Thursday, February 11, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 08

“The Spy in the Cab”
Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions

Claustrophobic paranoia. That’s probably the most succinct way to describe this Orwellian descent into terror.

Bauhaus’ “The Spy in the Cab” is a perfect four-minute marriage between music and lyric delivery. Matching Peter Murphy’s portrayal of the madman’s descent into paranoia, Daniel Ash’s acoustic guitar slowly devolves to the point where, somewhere around the three-minute mark, it’s a feedback-laden fuzzy mess of nerves. Part of the brilliance of the composition is, amid this downward spiral of guitar and lyrics, Kevin Haskin’s unwavering drum/electronic heartbeats become both comforting and unsettling.

Close your eyes for even a second and you’re in that small, coffin-like cab on a damp London night, headlights reflecting back too brightly off the low-hanging fog. And your mind starts playing tricks on you… Is the camera really there? Can you trust your own judgment? Thrown completely off balance, by song’s end, you don’t know if the fear is real or all in the narrator’s head.

Clocking in a half-minute shorter in running time, the Swing the Heartache version of “The Spy In the Cab” winds things tighter and even more succinctly than the original found on Bauhaus’ debut album, In the Flat Field.

Because Swing the Heartache is a compilation of BBC sessions, there is an immediacy to the songs captured here. “The Spy in the Cab” is one of four tracks (including its musical brother “A God in an Alcove”) pulled from the band’s first appearance on the legendary John Peel Show recorded January 03, 1980. More polished than a concert recording, looser than a studio recording, the cuts find a striking middle ground of insistency.

Always my favorite Bauhaus album – probably because it was released while I was in the thick of it – Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions is a breathtaking document of Bauhaus’ abilities and “The Spy in the Cab” is one of their creepiest, on-the-verge-of-coming-unhinged tales.

Honestly, though, the paranoia of “The Spy in the Cab” can be easily disarmed by a couple of college freshman by simply recasting the ominous “boop” heartbeat of the song in a Monty Python “Machine that goes ‘Bing!’” setting. Yeah, I’m looking at you, John.

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