’MISSIVE TO AN ANGEL FROM THE HALLS OF INFAMY AND ALLURE’
Not only busy with the upcoming Bauhaus reformation the band’s iconic bass player has a rather fine solo album out writes Andrew J Brooksbank who reviews it her and also wrote this great piece on the pre Bauhaus bands in mid seventies Northampton.
David has recently explained that this album is principally a complex, confessional love letter to his wife, describing in song (and at times he is baring his very soul) ongoing periods of great transition and the many challenges that come with that, for the most part centered largely on a flourishing new love…
In the opening sequence of the epic Mosaic, David eloquently pays a homage of sorts to John ‘The Ox’ Entwistle, the legendary Who bass player who passed away, amidst a fatal mix of groupie and white lines, in room 658 at The Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas in 2002. The track is augmented by an incredible backbone of fiddle and violin performed by Mathias Chaidez playing in tandem with fellow Gentleman Thief Chris Vibberts captivating sitar, a marriage truly made in heaven.
David’s slow strummed minor chord is exquisitely amplified by David Raven’s bongos, the sole percussion on the track. Entwistle’s bass lines were a huge influence on the young Haskins, having witnessed The Who live at Charlton Athletic Football Ground back in 1976 with Brother Kevin and then bandmate Dave Exton….
“we exchanged a secret handshake on that day”
Blue Eyes in the Green Room is a gorgeous, unvarnished, simple number, constructed with guitar, drums and bass, there’s a subtle chord change as the title is delivered, this is a lovely touch as is the occasional sprinkling of piano. The wistful lyrical coda of “there’s a star on the door but its only felt tip on paper” is a rather fitting end to this charming piece.
The brilliant Czech folk violinist Karel Holas (who, incidentally, and rather pleasingly, appears regularly throughout this record) adorns David’s interpretation of Peter Laughner’s sensitively delicate Baudelaire with his absurdly beautiful violin, the sole cover on Missives, the vocal is delivered in the inimitable softly spoken tone that we have come to recognise and savour, much of David’s finest work is delivered this way and Baudelaire is up there with the best of them. Never afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve, Waits and Cave are here, watching from the side-lines…
David is perhaps at his most honest on (I Don’t Want To Destroy) Our Beautiful Thing. A re-working of an original semi-acoustic based number, this has soul baring in spades, an exceptionally personal and incredibly poignant song and one of many highlights of this set. Created with the hugely talented Tim Newman who fuses a hybrid of simulations of traditional Indian and Chinese instruments, the Swarmandal and the Ehru alongside the cello all skilfully tailored to David’s acoustic guitar. Arriving just in the nick of time though, and lifting the mood somewhat is the up tempo sing- a-long Lovelorn, and had this not followed the melancholic Our Beautiful Thing one could be forgiven for feeling this quirky little ditty is a little out of place, lost in a whirlpool of self- confessions but the effect is exactly the opposite. A much needed shift in mood and ambience Lovelorn offers atip of the hat, in its arrangement at least, to the great Johnny Cash and benefitting from a sublime backing vocal courtesy of Emily Jane White.
The shrewd use of the Accordion (played by Aliaksandr Yasinski) on Clandestine Valentine sets a scene; it’s a dusky, smokey dimly lit cellar bar, before slowly inviting in Holas’ beautiful violin, as it teases, weaving in and out of David’s nylon string guitar, the instruments harmonise incredibly well here. An occasional clutch of restrained piano notes attest a darker palette is retained throughout, slowly building to a climax for a sudden execution.
Of Purgatory and Perfume is created by the same four musicians as Clandestine and its David’s vocal arrangement and delivery here that lifts the mood slightly over its predecessor, giving it a much warmer feel, the elegant violin plays a huge part in balancing the scales between melancholy and happiness but does, on occasion, relent, imposing eruptions of darkness. The accordion and violin are at times at odds with each other, but complimenting at the same time, it’s quite refreshing to hear traditional instruments like these played on a record these days.
Brought into life by a synth (courtesy of Anton Newcombe) igniting Italian actress Asia Argento’s delicate spoken words (in her native tongue), David interjects, delivering his vocal effortlessly alongside, as if reading extracts from the pages of a book, or recounting out loud, fragments of a dream Migena and the Frozen Roses (a recently lifted digital single) is a compellingly beautiful song, assembled around a vibrant pronounced bass hook (courtesy of David himself)
No Floods can Drown, previewed exclusively via his Patreon platform back in December of 2015 and performed with nothing but ‘Carmen’, his newly acquired nylon string acoustic guitar, captured raw and bare boned and recorded on his smart phone on Swami’s beach in Encinitas, complete with crashing waves as they lapped at the Californian shoreline. The title, based on a passage from The Song Of Solomon (A.K.A The Song Of Songs) a metaphorical erotic scripture that has exceptional meaning to David and his wife, sonically challenging perhaps but it simply had to be this way, trying to reconstruct something created naturally by nature herself just simply doesn’t work, no twenty four track beach installed mixing desk was available…nor required, message relayed loud and clear.
