Bauhaus's version of "Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores" is a foreboding midtempo plod, in which once again the Haskins brothers hold down a solid, unbreakable rhythm, over which Peter Murphy vocally cavorts as Daniel Ash throws out scorching sheets of feedback noise from which he only occasionally is willing to depart in order to play actual chords. It was actually a video version of this very same performance that made me realize just what an amazing recording of "Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores" this really is. I'm not sure what Bauhaus video release contains it--it was my high school goth friend's copy, once again--but it's viewable on YouTube, so go check it out. Anyway, for me, the big payoff of the entire song comes after Daniel Ash's solo, when his guitar drops out completely, leaving Murphy and the rhythm section to move into a third verse that is far less structured than the song's first two. The lyrics on this section of the song sound like Murphy could have written them himself, so close is their kinship with other Bauhaus lyrics like "In The Flat Field." "Some men are chosen from the rest, but their disappointment runs with their guests, who are never invited to the funeral rosegarden," he sings. Daniel Ash occasionally throws in random chunks of guitar, seemingly with no connection to the song's rhythm. But by the second half of the verse, he has stopped this completely and approached his vocal mic. "Their choice doesn't seem to matter," Murphy continues. "They got swollen breasts and lips that putter." At the end of that line, Ash grunts incoherently into his mic. "And their choice of matter and their scream of chatter..." Ash grunts again, this second grunt plainly on rhythm with the rest of the song. Murphy continues: "...is just a little parasitic scream of whores!" His voice sounds creepy enough at this moment, the combination of the words themselves and his leering, overenunciated delivery making his voice rather unsettling. But then, as soon as Murphy sings the word "whores," Ash lets out a full-throated scream that nearly doubles him over. His fiery delivery merely spurs Murphy on. "Screaming whores!" he yells, as Ash screams again, timing his screams with Kevin Haskins's snare drum and continuing to scream on-rhythm as Murphy finishes the verse: "In the rosegarden... [AAH!] funeral of..." Murphy sings the line's final word, "sores," just as Ash screams again, and their voices combine into an unholy racket that nearly makes my hair stand on end. Ash steps away from his mic, grabbing his guitar and preparing to go into the chorus, and as he does so he lets out one final, impassioned scream that the microphone barely picks up. As he and the rest of the band slam back into the chorus, it feels like the whole room is crashing down on your head. Watching the performance, I can only imagine how powerful it must have been in person. Sometimes I think I was born too late.
There's much more of interest on "Press The Eject" than just these three songs. "Dancing" pushes Bauhaus's funkier influences to the fore, as David J plays a bassline that sounds like something Jah Wobble would have come up with and Daniel Ash plays the saxophone with hectic brilliance for the song's first two verses, before switching back to his usual noisy guitar. The opportunity this provides to compare his sax playing with his usual guitar style makes clear that Ash must have heard quite a bit of free jazz along with the Velvet Underground and David Bowie that are more obvious influences on his playing. Murphy sings of "Dancing down church aisles, dancing on holy books," equating the song's Dionysian sound with blasphemy as well as social and sexual deviance. "Stigmata Martyr" once again sounds almost exactly like the Angel Hair version, but has the added bonus of making the lyrics much clearer than Sonny Kay's rather frantic delivery ever made them. Again, the result is a clearly audible blasphemy, as Murphy gasps, "Stigmata, oh you sordid sight... look into your crimson orifice in holy remembrance," before beginning to scream the Latin phrase, "In nomine patri et filii et spiriti sanctum," meaning, of course, "Father, son, and holy ghost." Hey, if he's going to hell, I guess I'm going with him.
"The Spy In The Cab" is almost nonexistent from a rhythmic point of view. While Daniel Ash plays chords oddly reminiscent of 60s instrumental spy music or the Johnny Rivers song "Secret Agent Man" if it were the soundtrack to a 50s horror movie, Peter Murphy tells us about an "unseen mechanized eye," "callously reserving a driver's time." Underneath this, Kevin Haskins occasionally thumps his floor tom or his snare, and David J plays one single, high bass note at the beginning of each measure. It adds up to what seems like some terrifying narrative of evil surveillance but, if you dissect the lyrics, is actually more of a story about invasive bosses overly micromanaging a worker. Perhaps there is some class consciousness beneath Bauhaus's Grand Guignol obsessions with horror, deviant sex, and the vagaries of religion.
On the other hand, the other quiet song here, "Hollow Hills," is pure terror of the most Lovecraftian sort. This time, it's vocals and bass that move the song forward, though David J's quiet bassline is barely audible when Peter Murphy is singing. "Ancient earthwork, fort and barrow, discreetly hide their secret abodes," Murphy tells us, as Daniel Ash's guitar eerily hums in the background. Kevin Haskins barely plays on the song, occasionally punctuating a dramatic moment by thumping his floor tom and otherwise staying quiet. "Baleful sounds and wild voices ignored; ill luck, disaster, the one reward for violated sanctity of supermen's hills." At the end of the song, Murphy tells us, "Lament, repent, oh mortal you." This song is more atmospheric in sound than anything Comus might have done, but in lyrical quality it's very similar, and one must wonder whether "First Utterance" was also amongst the records that influenced the direction Bauhaus took.
