Rising out of Berlin’s post-punk bleakness, die Haut (“the skin”) is a largely instrumental quartet with Beefheartian and psychedelic overtones but possessing a disciplined ferocity that yields a strikingly Germanic sound. Schnelles Leben is a seven-song, eighteen-minute disc that utilizes terse bass and drum rhythms topped with scratchy guitar work, rarely settling into a tonal center. Five of the tracks are vocal-less and tend to lack development and textural variety. Not so much produced as simply recorded, in many places vocals are conspicuous by their absence.
Die Haut enlisted the services of Birthday Party singer Nick Cave for Burnin’ the Ice and even gave him co-billing. Cave supplies all vocals and lyrics (for four of the seven cuts), generating an air of leader and backing band. Much of the manic double-guitar work on Schnelles Leben turns into psychedelic droning behind Cave’s bellowing, but at least the songwriting and production show improvement.
The band wasn’t heard from again until 1988’s Headless Body in Topless Bar (the title courtesy of a legendary New York Post headline), an album halved between instrumental and vocal tracks, the latter featuring Cave, Anita Lane and a handful of Bad Seeds (die Haut’s drummer, Thomas Wydler, is also in Cave’s ensemble). In the band’s guest-less work, early influences have been replaced by the distorted metallic guitar (by Jochen Arbeit and Rainer Lingk) riding atop Wydler’s adept rhythms. But the results are the same: the work still sounds like unfinished songs and is of minimal interest. The vocal side, however, has more character(s). Cave’s contribution is a cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” that laughable 1968 attempt at groovy psychedelia from none other than Kenny Rogers. Bad Seed guitarist Kid Congo Powers is featured for two cuts more similar to die Haut’s own work; it sounds as though he’s the missing vocalist. Lane’s “The Bells Belong to the Ashes” is largely motionless art-noise with lots of timpani (thankfully, she speaks rather than sings). Die Haut knows how to collaborate, but not a whole lot else.