Since powering up goth pioneers Bauhaus in 1979, Peter Murphy remains an enigmatic figure whose music and mysticism have landed him the unofficial role of goth grandpappy. "We were the adjective of dark music," Murphy says of his Bauhaus days. "That was always a chain around our necks. But I understand that dark is the replacement for mysterious or unfathomable. So from that point of view, it's probably fitting."
While Murphy's post-Bauhaus career has spanned 17 successful years since the release of his 1986 solo debut, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, his chameleon-like approach to songwriting has yielded a constantly evolving series of releases. Through it all, Murphy's distinguished baritone combined with fertile orchestrations have been the mainstay. And on his latest, Dust, the ever-changing Murphy continues to venture on a path to enlightenment. Dust, Murphy's most Middle Eastern-influenced effort, strays from expectations by opting for a collection of world-music tunes that soars like a clichéd magic carpet. On the opening "Things to Remember," Hugh Marsh's electric violin surrounds Persian beats and the rings of an exotic kanun. Elsewhere, "Just for Love" merges a more traditional Murphy with layers of synth effects that drift like translucent mirages in a sandy desert, while the heartbeat-like percussion on "Your Face" comes across like a secret pre-battle war song. "Jungle Haze" weaves colorful string arrangements with tribal skin-pounding that intensifies as the song progresses, while "My Last Two Weeks" yields all the dynamism and drama that long-time fans have come to expect.
With no obvious hit single, Dust will come across as an obtuse work whose soul is strictly Middle Eastern, but Murphy (who moved from England to Istanbul a decade ago with his wife and two children) sees it differently. "I don't know how to define this album," he muses. "That's what I like about it. I think this open space encompasses all sorts of elements. When I play it to my Turkish friends, they don't hear it as a Turkish album. They hear it as a Western album. That was one thing I wanted out of this album: to not make it like a world album and a record of Peter Murphy living in Turkey. I wanted authentic East and West."
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For the creation of Dust, Murphy teamed with Turkish musician Mercan Dede after Murphy's wife, Beyhan, was considering using Dede's music in one of her modern-dance-company pieces. Murphy, unfamiliar with his work, listened to one of his albums that lay around the house and was intrigued. "Then the telephone rang, and it was Mercan, which was completely weird," Murphy marvels. "I knew he was going to be the person who was going to work with me. Living in Turkey, I had become accustomed to hearing Turkish music in a traditional form. But this was very contemporary." The two co-wrote three songs, and once those were completed, Murphy remembers, "I knew this was going to be the mindset of the album."
Dust is Murphy's sixth studio full-length, his first since 1995's Cascade. Last year's live double-disc Alive Just for Love was basically Murphy "unplugged," performing Bauhaus and his solo songs with stripped-down instrumentation that stepped away from elaborate electronics. "I used the tour [that would become the album] as a way to just open up the vocals and concentrate on relaying purely and coming at the audience as a vocalist with very minimal backing," Murphy says.
Another boost for Murphy was the 1998 summer reunion of Bauhaus. Originally scheduled for just a handful of shows, the regrouping went on to take the original lineup (Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J., and drummer Kevin Haskins) on a worldwide tour. "The Bauhaus reunion was a wonderful thing to do at the time, and I think it was something that all of us needed," Murphy says. "I was able to immerse myself in something that felt very right for that year. Revisiting the Bauhaus music and performing with the other guys was, to be honest, completely thrilling and revitalizing. It was an amazing tour -- we were able to put all the personal ghosts to rest, and it was positive. The trick of rejuvenation is reassessment." Around the same time as the tour, Murphy released 1998's Recall, a mini-album featuring remakes of "Indigo Eyes" and "Roll Call" plus a new, Arabic-tinged "Surrendered." "That [album] was like a bridging release that served at the time to remind the Peter Murphy audience that Peter Murphy wasn't gone; he was just out on a nice sabbatical with Bauhaus."
Murphy's own music has explored the topic of Sufism, the mystical, spiritual practice of Islam. Catholic-born Murphy claims he never made the official move. "I've always been a religious person, but I wouldn't say I actually converted to Islam, because there's no such thing as conversion," he explains. "It wasn't a case where I suddenly became an Arabic-dressed Muslim. The question begs: What is a Muslim? Being a Muslim basically means that you've surrendered to the idea of a creator. It's a question that needs to be answered very carefully without all the clichés that go along with the name and get misunderstood along the way. The essence of what people understand about Islam is actually the essence of all religions. I've found that easy to accept."
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After the Bauhaus tour (which visited Sunrise Musical Theatre in the summer of 1998), Murphy was looking forward to getting back in the studio to work on a batch of new songs. However, Red Ant Entertainment, which had released Recall, went bankrupt. The delay, Murphy says, also played a role in the development of Dust, which, like Alive Just for Love, was released by Metropolis Records. "I had a whole album's worth of other music, a very different album to Dust," he says. "But in retrospect, I wouldn't have wanted my album to be anything other than what it is. It happened in its own time, really."
While Murphy has occasionally tinkered with Middle Eastern sounds and scales in his music, his own life is completely immersed in the culture of the region. "Istanbul is probably the most exciting city in the world, on many different levels," Murphy says. "When I first moved there, it was quite hard, but I realized culture shock is a state of mind. It took me practically a year just to start writing again. You take the culture to the extent to where you don't see it as a Westerner. But [Turkey] is unique and quite different from the surrounding countries like Egypt, Iraq, Iran in the sense that it's always been the meeting point between East and West. When you're there, you can feel that, in the architecture and in the culture."
As his solo career once again becomes his primary focus, Murphy doubts that the magic of the Bauhaus reunion will be repeated. "I've been trying to persuade the other guys to re-form Bauhaus for three albums or whatever," he explains. "I think it was almost impossible for the other guys, who've been working together as Love and Rockets for 15 years, to be able to separate their psychology and to work together. It's a real leap they would have to take. They got tired of working with each other. I think they burned themselves out.
"I don't think Bauhaus will ever work. But Bauhaus has its own odd, peculiar, mythical place in a way, whether we were a band or not. And that has nothing to do with us: It's in the hands of that Bauhaus audience."