Graded on a Curve: Bauhaus,
In the Flat Field

Sometimes I’m ashamed for my fellow music critics. Take their rude treatment of Bauhaus’ 1980 debut, In the Flat Field. An NME writer described the LP as “nine meaningless moans and flails bereft of even the most cursory contour of interest,” while a Sounds writer dismissed the LP for having “No songs. Just tracks (ugh). Too priggish and conceited,” before writing the LP off as “coldly conceited.”

I’m no Goth fan because I have a pulse, but I think the writers above are idiots. I will concede that In the Flat Field is cold, but I also happen to find it brilliant—one of the finest LPs of 1980. Clamorous and loud, it’s a wonderful example of the sonic possibilities of carefully controlled noise, and its wild sounds and angular riffs provide the perfect backdrop for the chilly vocals of Peter Murphy. Take “Dive.” Daniel Ash’s guitar playing and saxophone work are brilliantly crisp and menacing, the tune proceeds at a breakneck pace, and Murphy’s vocals are a marvel; he stutters, shouts, does it all. Or take LP opener “Double Dare.” It commences with some heavily fuzzed out riffs, then the drums kick in, and this is metal, people. Murphy is as his dark best, producing nonsense noises when he isn’t shouting, the rhythm section is heavy as Flipper, and what we have here is a drone rocker as good as any by No Trend.

The title cut is a racing rumble of distorted guitar, with great percussion and Murphy singing about who knows what (“black matted lace of pregnant cows”???), although the chorus is clear enough: “I do get bored, I get bored/In the flat field.” My recommendation is to ignore the lyrics about “spunge stained sheets” and hone in on Ash’s shredding sheets of guitar noise, the wonderful percussion, and Murphy’s vocals, which climb to an apocalyptic pitch while Ash’s guitar howls and howls. “A God in an Alcove” opens with some tentative guitar and Murphy sounding like he’s been gagged, before the song’s angular riff takes over. Ash’s guitar is ominous, someone joins Murphy on vocals, and together they make a wonderful noise, and then the song takes flight, 100 mph in a 55 zone. “Silly,” repeats Murphy, before the song’s close, but there’s nothing silly about the tune, which rocks.

“The Spy in the Cab” is a slow number and not my favorite, although it does have an alluring melody and some fantastic scratch-guitar by Ash, to say nothing of an apocalyptic and noisy crescendo that ends with Murphy repeating, “Spy, spy, spy.” “Small Talk Stinks” opens with some radio chatter, or something like it, followed by Murphy and the band repeating the opening. A mid-tempo number, this one is mostly atmospherics, although I love the way they turn the radio chatter into an instrument of its own, over which Ash throws out the occasional heavily distorted guitar riff.

“St. Vitus Dance” opens with some pummeling drums and one heavily distorted guitar, over which Murphy sings as fast as he can. He more or less screams the chorus, but what makes this one great are the sound effects, mostly in the form of Ash’s guitar, which plucks out bizarre notes, while a backing guitar and Haskins’ percussion fill out the sound. Murphy ends it, appropriately enough, with a series of screams, and the tune is followed by the heavy guitar riff that propels

“Stigmata Martyr,” on which Ash does a good PiL imitation before throwing off some distorted power chords, after which the song heads into metal territory. Murphy is at his weirdest on vocals, and Ash returns to PiL territory before scratching out some single notes and somebody, some excitable boy, joins Murphy on vocals. As for closer “Nerves” it’s a masterpiece, slow in starting (by which I mean all you hear is silence) but making up for it by introducing itself with some rackety distortion and some feral feedback by Ash, before turning into what could be, for all intents and purposes, a Black Sabbath song.

Ah, but then a keyboard playing a simple figure takes over as Murphy sings, and then screams, at which point the whole band comes in, including one dissonant piano. Jealous of Ash, Murphy does his own PiL imitation, before doing more screaming, at which point the song takes off, Ash laying down some big chords, and did I mention that the song is ominous to the extreme? Murphy moans, cries out, and sings in an insinuating voice, “Nerves like nylon/Nerves like steel” before he’s joined by another vocalist and they take the song out screaming their lungs out.

I plead guilty to having mocked Goth rock and its vampiric fans back in the day, but I was wrong, at least in the case of Bauhaus. I mean, we’re talking about a band that covered both “Ziggy Stardust” and “Telegram Sam,” and gave us the immortal “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” and I denied myself the sublime pleasure of listening to them out of stupid prejudice. At least those critics I lambasted at the beginning of this review gave them a chance. No, when it comes down to it, I’m the real villain. Shame on me.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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