DON'T ROCK. WOBBLE.
In 1983, after five years of various degrees of success and fleeting fame, the Northampton quartet of Bauhaus found itself scattered to the winds, much to the delight of the often-abrasive alternative music press of Britain. This came as little surprise to anyone with a loose familiarity with the biomechanics of the band. Many events leading up to that period in time seemed to point to the idea that a schism was inevitable, with guitarist Daniel Ash and lead singer Peter Murphy pulling in two opposite directions.
There are many possible explanations as to why there was such friction between Ash and Murphy. Although they shared the same kind of savoir faire that was so characteristic of glam-rock of the day (and gothic rock in any decade), Murphy was the de facto if not de jure coordinator of Bauhaus, a flamboyant attention-seeker who pulled out all the stops onstage; Ash, on the other hand, was more down-to-earth and reserved, inclined to put substance above style.
Moreover, Ash had very different ideas about how he felt the band should proceed, emboldened by a greater degree of input in some of the group's later work. He, along with many other people, was growing tired of his friend Peter's creative direction. Murphy's lyrics read all too often like cryptic, postmodernist poetry with no clearly discernable rhyme pattern or theme. In addition, he seemed rather content to stick to the classic gothic-punk guitar, bass, and drums art form, played at a dirge-like pace with droning vocal accompaniment. His guitarist, along with David J, the bassist, felt like they wanted to cut some of the group's old punk-rock roots and progress toward more atmospheric, moody music.
Then, of course, there is Murphy's physical condition to consider. He was chronically sick during most of the production of the group's last album, Burning from the Inside, which greatly hindered his ability to contribute to the band's work. The result was that the record turned out more like a loose collection of individual work rather than a collaborative effort by the entire band; Murphy didn't even appear on the majority of its tracks. Although his illness was officially disclosed as a case of viral pneumonia, people intimately connected with the singer allegedly reported that his symptoms more resembled that of heroin withdrawl. This could very well be the case; however, Murphy has never since owned up to it, and is unlikely to do so now. Draw your own conclusions.
With all of this in mind, it's not hard to see why Bauhaus felt that the sky had gone out for them. "Creative differences" can easily sound a death knell for any music group, particularly one without strong leadership or management capabilities -- things in Bauhaus that had been deteriorating for months before the split. Now, with the future laid out before them like an open flat field, each of the still-young former members sought to further his own music career. Murphy headed off with Mick Karn to form an act called Dali's Car that basically went nowhere for a few years, then decided to set off on his own. David J basically cooled his heels for a few years by doing bits of solo work. Ash, of course, began to devote his full attention to his side project, Tones on Tail, which he formed had a year earlier as a creative lyrical outlet. He was quickly joined by Bauhaus's drummer Kevin Haskins as well as Glenn Campling on bass and keyboards. Glenn had been a longtime roadie of Bauhaus who had occasionally contributed liner art to the group's albums. Although he had no real prior musical experience, he possessed a good dose of raw talent and the love of an amateur to create something new and innovative.
Those two traits, ironically enough, quickly came to embody the whole group, as Tones on Tail proved itself through its short but prolific existence to be one of the most cutting-edge experimental groups of the eighties, tying in all sorts of genres from electronica to funk to free-form jazz to heavy metal. Along with these obvious stylistic changes, the overall tone of the Bauhaus survivors' music became a bit more difficult to define. Although the British music press were quick to castigate the music of Bauhaus as a "depressing dirge," earlier in the decade, Bauhaus always retained a good degree of self-consciousness and knew not to take themselves or their antics too seriously. Tones on Tail, under Ash's leadership, took the tongue-in-cheekiness to another level. They tried to shed the funeral image through all-white stage clothing, a more amicable attitude, and loads of silly and nonsensical feel-good pop songs.
At the even more frenetic pace at which things were proceeding, it was to be expected that the band couldn't last for too long. After three years, twenty-one songs, one album, and two live tours in the U.K. and the U.S., everything had run out of steam, and Ash broke the group's incarnation, citing the same kind of "creative differences" that had formally killed Bauhaus. After Campling went off on his own, Ash rejoined Haskins and David J to record the pop hit "Ball of Confusion," and Bauhaus, minus Peter Murphy, found new life under the name of Love and Rockets.
Tones on Tail's music is a bit of an anomalous hodgepodge, in that each individual song can be wildly different from the next yet most of them are quite listenable in the same broad vein of music. I suppose you could position it in the same kind of deep blue-to-black gothicism as Bauhaus (especially with tracks like "Twist" or "Burning Skies"), but there are some noticable sparks of light that permeate from time to time. Although Daniel Ash can't really match the kind of range for which Peter Murphy is famed, he makes up for it with a smoother, balanced singing voice, in contrast to Murphy's jagged and piercing vocals.
Like Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, has never achieved anything more than a cult following, although hangers-on of the former as well as the more commercially viable Love and Rockets keep rediscovering the old side project and its music. Not very many of their songs have received much airplay in the past few years, with a few surprising exceptions, namely "Christian Says" (a staple of most American goth clubs) and the group's most successful single, "Go!", featured in a 2002 Starbust commercial.
Here's a (more or less) complete list of releases from the band, in chronological order:
Tones On Tail EP
There's Only One 12"
Burning Skies 7"/12"
Christian Says 7"/12"
The Album Pop LP/cassette
Tones On Tail LP/cassette
...and, finally, in 1998, the CD compilation of Everything! was released by Beggar's Banquet, containing the full volume of the group's work.