The year 1979 was a watershed for gloom bands, what with the release of Joy Division's memorably dark and unsettling debut and the Cure's less auspicious but equally bleak first album. Still, taking top honors as the dreariest, dirgiest and most all-around depressing disc of that year was Bauhaus' debut EP, Bela Lugosi's Dead. With that record, frontman Peter Murphy managed to parlay his tortured bleating and taste for graveyard imagery into premier goth-rock band status for Bauhaus. Sadly, though, in only a few short years, Bauhaus and nihilistic peer Joy Division both experienced the untimely loss of their lead vocalists: Division singer Ian Curtis hung himself on the eve of his group's American tour; Murphy, in an only slightly less dramatic exit, threw several nasty temper tantrums and dropped out of his band.
Since then, Murphy has continued to torment listeners with the studied despair of his solo efforts. As for the rest of the Bauhausers, the glum Limeys have dabbled in a series of projects that've been markedly more cheery than their previous band's angst-epics. First off, bassist David J. joined the jocular folk-punk act Jazz Butcher. Shortly after that, guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins (together with Glenn Campling) served a one-year stint in the avant-pop trio, Tones On Tail. Ash, J., and Haskins then decided to join forces once again in 1985 for Love and Rockets, which has since served up some bright, ultradanceable tracks like "Kundalini Express" and "Ball of Confusion."
How does Ash explain this metamorphosis from mopey goth-rock to cutting-edge dance music? "Times just change, and Bauhaus was relevant for that time," theorizes Ash in a phone interview from his Orlando, Florida, hotel room. "But we had to do something different with Love and Rockets. It's not really a progression. There are just more shades to this band than there were to Bauhaus, more variation within the sound. I'd like to think this band is more three-dimensional. We wanted to do that in Bauhaus--to open out more. But we all weren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye toward the end."
Bauhaus' bitter split in 1983 was spurred chiefly by megalomaniac Murphy's refusal to let his bandmates take a more active role in molding the group's sound. "Love and Rockets is far more liberating in that respect," notes Ash. On the Rockets' material, Ash and David J. share lyricist chores, while all three members chip in with ideas when it comes to the music.
Although he denies harboring any grudges against Murphy, Ash admits he's no longer chummy enough with the sullen songwriter to ask him out for a beer. "We sort of don't have a reason to see each other these days," sniffs Ash.
When asked about Murphy's recent output--last year's Love Hysteria LP, specifically--Ash oozes the polite disdain that Keith Richards displays when critiquing Mick Jagger's solo work. "It really isn't my sort of thing," shrugs the singer. "I'm not trying to slag him off, but it sounds like session musicians to me. The sound he gets--that sort of very polished sound--leaves me cold. I must admit I don't think it's half as good as Bauhaus. I don't think it has half the potency."
Funny, that's the same complaint lodged against some of Ash's post-Bauhaus work. The band likes to think of the first Rockets' outing, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, as wildly eclectic. But wildly inconsistent is a better description of this half-assed hodgepodge of musical genres. Far more satisfying was the band's followup, Express, which boasted a big 'n' beefy dance beat on numbers like "Ball of Confusion." But the Love boys unleashed another clunker with '87's Earth-Sun-Moon, which was distinguished only by the strangely Jethro Tullish "No New Tale to Tell."
With its latest LP, the incredibly murky Love and Rockets, the band continues its steady descent into inaccessibility. Sure, the eponymous record isn't without its listenable spots--the languid hit "So Alive" is fairly hypnotic and "Motorcycle" is a catchy glam-metal bump and grind --but those standouts hardly compensate for the ambient art-noodling and cryptic lyrics that litter the rest of the LP.
Ash, for one, prefers to think of the lyrics on the new album as intensely "personal" rather than bafflingly esoteric. The singer refuses to apologize for writing solely to please himself. "Doing it any other way would be very contrived," asserts Ash.
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Considering that he follows the writing method of notorious California author and inebriate Charles Bukowski, it's no wonder Ash's imagery is often so aggravatingly fuzzy. The bohemian scribe, as you may have heard, precribes slamming down several drinks before ever even picking up a pen. Getting slightly soused is likewise a pre-writing ritual for Ash. In fact, the singer bragged in a recent interview that he's never written a song while sober.
"I write late, late at night, which is the usual thing with most people, I guess," explains the singer. "I just like a few drinks to bring out the emotions. Obviously, if you have too much you can get distorted, but just enough actually stimulates you. All the distractions get put out the window."
Partaking in a few stiff shots is especially effective in conjuring up those less-than-sunny emotions, Ash claims. The songwriter got wasted, and wallowed in depression a lot while writing the tracks on Love and Rockets, some of which almost seem like dreary throwbacks to the Bauhaus days. Ash doesn't mind admitting that he still sees a lot of glamour in gloom.
"I think [depression] is a luxury we can afford ourselves in the Western world because we don't have to worry about the next meal," reasons Ash. "We can afford to indulge in these emotions that some people would call subversive and others would say are totally natural. It depends on how you perceive it. As for me, that melancholy is actually quite enjoyable in a strange sort of way."