Peter Murphy - Bare-Boned and Sacred

by Kevin Orton Rating:6 Release Date:2017-03-10

As much as I loved Bauhaus I never seemed to take them quite as seriously as their fans did. Whenever I saw Peter Murphy do his dance moves, it always cracked me up. ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ was done in one take and you can smell the weed in the room. Since leaving his Goth brethren, Murphy’s solo career has been that of a sort of an Art Rock Neil Diamond. A little bit techno, a little bit Goth and Show.  His live album, Bare-Boned and Sacred boasts stripped down versions of a few Murphy classics and a really daring Bowie cover in ‘Bewley Brothers’.

‘Cascade’ kicks the set off with some portentous noodling and then some portentous spoken word. If you were hoping to just hear Murphy’s signature baritone and a lone acoustic guitar, you will be disappointed. He’s brought the synths along to fill things out. It’s an unnecessary move which ultimately makes for some cheesy, dated accompaniment. Despite the 80’s synths, ‘All Night Long’ sounds vibrant with Murphy at one point breaking into French doing his best Jacques Brel.  

‘Marlene’s Favorite Poem’ has always been one of my favorite Murphy songs. The live version is a faithful rendition, Murphy at times sounding a little rough on the high notes.

A rather audacious cover of David Bowie’s ‘Bewley Brothers’ follows. Murphy has never made his Bowie fandom a secret. In terms of Bowie’s cannon however, ‘Bewley Brothers’ has been decidedly hands off. Since cutting it on Hunky Dory, Bowie never went anywhere near it. Nor did he ever cut anything remotely like it again. If he ever performed it live, it was a very rare occasion. For Murphy, it’s a stunt that pays off for the most part. Again, Murphy’s higher register sounds raw and congested on the high notes. But the gruffness works.  At the very least Murphy can be applauded for his balls in covering it. Not many could pull this off. 

‘A Strange Kind of Love’ is another brooding Murphy classic . All it needs is an acoustic guitar and Murphy wisely keeps the synth filler under wraps. It’s a song that never fails to suck you in.

‘The Rose’ is a dramatic and melodic number that sounds like it could have stepped belting out of some Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Murphy’s ravished voice lends the swelling synth strings some edge but at this point, things sound a bit like a Vegas Cirque du Soleil Lounge act.

No Murphy concert would be complete without a little Bauhaus medley. The minute he breaks into ‘King Volcano’, it puts all you’ve heard thus far to shame. A haunting faithful rendition of ‘Kingdom’s Coming’ follows. Murphy’s voice haunting and completely at home. “It’s your big bad secret, your crown of thorns”, Murphy bellows. Before you know it, things have seamlessly segued into ‘Silent Hedges’. Quite frankly you don’t want it to end, hoping the rest of the show will stay in Bauhaus territory. It all makes you realize what’s been missing from Murphy’s solo career all along: Bauhaus. Or at least some band members willing to take the piss rather than play dutiful sidemen.

‘Never Fall Out’ leads us out of the land of Bauhaus into something that sounds more like James Taylor. Murphy once again forcing his voice into a strained, over the top bellow at times.  It’s not a bad song and I’m grateful for the lack of corny synths. However, Gaslit’ brings them back with a vengeance. Once again Murphy is in 80’s Neil Diamond mode. At any moment, one fears he’ll sing, “Turn on your heartlight.”

Murphy’s last solo outing was, ‘Lion’, which I felt was way too overproduced. Stripped down here, the title track fares much better than the album version. Sadly, there are no offerings from Ninth, which for my money, is Murphy’s finest solo album. Also, conspicuously missing is Murphy’s most notable hit, ‘Cuts You Up.’ Not only is it a terrific tune, it would lend itself perfectly to the stripped down acoustic atmosphere. Instead, we’re sent off with some doom laden synthesized Arabic pastiche and a nine-minute dirge, ‘Your Face’. It’s a dull end to an inconsistent set. In terms of the synths, someone please stage and intervention. Peter, lay off the Casio. That deep growl of a voice doesn’t need it.

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