Bela Lugosi died so Bauhaus could live. In the winter of 1979, just six weeks after forming, a quartet of pale-skinned, coolly clothed, rail-thin 20-something English musicians recorded a malevolent, nine-minute mood piece called “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in one take. The track encompassed a number of landmarks: It was the first song Bauhaus had ever semi-professionally produced and it made for the first time frontman Peter Murphy had sung into a studio microphone. The song, unknowingly, would also come to be considered the moment goth rock — a subgenre that would come to include Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, Cocteau Twins, and others — was born.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was the product of a six-hour session at the Wellingborough-based Beck Studios, during which the group, who was then calling itself Bauhaus 1919 in a tribute to the German art school, would record five songs. Yet, while this conclave has long been regarded as a formative moment in Bauhaus’ incisive career, the seminal Wellingborough demos have never seen an official release. On Friday, Nov. 23, though, that elusiveness came to an end. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the group put out the five-song demo as an EP called “The Bela Session.” It includes an accredited version of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead;” an early rendition of “Harry,” a cut which would later appear on the 1981 LP “Mask;” and three other unreleased tracks.
The EP, which runs for about 20 minutes, is not a collection of muddied, half-realized early takes — as demos tend to be — but an aerodynamic compilation whose efficiency becomes more impressive the more you think about the fact that Bauhaus had just barely started calling itself a band at the time. Per usual, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” with its ambling drums and creeping bass line, is an inexhaustible night terror of a song. What makes this particular take so pleasurable, however, stems from the knowledge that this swiftly composed song would unwittingly work as the chief catalyst for an influential subgenre. Hearing it so fresh and untreated underscores this idea of nativity.
The gothic chills are mostly limited to the nine-minute track, though, the rest of “The Bela Session” primarily comprises perky post-punk. The second song, “Some Faces,” is a two-minute jaunt evocative of a mellow Buzzcocks offshoot; “Bite My Hip” is a jumpy flirtation that makes for an early hint of Murphy’s sprightly onstage verve. The reggae-affected “Harry,” a Debbie Harry-infatuated track that was already a highlight on “Mask,” is an engaging if nonessential listen, as most early versions of great songs usually are. The closer, “Boys,” perhaps comes closest to recapitulating “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”’s malevolence, though the understated macabre of that song is traded for leaner, more rambunctious sonics, the menace upped by synchronously sung, almost cult-like vocals.
Aside from a couple reunions — one in 1998 and the other lasting from 2005 to 2008 — Bauhaus’ run turned out to be ultimately brief. In the summer of 1983, the group broke up, and its members pursued other, ultimately more commercially successful projects. Yet the mark the act would make on goth rock was lasting and render its relatively microscopic discography quintessential, if underappreciated. “The Bela Session” captures Bauhaus just before it would hit the apex of its short but formidable career — something that makes its release all the more novel.
The verdict: This no-frills, formative EP hints at the greatness Bauhaus would later achieve.
Reach writer Blake Peterson email@example.com. Twitter: @blakewpeterson
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