Last time he called, he was bearing a copy of Ninth, an album that, anthemic as it was intimate and esoteric, posed many more questions than it solved, drawing ever more curious souls to his growing legion of fans. For 2014’s answer, Peter Murphy has hit us squarely with the broadly encompassing, disturbing and definitive Lion. The Bauhaus frontman and founder stands like cooling towers in the landscape, emitting a sublime and malevolent shade and once again so does his music.
Acknowledging the perversity and morbidity of life as a basic fact, Bauhaus’ records and those Murphy has made in his exceptionally fertile solo career have always been unforgiving, singular and totemic. Lion is no exception; down to the minutest detail it writhes in angst and screams toward transcendence. The record veritably glowers into being with “Hang Up,” a perfect lead single and the complete obverse of those power-pop songs about hoping for a call back. It sounds like choking feels and is an apt starting point for an album that at each turn attempts to outdo the confines of conventional creative license. The nearly six minutes of “Hang Up” seem to be reaching out of the speakers and sliding through the membranes of the listener’s body and mind, a splendidly visceral opening.
The LP it heralds is Murphy’s best in some time, possessing an elegant mastery of tone in which meaning, semblance and truth lay over each other like petrol on water. Bass-heavy, stark, shimmering and symphonic, it reflects an iridescent haze of chemical sunsets and tampered memories.
The “industrial” genre that Bauhaus helped inaugurate coincided with the evaporation of actual industry in the countries that came up with it. Its soundworld was prompted by emptied out, silent factories and so has always been fundamentally fetishistic. Now that that emptiness has spread everywhere in the culture, the task of visionaries such as Murphy is to reinvestigate and complicate that initial premise, to move the discussion forwards. Recent evidence on YouTube suggests he is doing this in fine style. The daring and transgressive performance art that inflected early Bauhaus and the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten is alive and reinvigorated. Few singers, twisting their shtick live, quite so vividly impart the depths of one individual’s pain and pleasure.
It’s 35 years since Bauhaus dropped “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” from a monochromatic Weimar dreamscape into our own universe. The clattering nine-and-a-half minutes of their debut – an audacious, totally Other, anxious-to-the-point-of-internally-hemorrhaging kind of 12” – ushered a ground-breaking aesthetics of atmosphere into the UK’s post-punk scene and signaled the start of a long, illustrious and varied career. When the band broke-up for the first time in 1983, Murphy abruptly set out alone, challenging his audiences at every opportunity. In three decades he has eviscerated expectations and pin-balled a sprawling wasteland of musical styles: from carrying the mantle of ‘70s Bowie to rivaling New York’s No Wave generation for seductively grainy, punishing grooves.
Lion doesn’t let down and refuses to let up, sustaining a heart-in-throat tension from start to finish. “Swing the lanterns at the sacred mass, I’m no Pixie, no white and drawn… no jaded shock star,” sings Murphy on the triumphal and self-explanatory “I Am My Own Name,” as brutal guitar and synth textures whirl and grind. “Low Tar Stars,” combines legitimate period Aerosmith with Giorgio Moroder on a bad E. “I’m like that bitter pill, that killer instinct still” revolves a line in the stately, elegiac and aching “I’m On Your Side,” which for its libretto takes something like a common law marriage vow and buries it six feet down. The wonderful and enigmatic “Compression” is next, with Martin Destroyer contributing to the killer guitar line, and “The Rose,” a beautiful and supremely melancholic ballad follows. The blistering “Eliza,” is another from a wealth of single material on the record and “Loctaine” reprises the ballad feel, adds post-rock dimensions and as with elsewhere on the album, a rugged electronic undertow. The title track closes proceedings, unreeling in majestic crack-frozen motion, the consummate dramatic exit.
Though one suspects he’s not one to calculate when it comes to his art, he couldn’t have picked a better moment to return to the studio. While his records throughout the last decade were reaching out to a broader audience, conversely, the supposedly niche sound of early Bauhaus was finding him a whole new generation of fans. In previous years, you haven’t been able to go into a bar worth its salt in East London without hearing the likes of Bauhaus, Joy Division, and Einstürzende Neubauten, or pressing up against some nostalgic black denim and leather. Their influence can be heard seeping into countless contemporary bands, such as The Horrors, and notably in electronic music projects and on the industrial scene.
Those younger audiences discovering Bauhaus are connecting to Murphy’s artistic identity, the constellation of impressions he makes that he can’t quite pinpoint, inextricably bound up in the new and daring atmospheres he was seminal in bringing to pop music. The new legions of Bauhaus devotees aren’t exclusively black-clad hipsters and eccentrics; they’re anyone who has identified with Murphy’s rallying cry from the margins. Anyone stifled by the unrelenting saccharine of chart hegemony will be pleased to know that, available in all formats Lion will drop on June 3, 2014. Produced by Youth (Killing Joke, The Verve, Paul McCartney) it will be remembered with his finest work, one that channels the artistic chicanery of 35 years to produce a work of stunning ingenuity and lingering allure