Album Review: Peter Murphy, Ninth

Article first published as Music Review: Peter Murphy - Ninth on Blogcritics

Ex-Bauhaus vocalist and solo star Peter Murphy rolls back the years on his latest album, Ninth, and delivers arguably the hardest-rocking set of his career.

Murphy amps up the goth-glam hybrid that has fueled his best work here, as if he’s no longer concerned about any past musical baggage and is now free to just do “Peter Murphy” better than anyone else. This is apparent from the disc’s opening track, “Velocity Bird,” with its crunchy guitars and glam-rock insouciance, Murphy emoting the lines, “I’m a velocity bird / faster than all speeding cars,” with an Iggy Pop-ish swagger.

“Seesaw Sway” keeps the momentum going nicely with some strong vocals (Murphy is surely one of the last great singers in rock and roll, with his hero David Bowie now on the sidelines) and a retro-'80s feel, versatile guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite, Murphy’s secret weapon throughout Ninth, providing some early U2-ish chiming riffs.

The moody goth-pop that Murphy worked to such great effect on previous solo high points like 1995's Deep is revisited nicely here on “I Spit Roses,” with its vocal gymnastics on the chorus, and “Never Fall Out,” a slow ballad given punch by the passion of Murphy’s singing.

It’s the rockers here, however, that really hit the mark. “The Prince and Old Lady Shade” is a glam-stomper that has been a highlight of recent Murphy shows, with its Bowie-esque lyrical conceits and chunky guitar riffing that Bowie’s late Spiders From Mars axeman Mick Ronson would surely have approved of. The doomy “Uneven and Brittle” is even harder and heavier, Murphy rocking out as he declaims, “It’s myself I deceive / I got all that I asked for.”

Those looking for a frisson of Bauhaus-styled dramatics on Ninth won’t be disappointed, as “Secret Silk Society” conjures up the requisite feel of gothic decadence and dread, with some hints of the band’s classic track “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” tucked into its smoldering sounds. Here, Murphy conjures a very Bauhaus-like lyrical scenario (“Under the doppled glade / arched embracers, trees and more”) that would have been at home on the band’s Burning From The Inside album. “Crème De La Crème,” a piano ballad, closes the album with another strong, dramatic vocal and some dystopian imagery: “Our concrete minds have turned to dust / angelic police have killed our lust,” Murphy mourns.

Overall, Peter Murphy is still delivering the goods when most of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. Ninth, aside from its prosaic title, showcases more wit, talent, skill and imagination than seen in any dozen boring college-rock bands you could name rolled into one.

Yes, in a world of self-effacing, self-conscious musical dullards, Peter Murphy is still a rock star — and that is a very good thing indeed.

--Johnny "Gutter" Walker

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