Bauhaus is not Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Who knew? – “5 Album Box Set” review

Well, I’ve seen Bauhaus and Peter Murphy live a number of times, so I know their catalog is more varied than that scorching foundational goth anthem, but up until now I had only listened fully to “In the Flat Field” and had yet to go line by line through their catalog. This ‘5 album’ collection is, surprisingly, much cheaper than trying to buy the individual records for some reason. It also includes a comprehensive gathering of their singles.

That first record, 1980’s “In The Flat Field” was not well received in the press at the time, but grew in stature and quickly garnered a strong cult following as one of the most courageously inventive and groundbreaking records of the time, honest and piercing, unapologetic for its willingness to convey the darkest parts of the human psyche into sound. Gritty and raw, incessant and noisy, it’s a postpunk hallucination.

1981’s “Mask” continues that raw gritty-bordering-on-shrill jagged-edged sound from the debut album, the band toying with percussion guitar sounds, off-centered riffs, and Birthday Party-esque noise punk sentimentality. Murphy drifts into Bowie territory already on this record (“Kick in the Eye”), signaling his own inner belief that he was more Bowie than Bowie, and frankly, if you’ve ever seen him live, it’s kinda hard to argue.

1982’s “The Sky’s Gone Out” shows all the previous elements of the band, already fused quite well, now coming to prominence in their own area. Murphy’s voice and Ash’s guitar lines really shine. They sound a little like the Buzzcocks in places, and also a little bit Iggy Poppy. There’s more of that Murphy-über-Bowie thing going on, too, and it’s not just Murphy’s voice – the noisy guitars and tight harmonies bring to mind Bowie’s “Scary Monsters.”
Whereas acoustic guitar featured only sporadically on the prior record, here it shows up more frequently, giving the band a wider more open sound. You can also hear the birth of that latter day Peter Murphy sound on tracks like “Silent Hedges” and on “Spirit.”
The same inventive jagged guitar lines are audible, but now the production quality is lusher, with each note more pronounced and distinguished, and not as lost in a the haze of noise. Songs like “In the Night” show the band going into some truly bizarre territory, demonstrating significant creative development and movement away from their original sound into deeper more involved areas, almost taking on a Dead Can Dance sound. There’s even a foray into reggae on “Exquisite Corpse.”

With the band already approaching a break-up, and Peter Murphy ill for much of the recording, the final Bauhaus album, 1983’s “Burning from the Inside,” sounds somewhat fragmented and disjointed. The opening track “She’s In Parties” is vintage Bauhaus – moody, baritone, and goth-heavy, with the guitar sounding like something out of a Joy Division song before opening up into a searing screech. There’s more of that Dead Can Dance vibe – such as on “King Volcano.”
Murphy’s absence led to the inclusion of lead vocals from other band members, with David J sing on “Who Killed Mr. Moonlight,” a track that reminds me of the emotional piano ballads Grant Hart added to the pre-break-up records of Hüsker Dü. Ash sings on “Slice of Life,” a track that has hints of Pink Floyd. The careening Birthday Party element is still there, such as in “Honeymoon Croon.” The record has a more acoustic vibe than even the prior album, such as on “Kingdom’s Coming.” While looked at a somewhat less fluid than other records, this is still a great record.
I haven’t heard a lot of Love and Rockets yet, but what I have heard seems to tell me that the early signs of that band were evolving and emerging at least as early as 1982’s “The Sky’s Gone Out,” but definitely more so here on “Burning From The Inside.”

The eighty minute 20 song singles collection is not a rehash of songs released from the albums – these are largely non-album tracks plus some bonus material. In a way it’s like a entirely separate bonus double album, and a great showcase of the band’s sound from the earliest raw gothy frenetic jagged incarnation to their later more esoteric blends. It’s an important part of the story, including key tracks like “Telegram Sam” and “Terror Couple Kill Colonel”; an epic version of Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”; a truly weird version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”; and one or two other curios.

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