Peter Murphy – Ninth (2011)

Posted: June 9, 2011 in Music

As frontman for Bauhaus, the legendary gothic rock band in the early 80s, Peter Murphy quickly established himself as one of music’s most curious characters. His style and swagger were undeniable as he led his band – and gothic music as a whole – out of the graveyards and dank cellars into the spotlight of pop culture.

When Bauhaus broke up in 1983, Murphy bid his band mates a fond adieu and carried on as a solo artist – with varied levels of success – until his breakthrough album Deep in 1990, which contained several hit singles both here and abroad. If Murphy needed a lift from star to superstar, Deep was the ticket. It still had the gothic skeleton, but the muscles and skin were made up of synthesized euro-pop that was all the rage at the time. Coupled with his reputation from Bauhaus, the album elevated Murphy to music icon status.

And being an icon has its privileges. Murphy’s position as the “godfather of goth” has led to many collaborations over the years with various artists (his work with Trent Reznor being my favorite), as well as as a couple of Bauhaus reunions. Not unlike David Bowie, the man the music and the fashion have been a style all its own for decades. But Peter Murphy is best at just being Peter Murphy, and fresh off the heels of 2008’s Bauhaus finale Go Away White, Murphy returns with a new collection of solo material titled Ninth.

With his first solo album in seven years, Murphy is back with a collection of haunting, deep songs that once again bring out the best of one of rock’s most mysterious troubadours.

But not from the get go. Usually albums begin with one of the stronger tracks on the album. This is not the case with Ninth. “Velocity Bird” stumbles out of the gate with the alt-rock noise of fuzzy guitars and Murphy being inexplicable off-tune. It was like he hadn’t finished chewing his last bite of salad before grabbing the mic. The track leveled out about midway through, so it wasn’t a complete loss. A bit of an auspicious start, however.

The very Bauhaus-sounding “Seesaw Sway” was next, and I immediately stopped scratching my head over the first track. The eighties goth vibe is laid on pretty thick, but it’s music to the ears. As pleasing as the music was, what took hold of the track was the ominous haunt and flow of Murphy’s voice, ebbing from a whisper to a near scream during the chorus. The track is bound for the charts, and should have no problem climbing near the top. Great single.

The shoegazing becomes shoe-stomping on the third track “Peace To Each,” which, despite it’s calming title, is a rocker start to finish. It reminded me of the better stuff from The Cult, and was the right song at the right time to inject some attitude and energy in to the album.

In typical Murphy fashion, the next track backs off a bit. “I Spit Roses” (the albums first single) floats nicely from verse to verse instrumentally, and the cryptic vocals really have you paying attention to Murphy, whose voice changes from dictative verse to flowing “whoas” throughout. Not hard to figure out why this was the first single. Beautifully done.

“Never Fall Out” came at me as some kind of Joy Division/U2 hybrid that didn’t feel right. Maybe it was the fact that the album really slowed down here, or maybe it was the fact that the song really didn’t have that “Peter Murphy” feel. Either way, it was – at least for me – pretty forgettable.

The lowest depths of Murphy’s vocal range kick off “Memory Go.” The song builds through the first verse into a synth laden chorus that, while monotonous, was quite infectious. Some nice guitar overlays add a bounce to this song that make it easily the catchiest song so far. A creepy vocal interlude near the end was well-placed and reminded me that this is indeed still a goth rock album. Again, well done.

“The Prince & Old Lady Shade” (which was offered up as the B-side to the albums first single) opens with an orchestral feel. As one of the best storytellers in music, we finally get a story from Murphy. Accompanied by a nice guitar rhythm, his voice is as powerful as ever here. When I don’t have time to listen to the whole album in the future, I’ll be at least coming back to this track. Vintage.

“Uneven & Brittle” is exactly what the title declares. Broken guitar riffs and choppy vocals are the catch of the day here. It reminds me of the times Murphy spent with Reznor, and while the song is a little disjointed, it succeeds at bringing a little something different to the table. I can understand why many might not like this track, but I thought it was great visionary art-rock. Sometimes you don’t have to be pretty to be beautiful.

After a couple of pretty memorable tracks, “Slowdown” enters the picture as the ninth track. While not the best track on the album, it has a palpable groove to it and Murphy’s voice carries yet another track. Nothing special musically, and average by the standards set by the rest of the album, but definitely more than filler.

“Secret Silk Society” is more gothic than anything else on the album. The true goths will eat this alive, as it sounds like Murphy is lost in the middle of a dark forest surrounded by the souls of his past. A bit too “Twilight” for me (which, off topic, Murphy had a minor role in), but as a homage to all the black mascara and fingernails everywhere, Murphy again succeeds.

The album closer “Creme de la Creme” carries an unexpected brightness to it – more so considering the previous was such a dire dirge of darkness. A light piano tickles its way through the first verse that gives way to a grandiose vocal styling similar to David Bowie at his finest. Amazing use of tone and range here, and if this is the swan song for Murphy, he couldn’t have sent it off any better.

Will this be Peter Murphy’s last goodbye before he returns to the shadows? I certainly hope not. But if it is farewell, this album is a decent representation of Murphy’s ability to tear down musical walls and cross the bridges from genre to genre flawlessly. Personally, I hope there are many more albums to come, but only time will tell – and only the enigma that is Peter Murphy knows for sure.

7.5/10

Tracklist:
01. Velocity Bird
02. Seesaw Sway
03. Peace To Each
04. I Spit Roses
05. Never Fall Out
06. Memory Go
07. The Prince & Old Lady Shade
08. Uneven & Brittle
09. Slowdown
10. Secret Silk Society
11. Creme de la Creme

http://www.amazon.com/Ninth-Peter-Murphy/dp/B004VBAHG6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1307662261&sr=8-1

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