Peter Murphy - Five Albums

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2018-06-22
Peter Murphy - Five Albums
Peter Murphy - Five Albums

Bauhaus may have paved the way for Goth, but their “Goth” was beautifully camp. How else are you going to take a song like, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’? Not to mention bon mots like, “Those Indians wank on his bones”? (‘Antonin Artaud’). There’s some Old Grey Whistle Test footage of David J trying to suppress a chuckle while Peter busts out the dance moves. All going to show there was a healthy piss taking behind Bauhaus’ Goth façade.

All of which may illustrate the difference between Bauhaus and Murphy’s solo career. If you ask me, Murphy’s always been more self-conscious than campy. Truth is, despite his Prince of Darkness appeal, I’ve always found him a bit corny. He’s had some fantastic singles but some of this stuff is so affected and dated it makes me wince. So, I confess, Peter Murphy’s always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Along with an over the top performance style, Murphy’s pretensions are part of his allure along with that deep, Marlboro tinged voice. If this five-album box set reveals anything, it’s that Murphy’s last two solo albums (2011’s Ninth and 2014’s Lion) have been the strongest of his career. I’ll also toss in, Go Away White as one of the best reunion albums around.

Should The World Fail To Fall Apart, picks up right where Dali’s Car (Murphy’s post Bauhaus collaboration with Mick Karn) dropped him off. It sounds less like Bauhaus and more like Karn’s old band, Japan. A promising solo debut but production-wise, it hasn’t aged well. Fat goofy Jazz fusion bass-lines, brittle drums and shrill synths, Murphy croons about ‘Canvas Beauty’ decked out with magniloquent lines like, “He stands Dorian at her”. To be fair, Murphy is still getting his bearings not to mention, moving in the exact opposite direction of Bauhaus. Most tellingly, Fail boasts more covers than any other Murphy album. In fact, his fierce stab at Pere Ubu’s ‘Final Solution’ blows everything else on the album away. Another highlight is, ‘Never Man’ which is the one thing that harks back to Bauhaus territory. Among the bonus tracks there’s a remarkably god-awful attempt at Bowie’s blistering classic, ‘Stay’. Sorry Pete, you should have left this one in the vaults.

Love Hysteria is a far more self-assured turning point. The sound of an artist truly coming into his own. ‘All Night Long’ is a gorgeously moody opener. ‘Indigo Eyes’ beautifully mixes its Gothic lyricism with unabashed Pop. Many of the songs feature Arabic flourishes, a pastiche that appears throughout Murphy’s solo career (credit Murphy’s abiding interest in Islam and his eventual move to Turkey). If ‘Socrates The Python’ overstays its welcome, tracks like ‘Dragnet Drag’ and ‘Blind Sublime’ more than make up for it. Elsewhere, ‘Time Has Nothing To Do with It’ and ‘My Last Two Weeks’ find Murphy in uncharted Neil Diamond power ballad territory. Going to show he could have easily had a career in Musical Theater, belting out Andrew Lloyd Weber tunes. As for the bonus tracks, ‘Tale Of The Tongue’ and ‘I’ve Got A Miniature Camera’ are sure to please longtime fans but the real gem is, ‘Critics Choice’. A biting track that would have only enhanced Hysteria had it been included. Also, among the bonus fare are two renditions of Iggy Pop’s ‘Funhouse’. I’ll never understand Murphy’s penchant for covering such obvious influences but his cabaret take on ‘Funhouse’ is a bit of a revelation. Murphy’s playful sense of humor on full display. A side he all too rarely shows in his solo work.

Deep features Murphy’s biggest hit, ‘Cuts You Up’. Thanks to a ton of MTV play, it raised his stature from cult figure to Alt Rock icon. In many ways Deep capitalizes on Hysteria. ‘A Strange Kind Of Love’ is one of Murphy’s finest ballads.  All Gothic and haunting. ‘Deep Ocean’ and ‘Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem’ are just as strong as ‘Cuts You Up’. However, ‘Seven Veils’ owes too much to ‘All Night Long’ and ‘Thin Line Between The Devils’ Teeth’ is a lamentable reworking of Bauhaus’ ‘In The Flatfield’. If the gesture was meant to be ironic, it only served to take the wind out of Deep’s sails. In addition, the unwieldly ‘Roll Call’ makes for a less than satisfying denouement. While it may be his best-selling album, there’s no denying Deep’s strengths stand in sharp contrast to its shortcomings.

If Deep disappoints in places, Holy Smoke’s opener doesn’t exactly grab you by the throat. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never been able to cozy up with this album. Its not that the material is bad, or that the production is off. It’s just that it doesn’t really let the listener in. One feels as if the emotion displayed has been placed behind museum glass. ‘Kill The Hate’ sounds like something off Should The World Fail To Fall Apart albeit with far better production. ‘Sweetest Drop’ however is the sort of thing Murphy can do in his sleep. And ‘Let Me Love You’ sounds like Neil Diamond again, but in a bad way. If ‘Dream Gone By’ is a stilted, unconvincing rocker, ‘Hit Song’ finally delivers. Towering above the rest. The bonus track, ‘Cool Cool Breeze’ is commendable but the sound quality takes a noticeable dip next to the rest of the album.

The press release for this set proudly hails, Cascade as “sublime”. Not the most-humble assessment but it is without question, the best and least contrived album of the lot. Inspired songwriting and impassioned singing. Never once does Murphy slip into excess or indulgence. Keeping any pretentions at bay. There’s a refreshing exuberance and buoyancy to this long player. He even manages to keep mawkish titles like, ‘Gliding Like A Whale’ afloat. Every track is strong, but the platter du jour is, ‘I’ll Fall With Your Knife’. A career highlight. For years, Murphy tried in vain to shake off his vampiric image. With Cascade, he succeeds. ‘Huuvola’ is one of his most deeply personal songs, revealing a warmth that's not always apparent in his work. There’s nothing to prove. No agenda other than to invite you into its world. Rumi references can be found in ‘Wild Birds Flock To Me’ and the title track is a haunting finale. In terms of the bonus tracks, alongside the predictable remixes that abound throughout this set, ‘Groovy Place’, ‘Wish’ and ‘Sail On White’ are all sure to appease Murphy enthusiasts.   

While the unreleased material will attract long-time fans like a moth to a flame, this box set also serves as a healthy introduction to one of Alt Rock’s the most signature vocalists. While it may be short on revelations, it does provide a fitting alcove in which to worship Goth’s one true god.

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