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Bauhaus: In the Flat Field (Omnibus)

September 30, 2010

Today’s roll: 1 – 2 – 14.

Result: In The Flat Field (Omnibus edition) by Bauhaus.

Nearly 30 years after its release, In The Flat Field remains one of the strongest debut albums ever issued by a band. Blending punk with the glamorous modernism of Bowie, the art-house psychedelia and noise of Syd Barret era Pink Floyd and the doom of Black Sabbath, Bauhaus, for better or worse, created what’s become known as Gothic Rock. Or so says the conventional wisdom of the music press. Various goth historians—and the band members themselves—contest this claim, but even if they weren’t the first, they were the best of the early goth bands.

Certainly you’d be hard pressed to find and album in the post-punk era to equal In The Flat Field‘s unapologetic Hammer film theatricality and abrasive intensity. A two-disc “omnibus edition” was recently released of this seminal work which aims to cast some light on the darkness.
This series of “omnibus” editions being released by 4AD and Beggars Banquet are objects of beauty. The four-disc set of The Cult‘s Love is a must for any fan, containing a whole disc of demos previously available only on the bootleg circuit and an unearthed live set. The omnibus of In the Flat Field is, though beautifully packaged, frankly less successful—at least from the standpoint of previously unavailable and essential material.
Purists may delight in the album being presented in it’s original nine-track form for the first time, but the second disc suffers due to this. There simply aren’t enough brilliant non-album tracks (the vicious ‘Dark Entries’; an excellent cover of ‘Rose Garden Funeral of Sores’) to populate a listenable second disc. The result is the best b-sides and singles are dispersed amongst a mish-mash of demos and duplicative alternative mixes (count ’em, three versions of ‘Terror Couple Kill Colonel’). The previous CD edition of the album contained all the best of these tacked onto the end (with ‘Dark Entries’ at the front) which made for a much better overall listening experience.

It’s great to have these tracks, even if a little more thought in the sequencing of the second disc would have been nice, but none of these unearthed gems are so spectacular that they make up for the most glaring omission—no ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’!?

According to the band’s website a few years ago, the rights were available for licencing so one would think the compilers would have been able to include their historic debut single. Also the 1979 demo sessions previously available with the now out-of-print book Beneath The Mask should have been included along with BBC sessions from the period. Even if it meant a third disc and a few dollars added on to the unit price for licencing, it would have been worth it to present a truly complete picture of Bauhaus’ early years.

This isn’t to say the omnibus edition is a dud. The faithful minature recreation of the LP jacket (right down to the inner sleeves) is enough to inspire fan-shivers. The 48-page book contains a wealth of photos, recollections and interviews is almost worth the price of admission on its own. But then, reading about Bauhaus has always been a bit of a magical experience for me. Few bands bring out the geek-fan in me the way Bauhaus does. Somehow I’m always able to buy right back into my teenage obsession with them where I see the cracks in the exteriors (revealing the cheese underneath) of most of my old favourites. Perhaps it’s because Bauhaus were so far beyond ridiculous and truly owned it.
Jagged, dissonant, funky, dark, humourous and raw, In The Flat Field remains one of the highlights of the post-punk era. If you can ignore the goth label (and visuals), it’s a classic art-rock album to stand up beside the likes of Floyd, Bowie, The Velvet Underground and Can and it’s great to see it finally getting the royal, if flawed, treatment.

 Orginally posted 2009/12/02 at simplysyndicated.com

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