The fact that it’s news to almost everybody does not bode well for the album’s success, but: hey everybody, Bauhaus have a new album out. It’s called Go Away White, and it has an absolutely terrible cover. Insipid typography, uninventive design and an illustration that looks like a printer error. It is not inviting, but I listened to the album anyway.
To their credit, this is an album full of new songs, it was made by the original lineup, and it relies on the sounds of Daniel Ash’s guitar, David Jay’s bass, Kevin Haskins’s drums and Peter Murphy’s louche impression of mid-70s David Bowie. It’s the original team, playing as a group, not just some dudes banging out a quickie in the studio with cheesy, overly thick production obscuring cheesily pastiched songs.
Unfortunately, this relative lack of pretension makes it very obvious that they’ve lost touch with their original animating spirit. Over the last few years I’ve finally decided, after 20 years of listening to Bauhaus, that they were first and foremost an especially arty glam band, and the glammier aspects of their sound were what kept them interesting. There was a spikiness to their sleaze, and it kept them from being too easily pegged as a bunch of gloomy one-note batcavers.
Go Away White isn’t an embarrassment, and it doesn’t suck. However, Bauhaus have replaced the semi-punkish angular glam sound of their original years with what sounds like fairly typical post-grunge rock (and a hint of Morcheeba and / or Portishead), and the songs default to a midtempo plod that does them no favors. When they do break out of that mold, the results don’t sound particularly different from later Peter Murphy solo material, which also had a somewhat flat affect. These dudes sound tired, and not in any kind of melancholically world-weary way.
The best bits almost always feature Ash scraping away at his guitar – at times, it still has that familiar old dissonant scree – while Murphy mutters something inscrutable over the top, just like old times. Only this time with Jay and Haskins sounding incredibly bored in the background. The brothers Haskins were one of the great rhythm sections of post punk, and so hearing them so obviously uninspired is dispiriting.
I checked this out via the miracle of Rhapsody – I can’t really ignore a new Bauhaus record, as much as I sometimes seem to want to pretend they aren’t one of my favorite bands – but I’m not sure I’ll ever buy a copy of my own. I give them full credit for trying to push things forward, but they don’t push far enough ahead to escape the long, long shadow cast by their own finest moments.
Clark’s Turning Dragon is a vast, immediate, atonal monster of a techno record. The first half, in particular, is probably the finest half-hour of hard techno released since Surgeon’s Klonk. The album starts out with a short field-recorded ambient intro, and then warps (ha!) itself through a series of thudding hard techno rhythm loops, oversaturated noise-ambient interludes, diced R&B and disco samples splattered all over the mix, and Clark’s instantly recognizable downcast melodies, all fused into a seamless whole. Things calm down in the second half, but it’s still heavily beat-driven. The net effect is like moving between rooms at a very large, very loud and very postmodern warehouse rave, and it seems to me that this was the effect that Clark was looking for.
Chris Clark spent a bunch of time on tour after he put out his last full-length album, Body Riddle – his first under the shortened name of Clark – and it shows. Turning Dragon, for all its excess and outsized energy, is a concise and taut record that has obviously been refined by exposure to the dancefloor. There are parts of Central and Eastern Europe where the kids still want dance music to make the obvious dancefloor gestures – prominent kick drums, reverb, stabbing synths, meandering acid lines, everything compressed to hell and gone – so it’s not so surprising that Clark came back from a European tour sounding more like Chris Liebing or Umek than his beardy labelmates at Warp.
Something similar happened to fellow Warp alumnus Speedy J a few years ago (to which I alluded in my previous hyping of “Volcan Veins”, which is still my favorite track on the album), but Speedy J got so wrapped up in making an album that perfectly mimicked the “schranz” style Liebing made popular that he ditched most of the elements that made Speedy J sound like Speedy J. Clark doesn’t repeat that mistake – there is no point on this album that is not obviously Clark music. The combination of his sharp ear for atmosphere and the telling detail with straight-up techno and electro rhythms makes for a stunning, deep album. And techno albums that work as coherent wholes, rather than collections of tracks, are precious because they are rare. Only time will tell if this stands up to my personal choice of high-water marks, Surgeon’s Force+Form, but it’s off to a good start.