Pre-Existing Condition, the sister of Lovelorn, to some degree, pleasantly brightens the mood once again, Robert Vasicek does a delightful job engaging bright uplifting piano while Joel Rhodes employs trumpet to equally prodigious effect, a simple love song with a charming, enchanting chorus.
David is a wordsmith of course, quite possibly one of our best and on Copper Level Seven he really shines, from the song’s title (the female subject’s hair colourant of choice) to the simple descriptive “Hazel Eyes behind two Mascara spiders” the listener receives the full picture whilst the author says very little. There’s a rather charming subtle tempo change (with cello and piano) at 1:45s that very slowly and delicately slips back to the original rhythm with the utmost of ease. The addition of harp strings under the mantra of the songs title at the refrain is a nice touch…
(I Walked Away From) The Girl In Yellow is the second of the two David J/Tim Newman collaborations on the album. This one was knocked into shape at Beck Studio, Wellingborough in August of last year following David’s triumphant return to the biological birth place of Bauhaus’ seminal industrial goth slab Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Inspiration came listening to Golden Cloud’s One (Tim’s Krautrock outfit) whilst driving across the Californian desert with nothing but the severed head of a Bubbleman for company, a rough demo of vocals and guitar was sent to Tim with a simple remit “do some Golden Cloud on this…” with the backing track created by Tim completed, David’s vocal and nylon guitar parts were added at Beck. Interestingly, the transition from initial sketch to final piece is not actually that big a leap, with Tim very much retaining the essence of the original demo. David’s initial strumming remains from that original sketch but with added texture. In its unaccompanied raw state Tim has created a very thought provoking soundscape before adding a simple pre-programmed drum rhythm track as the backbone, draping synth, rhythm guitar and swathes of e-bow guitar over the skeletal drum pattern. With so much going on low in the mix this one is another highlight.
In full reflective mood (Best Western Blues) David, whilst sat alone sipping bourbon on the hotel balcony is asking himself a question….he’s pondering leaving behind the eternal Californian sun for a move to the Grey city. All his questions remain just those…questions, that is until the swirling crescendo of piano, violin and accordion, of which the mantra at the refrain leans, declares that perhaps the wings of the eagle will take him there. Maybe his question has been answered after all.
The title track; Missive To An Angel From The Halls Of Infamy And Allure is lyrically, perhaps the most heartfelt, pensive and direct track on this record, the author here is an absolute open book, speaking largely in first person reflecting on a history of adultery and betrayal, trying to come to terms with the thoughts and feelings of the second person. It’s probably at this juncture that the culmination of violin, Accordion and piano reach their zenith, each instrument gently interweaving themselves around the lyrics that David so mournfully delivers, the inclusion of a Flugal horn, played so movingly by Joel Rhodes, adds so much to the sorrowful mood that this song so eloquently captures.
On paper, revisiting one of his own compositions in 2019 (The Auteur) some seventeen years after the original appeared (included within The Guitar Man e.p.) seemed an odd choice, but given the subject matter, unfortunately more relevant today than it ever was back in 2002, particularly with the fall of one of Hollywood’s biggest film producers amidst sexual abuse allegations. One of the first women to speak out against the former Miramax partner was actress Rose McGowan, Rose appears here making an emotional presence on the track’s coda. Adding much more substance and instrumentation over its first outing The Auteur (Redux) benefits hugely from Emily Jane White’s ethereal backing vocals throughout, whilst Paul Wallfisch’s evocative opening strings and haunting backing vocals create the initial disposition quite exquisitely. Commissioning the use of violin, cello and viola to create the lush swirling myriad of sound that garnish The Auteur has paid off immeasurably by shaping one of the finest moments on this record.
Back in 1983 whilst many of us were still lamenting the loss of Bauhaus, David presented his debut long player; Etiquette Of Violence, his cabaret in black if you will, its opening number was I Hear Only Silence Now and saw him take inspiration from people like John Cage and Steve Reich employing the astute use of silence between the melancholic C and E minor guitar chords of the introduction, the silence often speaking louder than the music itself, David once again revisits his past here, this time substituting guitar for piano courtesy of Emily Jane White, who also provides stunning lead vocals alongside David’s own. The chorus effect placed on Emily’s voice here is quite simply magnificent.
The creator of Missive To An Angel From The Halls Of Infamy And Allure has made no secret of the fact that this could very well be his swansong as far as solo albums are concerned and utilising I Hear Only Silence Now to close this mighty fine assemblage is a rather fitting and poignant end.
What is blindingly obvious whilst listening to this album is the astounding quality of the musicianship and the song writing, David J has suggested recently that he feels this record is his “little masterpiece” its not, its his BIG masterpiece!
© Andrew J Brooksbank / September 2019
Glass Modern: October 18 2019 / 2 LP record (GLAMLP014) / Compact Disc (GLAMCD014)