The original vinyl version of "Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape" ended after track 11, "Dark Entries," and this song is a fitting finale for the album. As usual, the lyrics defy easy interpretation, but it certainly seems that "Dark Entries" is about prostitution. Over snarling, distorted chords, courtesy of Daniel Ash in what might be his most focused, punk-like guitar performance on this album, Murphy paints a startling, vulgar picture. "In a hovel of a bed I will scream in vain. Oh please, Miss Lane, leave me with some pain." As the song reaches what passes for a chorus, Daniel Ash screams the title phrase repeatedly and rhythmically, but Peter Murphy never stops his repulsive narration: "He's soliciting on his tan brown brogues... pinpointing well-meaning upper class prey... He often sleekly offers his services, exploitation of his finer years work. With loosely woven fabrics of lonely office clerks--any lay suffices his dollar green eye." Lovely, but not half as lovely as the second verse: "I came upon your room, it stuck into my head. We leapt into the bed, degrading even lice. You took delight in taking down all my shielded pride, until exposed became my darker side." Now the song has gone from being about some hypothetical other to being about Murphy himself, and his own degrading solicitations. "Dark entries!" screams Ash, chopping out frenetic distorted chords. The song ends in a hail of feedback, and the band leaves the stage as a voice in the foreground suddenly says, "No, just give me the tape. Press the eject and give me the tape out of it." Maybe that's guys at the soundboard talking to each other, but it certainly creates the idea in the listener's head that this album they're hearing was originally recorded by a bootlegger.
There are bonus tracks on the CD version of "Press The Eject," and my feeling is that they blunt the impact of the original 11-song LP. While none are as well-recorded as the original album, there are certainly songs here that are worth hearing; "Terror Couple Kill Colonel" always delivers, with its narrative seemingly about the murder of a former Nazi living quietly "in his West German home." The colonel wonders in his dying moments if his choice of job was a mistake. Seems like it, pal. The version of this song on "Press The Eject," though, sounds much more like the work of a bootlegger and is certainly not the definitive version or even the definitive live version (for that, hunt down the two-disc document of Bauhaus's final performance in 1983, "Rest In Peace." Oh, and by the way, here in this parenthetical note let me mention that I'm aware of Bauhaus's post-milennial reformation and release of a new album in 2008. I haven't heard any of that stuff and therefore don't want to comment on it. I'll eventually check it out but as always with reunions, I'm afraid it won't live up to my expectations).
More interesting is a version of "Double Dare," again rather primitively recorded and beginning with a lengthy sample that is almost completely inaudible. Daniel Ash dedicates the song to Antonin Artaud, the Theatre of Cruelty auteur beloved enough of Bauhaus to have a song on their 1983 album "Burning From The Inside" named after him (it's an awesome song, too, one of their heaviest and weirdest). This version of "Double Dare" suffers not at all from the primitive recording, and indeed, it seems to emphasize the song's monotonous, pounding feel. At points, especially when Peter Murphy is singing, the instrumentation all blurs together due to the recording quality and becomes a wall of ferocious noise. Don't worry about the fact that the sound is kind of crappy--just turn it up really loud.
A second version of "In The Flat Field" seems superfluous with a better-sounding version beginning the album, but Peter Murphy's unhinged vocal turn completely justifies the inclusion, as by halfway through the first verse he's screaming and howling. This, of course, fuels the chorus to even greater heights of insanity, and it sounds at points like he's testing the limits of the venue's PA system. I still prefer the first version overall, but this second one is definitely interesting. "Hair Of The Dog," the leadoff track from Bauhaus's second album, "Mask," is also here in the bonus section, and I've long felt that this song is one of Bauhaus's best. Murphy's scream at the end of the first chorus is incredible, even on this less-than-ideal live version. Unfortunately, this live version, does not do the song justice, and you really should track down the studio version to hear it the way it's meant to be heard.
The one bonus track here that's most skippable, though, is a version of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting For The Man," with Nico singing it as a duet with Murphy. I'm sure Bauhaus were beyond stoked to have one of their big influences onstage and performing with them, but the version of the song is not great and the recording is even worse. This is one of those things that sounds way better in your mind when you just know it exists but haven't heard it than it ever does in reality.
Really, though, it's silly to complain too much about CD bonus tracks tacked onto the end of an album. As I said, if you give them too much credit it's easy to let them blunt the impact of the original album, but it's simplicity itself to reach over and turn the record off after track 11. I'm far more concerned that all the people I know who've never given Bauhaus a chance check this record out and figure out what they've been missing all of this time. Goth or not, this record is sheer brilliance, as is most of Bauhaus's catalog. It's time for people to stop sleeping on that fact. Stop wasting time, listen to these songs now.
Bauhaus - In The Flat Field; Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores; Bela Lugosi Is Dead (Download or listen to all three of these tracks at that link)