Release Date: 11/3/80
When I sit and think about the bands where the vocalist really takes their bands work to the next level, Bauhaus are always at the front of my mind. Peter Murphy’s voice is what truly sets this band apart. This is not to say he steals the show. It’s the mixture of his voice over the backdrop of such unique music that makes Bauhaus truly something else. Bauhaus’ music is quite minimalistic. The rhythm section tends to lock into a Philip Glass, or non-Western, level of repetition. The album opener “Dark Entries” features a similar drum beat and bass line throughout the entire song, giving Peter Murphy, as well as guitarist Daniel Ash, a lot of room to breathe. The guitars are there for atmosphere, and Daniel Ash is a master at setting atmosphere.
The layout of the second track “Double Dare” is much the same as the first: the rhythm section follows a singular simple pattern throughout, while the guitar sets atmosphere with dissonant, delayed, palm-muted picking while Peter Murphy gives a highly impassioned vocal performance. The pitched down vocal passages before the choruses are a great production choice. “In the Flat Field” features one of my favorite choruses of all time. Peter Murphy’s performance is again, top notch, and the loud, abrasive mid-register guitar passages with correspondingly appropriate changes in dynamics make for a very powerful chorus and song. Perhaps the greatest feat of the first three tracks is that they manage to have this high-octane punk energy to them without sounding punk at all.
The band slows it down a bit for “A God in an Alcove”, which features mostly clean guitars, and plays between being bouncy and upbeat, dark and light, switches tempos not infrequently, then speeds up for the songs high-energy climax. All while keeping clean guitars. There are also some programmed drums layered with the acoustic ones.
“Dive” is harder to pin down sonically. It starts with a high-energy distorted guitar riff, perhaps the most punk-influenced moment on the album, then the drums come in with a very early-2000’s Indie Rock sounding drum part, a bass line that sounds influenced by disco, some keyboards and electronic noises that carry throughout the rest of the track, and some wild saxophone lines that intertwine with the electronic elements, used more as a decoration than a focal point. It’s a quite danceable track honestly. It’s also one of the fastest tempo tracks on the album, which makes for wonderful contrast with the next track, one of the album’s slowest, “The Spy in the Cab”, which is made up of repetitive programmed drums and Peter Murphy giving it his all. The guitar parts in this track are dark, and even when there’s distortion, they keep it in the background for most of the track; a unique production choice which really adds to the power of Murphy’s vocals.
“Small Talk Stinks” is, like the last song, such a barebones track, they make it sound like their sound could be easily accomplished. This time around the guitar also participates in the repetition by playing a singular riff the entire track. It doesn’t get boring or come off as repetitive though. This track is again, carried by Peter Murphy’s vocals and the production choices. It’s the small electronic elements, vocalizations used as decoration, and other percussive instruments that make this track interesting.
They pick up the pace again with “St. Vitus Dance” before heading into “Stigmata Martyr”, whose main guitar riff is actually quite metal sounding. Nothing like any of the forms of metal that were popular at the time though – not Glam Metal, not Maiden-esque, certainly not the thrash of Metallica. It’s more like one of the stoner metal bands of more recent years. One of the albums highlights “Nerves” closes out the album. Driven by a percussive piano line and featuring some of their darkest, loudest, quietest, and most powerful material on the album, it packs an impressive punch. The dynamics on this track is testament to how important dynamics are in general in music and recordings, and is something that is too often ignored as of about 1999 (Thanks Red Hot Chili Peppers).
It’s pretty clear Bauhaus have few equals in their musical realm. The only other band who remotely reminds me of this band is Joy Division, but even they, mostly due to their production choices, are a quieter band, and of course, Ian Curtis is of a very different vocal style.
Bauhaus’ In The Flat Field is an experiment in minimalism. Extremely hard to pull off in rock-based music, as it requires so many things hard to find in said umbrella genre: a phenomenal vocalist; desire and ability to step far out the bounds of the genre as well as what’s come before; treating the guitar as decoration, not the main attraction. As a means to just make noise, even; not using your instrument to “wank,” but rather to create something unique in service of the overall sound; and probably the most difficult thing to find, good taste. In The Flat Field is a special album, perhaps Bauhaus’ finest moment, and is certifiably essential listening.
Highlights: “Double Dare”, “In the Flat Field”, “Nerves”