Review Summary: An altogether progressive and meandering second effort from the Northampton Goth-rockers. The title of the album is probably misleading, because this album is indeed one of the most varied i've ever had the pleasure of listening to.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Having been born in 1992, I have absolutely no idea how effective the music of Bauhaus would have been in the Metal-dominant 80's. One thing's for sure though, Bauhaus must have been very original to gain such a major success from 80% of their discography (the remaining 20% is that of their latest album released in 2008, Go away White). It all started with their debut opus, In the Flat Field, an album that more than defined a massive shift of the looming Punk Rock genre still hanging on to the arse-end of the 1970's. However, not to be restrained to ridiculous genre barriers, Bauhaus were a band looking for every ounce of creativity they could find, and it certainly showed. Short, snappy, punk-fuelled songs such as 'Dive' and 'St.Vitus Dance' made way for the gothic-rock leanings of 'Nerves' and 'A God in an Alcove'. Even before they recorded this surprisingly successful album, they had a 30-date tour, and released a number of singles, one of which should jog the memory of those who were around in the early 80's, 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'.
The album released one year after, Mask, didn't exactly change anything. Bauhaus were yet to reach their peak, and unfortunately, it wasn't this, their second album that catapulted the band to that spot. The album cover, representing a Black-and-White drawing of something resembling a bear behind what looks like a human being, was actually drawn by then-guitarist and saxophonist Daniel Ash. That is how creative the band was. It wasn't just the cover that, whilst evidently badly drawn, made Bauhaus really stand out, but by incorporating a smattering of keyboard melodies and acoustic interludes, their sound had just got much more progressive. Naturally, they remained in the Gothic Rock circuit alongside The Cult and The Damned, but creativity was what helped to cement Bauhaus in a field of their own.
Kicking off interestingly enough with a repetitive drum beat and a recurring guitar note, 'Hair of the Dog' sets the standard for what was to be a very varied album. Peter Murphy's vocals, as always, give fresh personality to most of the songs found on Mask, though at times his vocals can weaken the choruses of songs such as 'The Passion of Lovers' and 'The Man with the X-ray eyes'. Murphy's vocals are not always this weak, however, and it certainly shows on the gloom of the title track and the extremely funky 'Kick in the Eye'.
As stated earlier, the progression of Bauhaus' sound from their debut album to Mask is crystal clear. Take 'Of Lilies and Remains' for example, with Murphy almost speaking rather than singing throughout, and the guitar being strummed very finely, and a recurring synthesiser note that wouldn't sound out of place on a B-Horror movie soundtrack. Put this next to any other song on the album, and it would still sound completely different to what you've just heard. 'In Fear of Fear', with its very poppy and funky intro, used together with an out-of-control saxophone being played endlessly, proves to be one of the highlights of Mask, yet again, including Murphy's sometimes monotonous vocals.
The overflowing variety of Mask isn't always as effective as the aforementioned songs, however. At times, the use of keyboards and synthesisers can falter when being played upon a background of half-hearted guitar notes, as in 'Dancing', and it can get frustrating when trying to listen to a song in depth. Even the barely one-minute 'Hollow Hills', which breaks the flow somewhat abruptly, should either have been cut from the album for good or added to.
There are heavier songs which make good use of both guitars and bass though. The funkiness of 'Kick in the Eye' gives off a very upbeat tone and never stops with its reverberating Punk sound and Murphy's excessive use of his ever-changing vocal melodies. 'Muscle in Plastic' is another prime example of how well the bass guitar is used, and the eccentricity of the title track.
Keyboards are another key example of how varied Bauhaus' music is structured on Mask. 'The Man with the X-Ray Eyes', a short yet deep song named after the film of the same name, is introduced with scattered keyboard notes, and a recurring guitar note that seems to haunt your ears moments after the song is finished.
Mask is not what most people would call 'sell-out', but in the 80's it certainly did cement Bauhaus' status as one of the most prolific and successful bands of any genre. Its just a shame that, though they have not been forgotten entirely, the band lost interest to the outbursts of the Rock, Metal and Pop genres, and in the 90's they didn't even seem to exist. But Mask, along with the three other Bauhaus offerings for the early 80's, certainly did make its mark on an otherwise Metal and Pop dominating decade. Bauhaus, if ever they do split up, will always be remembered for the success of their first four albums, not least because of the fact that their sound constantly changed in between their records of the 80's.