Record Review: Bauhaus – In The Flat Field

4AD| UK | LP | 1980 | CAD 13

4AD| UK | LP | 1980 | CAD 13

Bauhaus: In The Flat Field UK LP [1980]

  1. Double Dare
  2. In The Flat Field
  3. A God In An Alcove
  4. Dive
  5. The Spy In The Cab
  6. Small Talk Stinks
  7. St. Vitus Dance
  8. Stigmata Martyr
  9. Nerves

I came to Bauhaus pretty late in the game. One day some time in the Fall of 1982, I managed to glimpse a playing of the video for “Spirit” by Bauhaus.  I had seen the occasional record and might have read a review, but in that era of being a college student, it didn’t behoove me to buy music without hearing it first. The video was very impressive but little did I know that the lithe, single version of that song was drastically re-cut/re-arranged from the ponderous LP version. I soon bought the album from whence it came, “The Sky’s Gone Out” and was more than a little blindsided by the dark intensity of it all.

At first, I’ll admit that I was disappointed. I had come for pop and was given what I called “art metal” instead. Fortunately, I grew to like the unique combination of pretension and abrasion inherent in their music and the next album I bought was their debut album; which was also my first exposure to the 4AD label. I bought a used copy of the import LP at Crunchy Armadillo Records for probably $4-5, knowing the prices there at the time.

Bauhaus were a good band for me to listen to since I tended to adhere a little too closely to the synth-rock side of the road. Ultravox, OMD, Numan, Human League. These were my “meat + potatoes.” But all synths and no guitars make Monk a dull boy. In Bauhaus, there was a band who were capable of great pretension using a standard palette of guitars/bass/drums, and in Peter Murphy, they had a vocalist with a great baritone attack who was unafraid to run up the rest of the scales. “The Sky’s Gone Out” had been a record that fearlessly plowed its singular artistic furrow. I was ready for more.

“Double Dare” began the album with an abject challenge to the listener. The lyrics took a principled stance at provoking the listener out of numbness and complacency and the delivery and music was like a fist to the chops in its unbridled impact! The funereal pacing served only to heighten the abrasive stance. If the tempo were three times as fast, it could have been a Sex Pistols song.

The title track remains one of my all time favorite Bauhaus tracks even today. The tribal drumming of Kevin Haskins keeps the inexorable momentum going while the stark power chords of Daniel Ash shoot through the mix to give glimpses of light to offset Murphy’s powerful, low delivery. The lyrical flow is fleet of foot and highly memorable.

The sound of individual tracks here could vary quite a bit. Daniel Ash’s guitar playing was never content to stay locked into any stylistic straitjackets. On this album, he shied away from too much rock posturing [though not on the title track] and he was equally interested in adding texture or even rhythmic elements that were miles away from what “rhythm guitar” usually implies. The dub-inspired noise/skank of “Small Talk Stinks” indicates a potential P.I.L. influence, but one would never mistake Ash for Keith Levene.

The use of an early handheld L.E.D. video game for sound effects and Ash’s wild sax runs on “Dive” add a manic energy to the program. Though “goth” is typecast as stentorian and plodding, music like this belies that preconception and shows that inasmuch as they were developmental to the genre, they followed their own muse completely outside the outlines whenever they saw fit.

After I got all four Bauhaus albums, I felt that their debut was the strongest with a little high ground ceded on each subsequent release. While I still feel that way 30 years later, it bears mentioning that I considered even “Burning From The Inside” a pretty great album. I find that Bauhaus managed to keep their artistic prow above water pretty effectively even while they sank a little each outing. That was because they started out on such a high standard. They wisely broke up before the full onslaught of the dreaded mid-80s, and all of their splinter groups/efforts going forward for almost a decade also managed to delight as they moved into new territories. At least until the mid 90s, when I heard Love + Rockets and Peter Murphy albums that finally failed to delight. I still have not heard the fifth and final Bauhaus album, “Go Away White.” That came out in 2008 but I’ve not yet had the pleasure.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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2 Responses to Record Review: Bauhaus – In The Flat Field

  1. Echorich says:

    Go Away White is a must hear. It is the product of a band that spent 10 odd years trying to get it right again in the live forum and finally taking a stab at bringing it to record. The fact that they had moved on from one another again prior to it’s release make the results even more engaging. The album struck me as the product of a band searching out their muse again, finally catching back up with it, caging it and creating the work only to let the muse escape again.

    As for Sky’s Gone Out – and it’s companion album Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape, it’s all together the band’s darkest album. Fragmented, and stark yet very powerful, it contains one of the most dangerous and compelling cover song I’ve ever heard in their take on Eno’s Third Uncle. Where Eno’s original is strict, martial, Bauhaus’ version is a shambolic three legged race over track strewn with glass. Murphy sings with an almost detatched nature more concerned about getting the song to the end. Daniel Ash’s guitars on Swing The Heartache soar against a machine like industrial beat. The Three Shadows is a sort of dark cabaret act. Silent Hedges and the album version of Spirit are much closer to their live sound which was dense and dark with stabs of excitement and chaos.
    Press The Eject is great because it captures the live sound that they had built up over multiple tours and in different countries. Pretensions are lost and the band cut loose on tracks like Terror Couple Kill Colonel and Stigmata Martyr. Man With The X-Ray Eyes is tremendous and Waiting For The Man is shambolically beautiful.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – So right on the live Bauhaus of this period. I first encountered “Terror Couple Kill Colonel” as the flip side to the “Spirit” 7″ [I had to have that smooth version of the song] and was blown away by the ferocity of it. Hearing the staid studio version years later when I got the [awesome] CD version of “In The Flat Field” when it came out in 1988 was a shocker. It was like hearing the Eno version of “Third Uncle” after hearing the Bauhaus version first.


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