In the Flat Field
The Dawning of a New Gloomy Day
Bauhaus is often credited with "inventing" goth rock, the style known for foreboding lyrics enveloped by shades of gray and black bleakness. Whether the credit is deserved or not (goth is one of those subgenres that oozed from several directions at once), the goth-culture association has overshadowed something essential about the four-piece: In the beginning, it could raise serious hard rock hell.
Consider "Double Dare" from this electrifying debut, which was reissued with surprisingly sharp bonus tracks in 1988. It begins with Daniel Ash's almost primitive two-measure guitar riff, a metallic cattle-prod that's so saturated with fuzz-tone it hardly sounds like a guitar at all. Vocalist Peter Murphy sings the opening lines ("I dare you to be real") like he's positioning himself as the next Jim Morrison, but soon drops the air of mystery to belt more forcefully. By the end, his voice is as abrasive as the guitar, ravaged in its attempt to keep up with the heaving intensity around him.
Named for the German art movement of the early twentieth century (in fact, the band's original name was Bauhaus 1919), the group formed in Northampton, England, in 1978, when punk was popping out all over. There's some of the franticness of that era in the songs of Flat Field—the tightly wound and infectiously hooky "God in an Alcove" could be early R.E.M.—but more often Bauhaus replaces punk jitters with a taut, restrained sense of rhythm. The band's measured and at times dispassionate attack intrigued British hipsters—one early champion was influential BBC Radio 1 personality John Peel—and after a series of singles, Bauhaus released In the Flat Field. The album has that goth sense of grandeur, but not, thankfully, the haughty, self-important pomposity that later made goth the preferred affectation of spoiled suburban brats. Instead, Murphy and the others treat dissatisfaction and frustration as learning opportunities. They move through the emotional states they describe, rather than wallowing endlessly in them. And that, needless to say, makes all the difference.
Released: 1980, 4 AD
Key Tracks: "Double Dare," "God in an Alcove," "Stigmata Martyr," "Nerves."
Catalog Choice: Mask
Next Stop: Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral
After That: Killing Joke: Killing Joke
Book Pages: 53–54