Murphy’s Law

Bauhaus main man stays enigmatic

PETER MURPHY at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne), Saturday (May 6). $25.50. 416-323-1251.

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as one of the lucky few survivors of gothdom, former Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy understands the value of maintaining a mystique as a performing artist, and he’ll protect it at any cost.His desire to remain intriguingly unknowable makes him evasive and contrary when discussing his art. His strategy in dealing with the press seems to be to contradict any critical assertion that comes his way.

When I observe that Murphy’s unmistakable baritone is subordinated to the rhythms and sonic textures on his latest East-meets-West cultural collision experiment, Dust (Metropolis) — recorded with Turkish and Canadian musicians, namely Hugh Marsh and Michael Brook — he disagrees.

“Just the opposite,” insists Murphy during a break from rehearsing his touring ensemble of Fergus Marsh, Mark Kelso, Robert Piltch and Levon Ichkhanian. “I intended to feature my singing more than ever.”

Really? Burying the vocals deep beneath Marsh’s distorted violin drone and Shankar’s trance-inducing tabla beats in the middle of expansive seven minute soundscapes isn’t the best way for Murphy to showcase his voice.

The fact that he credits himself only with “backing vocals” on the album would appear to confirm that the music comes first on Dust.

“Oh, the credits are a bit of a misnomer. I just assumed that everyone would know the lead vocals were mine. With regard to the arrangements, that’s due in part to the unapologetic length of the songs.

“I wanted to give these wonderful players the space to perform and allow their beautifully lyrical sounds to breathe.”

The album’s conspicuous lack of what might be called tunes could create the impression that melody has been sacrificed for mood, but no.

“There’s a song in every piece,” he argues, “it’s just less of a rockist verse-chorus formula.”

You’d think Murphy would at least allow that the more openly structured music puts Dust more in line with film soundtrack work than the rock music for which he’s best known. Nope.

“I’ve got problems with that,” he snaps. “I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to get the idea that this is a world album, which is nowhere, or an ambient album, which is meaningless except on an atmospheric level, or that we’re merely playing with soundtrack-like aesthetics.

“These are very focused pieces of music, like Bela Lugosi’s Dead in the sense that long tracts of non-vocal areas contribute in a powerful way to the full experience of the song.”

Goth gags aside, there are still a number of hardcore Peter Murphy fans who go to his shows and put up with the ersatz world-fusionary fiddling in hopes of hearing one old Bauhaus favourite.

If you’re guessing Murphy is troubled by the fact that his past continues to be his key selling point, guess again.

“It’s a wonderful promise in people’s minds. That’s fine by me. Once I get ’em into the room, I blow them away, and that’s that.”

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