Though their career was over in a mere four years, Bauhaus are the acknowledged godfathers of gothic rock, following the art movement for which they were named in seeking to use minimalism as a powerful mood-setting tool. Combining guitars and electronics into a bleak backdrop for Peter Murphy’s angst-driven vocals, Bauhaus ignited what was already a volatile mix by throwing dark, energetic theatrics into the pot.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (gloom’s own “Stairway to Heaven”) is an unlikely debut single which melds brisk dub reggae rhythms, Daniel Ash’s creepy, atmospheric guitar technique and Murphy’s Nosferatu vocal performance. If the record created any stylistic expectations, however, Bauhaus was quick to defy them, as the group’s subsequent records were all significantly different from each other.
The self-produced In the Flat Field is a dense, disjointed patchwork of sounds and uncertain feelings, supported by a pressured, incessant beat. Delving deep into the dark side of the human psyche, Bauhaus conjures up unsettling images of a world given over to death and decay. Mask, their finest achievement, explores a variety of styles, incorporating airs of heavy metal, funk brass and Tangerine Dreamy electronics into an organic whole. Though still weighty, the lyrics make occasional stabs at humor and reveal an increasingly romantic side.
Searching for Satori offers a wholly different version of 1981’s funky “Kick in the Eye” 45, a dub mix of a Mask track and a pair of reggae-influenced new cuts, “Harry” and “Earwax.”
The Sky’s Gone Out opens with a lively, bright version of Brian Eno’s “Third Uncle,” signaling a more upbeat period for Bauhaus, offsetting the ongoing themes of death and destruction. Good production opens up the sound considerably and, in a flash of ambition, the album includes a three-part mini-opera, “The Three Shadows.” (The CD adds four bonus tracks.) Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape, a live LP recorded in London and Liverpool, was first included as a second disc in UK copies of The Sky’s Gone Out, then reissued as a separate album.
The late-’82 release of a copycat live-in-the-studio version of “Ziggy Stardust” (joined on the 12-inch by a bizarre, funny original consisting of Faustian film dialogue over cool instrumental backing, “Third Uncle” and a live recording of “Waiting for the Man,” with guest vocals by Nico) supported Bauhaus’ self-image as latter-day glam-rockers (the group had released a single of T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam” in 1980), taking an intentional poke at critics who had accused the group of imitating Bowie. Besides the tart, enigmatic title cut, Lagartija Nick (another non-LP 12-inch) has a horn-dominated dance track, a live take of “In the Flat Field” and the weird in-joke of “Paranoia, Paranoia.”
A bout with pneumonia forced Murphy to miss several recording sessions, leaving Ash and bassist David J(ay) to sing almost half the songs on the final Bauhaus album, Burning from the Inside (no doubt a pivotal development towards their work as Love and Rockets). There are plenty of swell numbers, some in a more acoustic vein (Ash’s haunting “Slice of Life,” the optimistic “Hope” and the delicately chanted “King Volcano”); still, the individualized songwriting weakened the band’s sense of unity.
Bauhaus split up in mid-1983. Ash continued a side project he’d begun in 1981, Tones on Tail, soon joined by Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins. Jay did a hefty amount of solo recording, briefly joined the Jazz Butcher, then got together with Ash and Haskins (when a planned Bauhaus reunion fell through) to form Love and Rockets. Peter Murphy teamed with ex-Japan bassist Mick Karn to form Dalis Car, then went solo.
In death, Bauhaus has become more popular (and influential) than ever, a phenomenon exploited by numerous posthumous collections. The Singles EP consolidates six A-sides, including “Ziggy Stardust,” “Kick in the Eye” and “Lagartija Nick.” 4.A.D. compiles several 1980 singles, including “Telegram Sam,” “Dark Entries” and a rare version of John Cale’s “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores.” The double disc set 1979 — 1983 functions as both a comprehensive overview of Bauhaus’ work — spotlighting both the popular singles and more obscure album tracks and flipsides — and as a one-stop sampler, though it does include the memorable “Sanity Assassin” (which was to be their last single), previously available only on a fan club 45. The more intriguing Swing the Heartache joins all four of the group’s UK radio sessions, which (roughly) chronologically correspond to the four original studio albums (all of which have since been issued on CD with non-LP singles tacked on). Of particular note are two previously unknown songs (“Poison Pen,” a sinister piece of anti-drug funk that had been recorded for Mask, and a sizzling off-the-cuff version of the Strangeloves’ ’66 garage rocker “Night Time”) and a version of “Third Uncle” at a tempo much closer to the original.