Exquisite Corpse: Another Resurrection of Bauhaus

1982’s The Sky’s Gone Out ended with Bauhaus’ first “Exquisite Corpse.”

As their first new music since 2008, Bauhaus — the seminal early eigthies Goth band that blessed the world (or cursed it, depending on your point-of-view) with the immortal “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” — have returned to a method of songwriting not seen since the last track on their third album, 1982’s The Sky’s Gone Out. That song, “Exquisite Corpse,” takes its name, and method of composition, from a word (and illustration) game played in or around 1925 by dadaists (cum surrealists) André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert and Yves Tanguy. It’s now 2022, and — using that same cadavre exquis style of writing Bauhaus has released “Drink the New Wine.”

The  song’s title refers to that very first exquisite corpse endeavor by Breton and company that, when collected, included the phrase: “Le cadavre exquis boiara le vin nouveau” (“The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine”). True to its inspiration (and form), Bauhaus’ “Drink the New Wine” is a set of pieces each separately created by the band’s four members  — frontman Peter Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, and bassist David J, backed by his brother Kevin Haskins on drums. With their parts remotely recorded during the pandemic, none had heard what the others had done initially. Not until the song finally came together.

From a press release comes more details: “For the recording, the four musicians each had one minute and eight tracks at their disposal plus a shared sixty seconds plus four tracks for a composite at the end.” It continues to note that “the only common link being a prerecorded beat courtesy of Kevin.”

By no means a toe-tapper, “Drink the New Wine” is a tough tune to like upon first listen. Disjointed by design — but bound in (non)sense by our very need to make meaning out of words strung together — the song’s distinct sections would seem to reflect (as they should) the personalities of each band member. Daniel Ash’s semi-psychedlic Marc Bolan-esque playfulness starts the track. “Off to the funny farm,” he sings, strumming a twelve-string guitar. Then Peter Murphy’s commanding baritone breaks that melody with a rather stark repetition of “dreaming of a perfect world” (reminiscent of “life is but a dream” from “Exquisite corpse, forty years earlier). Next up is David J’s wistful acoustic hum, a refrain of “the roulettista rolls the dice” (a reference most likely to modern illusionist Derek DelGaudio’s act where a man gets rich playing a sort of Russian Roulette until, one day, he is ironically shot by a burglar). That section of the song ends with what sounds very much like a muffled gun shot.

All is underscroed by Kevin Haskins’ steady beat of backmasking and reverb-ladden fills. Then parts comes together, with a return to the center that is Peter Murphy — whose beautiful “you’re the cooling shadow of my cloud” — leads once again to the stuff of dreams (“we talk in dreams”) as he and his bandmates alternate among the musical and lyrical themes from all parts of the song.

The final minute suggests what this cadavre exquis ends up, in effect, becoming: “not building a wall, but making a brick.” These pieces do not divide and confine. Instead, they come together, and make something out of what otherwise would be fragements. Musicians very familiar with being apart, then coming together.

Peter Murphy, back in true form, during a one-off gig in 2019. 2022 will see Bauhaus on the road for an extended tour. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)

First famously reunited for a short “Resurrection Tour” in 1998, Bauhaus has come together one other time since their initial split in 1983. That reunion (from 2005 to 2008) led to their last official studio album, Go Away White — a solid outing that contains the standout Too Much 21st Century. A one-off show in 2019 would follow. But 2022 and 2023 promises an extensive tour.

Still, no album is planned. Unlike Sky’s Gone Out, no theatrically grand “Spirit, creeping rock of “Silent Hedges,” or manic fun of a cover of Brian Eno’s “Third Unlce” may come to accompany this single exquisite corpse. And that’s a shame. Because Bauhaus are capable of great theatricality and pulse-pounding rock.

In advance of the upcoming shows, what we are left with to judge this particular return is only “Drink the New Wine.”

Is it pop? No. Is it rock? Probably not. Is it art? That’s in the eye, or ear, of the beholder.

But it’s certainly got my attention.

And that’s why the song — as divisive as it may be among old fans and new — is more of an annoucement of resurrection of Bauhaus — one of Goth rock’s most theatrical acts ever — than it is a song you or I will be blaring on the car stereo. It’s a call to attention that this band is back from the (un)dead.

And that there’s never been anyone quite like them.