Monday, April 6, 2009

Random Release: A Beautiful Downgrade

I’ve always been a big fan of BBC Sessions, especially those for the late John Peel, and will jump at an opportunity to pick some up by any of my favorite artists. In fact, I think it should pretty much be a law that if you’ve recorded any sessions, again, especially for JP, that you should be required to release them to the public. Why? Well, oftentimes radio sessions capture a band in a spontaneous, whimsical or experimental mood, revealing a side to them that is not often found on official “this is who we are” releases or, because they’re pretty much recorded live, harnessing the essence of what the band is all about before (in many cases) producers with radio-friendly outcomes in mind tweak the rawness (and sometimes the edge) out of the music. Also, bands would use these sessions as an opportunity to showcase new material, often in embryonic form, or do covers, or perhaps “lesser” tracks that never made the final cut to official release on an album or even a b-side and so are a dusty lost gem tucked away in the vaults until either an after-the-fact notion to cash in brings them to the light of day or a bootlegger with a sense of what is right leaks them to the public.

With Bauhaus: Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions, you’ve got a little bit of all of that. As mentioned in a previous post, Bauhaus usually had their experimental on, and more often than not this is the case in their sessions for the BBC. Bare bones and minimal, the boys deliver some very powerful performances in some instances more biting and immediate than their album counterparts. St. Vitus Dance comes ripping out of the gate with pounding drums, chainsaw guitar, heavily phased bass jabs and P-Murphy’s indelibly sinister croon. The same can be said for Mask’s In Fear of Fear and the title track for this compilation, Swing the Heartache. All proof that the band was more than studio magic and just the right echo in production; they could set up quickly and bash it out to just as much if not greater affect than any mood-enhancing studio posturing.

There are also pensive, introspective moods, such as in the Three Shadows Part 2 (found only here) with its Renaissance flavors and Oedipus Rex imagery. As I’ve said before, Bauhaus are a band bent on setting a tone, an atmosphere, and a prime example can be found in Silent Hedges, as an ominous acoustic guitar builds in intensity while Murphy sings of madness and purple eyes before lamenting going to hell (again) and the rhythm section drives the point home (or rather down) with a fury controlled simply by the will of the band, to the ultimate satisfaction and salvation of the listener.

Other highlights are the chosen covers, of which there are several, the most recognizable to those within the musical spectrum being Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, this version of which was released as a single and subsequently became the band’s biggest hit (don’t ya hate that). Another standout is T. Rex’s Telegram Sam (the original of which I’m not familiar with), but one can hear in this blistering rendition that the band enjoys playing it and just playing in general, kicking the verses about with their own sense of panache. But to me the standout among these tracks (maybe even the entire album) is their take on Eno’s Third Uncle, visceral and acidic, a five minute watch-where-you’re-going, flange enveloped slug fest that also showed up as a proper release on their The Sky’s Gone Out album and notably one of the few instances when a cover version surpasses that of the original artist.

Some “light hearted” moments include a couple more experimental tracks. Bauhaus were intentionally -- and therefore first and foremost -- an “art rock” band (long before goth got pinned on them), changing bass notes into blips (The Spy in the Cab) or drumbeats into near mechanized (though in every way Kevin Haskins) pulse rhythms; but here there are two pieces of simple jazz influenced baselines with noodling leads, the first being Party of the First Part, with an overdub of the cartoon The Country Mouse and the City Mouse and the somewhat more entertaining, Departure, a narrative between David J and Peter Murphy about a man’s apparent attempt to escape an impending madness.

There are weaker moments, most evident in an abbreviated (yet otherwise lively) version of early fan favorite In the Flat Field, and Terror Couple Kill Colonel, which though leaner and faster, misses some of the forbidding slink of the single version.

Ultimately this is a flawed album, patchy and lacking a certain cohesiveness, but in a way that was always Bauhaus. Though this is compilation it’s in no way a greatest hits release (though some hits are here), but a collection of various time periods within the band, designed for completeists and those who are interested in hearing alternate takes on already familiar and well-loved versions. Explore those takes first, and then Swing the Heartache.

No comments: