It was a dark and stormy Friday the thirteenth. What better time to listen to selections from Rhino’s A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box? Sorry, we’re not talking about not Ostro- or Visi- or the fall of Rome here. We’re talking music; music that us creepy sorts drew funny looks for listening to from other kids in high school. What most people fail to realize is that the Gothic sound is more than just slow gloom, doom, Edger Allen Poe, and sexual perversions. Many Goth bands have a jump to them while carrying dark overtones, and yes, sex plays a large part as well. The vocals have a dark passion to them. Emotions run high, which only adds to the mystique of the dark poetry and twisted tales of loss and love. This darkness combined with the lyrics that make you wonder “what the hell was the inspiration behind that?” is what draws people to the music and also what brings the music together under the Gothic banner.
The set itself is dressed in a black leather corset and comes with a nifty book filled with photos and artist’s commentaries; three CDs and a DVD contain videos from some of the bands represented in the boxed set. Making my desire to own the full set that much stronger, for you see, ghoulies, I received only a sample disk, but that’s all right because some of my favorite bands are present. The Cure being one. They show up here with the wonderful “Charlotte Sometimes” and the disk moves very smoothly into Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties”; two tunes that capture the gloom and darkness of the scene perfectly. Both bands bring their dark poetry to life through their distinct sound, though Bauhaus, as the name reflects, is more art-driven sound, which comes through in lead singer Peter Murphy’s stage presence as well. See them live; I highly recommend it.
The Sisters Of Mercy’s “Temple Of Love” kicks things up a few notches and illustrates the fact that Gothic music is not all slow; in fact, some of it is very much the opposite, rhythmic and danceable. At Goth clubs, the atmosphere is dark and often dreary, but as with all other clubs, you go to dance and move. Hell, what could be more seductive than a raven-haired, vampire vixen in thigh-high boots swaying and grooving to the thundering sounds of the queen of them all, Siouxsie Sue and the Banshees, as she belts out “Spellbound”? Another song that makes its way to the set and one that simply drives me mad. I dig the tumbling drum effect, as if someone is falling, after Siouxsie sings the line, “throw them down the stairs.” I love her voice and that song. Many more danceable tunes fill the Gothic box, from bands such as Lords Of The New Church, The March Violets and Specimen, who bring their funky bass lines.
The track and artist that stands out the most on the entire box is “The Weeping Song” by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. It is actually a duet with Bad Seeds guitarist Blixa Bargeld, whose primary band, Einsturzende Neubauten, also appears on the box. By far the most poetic storyteller on the entire scene, Cave paints picture with his lyrics that are concerned with religion, violence and the overall darkness of people in general. The music on this track is awesome. He uses big bass drums, steady brushes, fluttering handclaps, and a ghostly xylophone to bring his tale home and set his sound apart. Cave was also part of The Birthday Party, another band heard on the Gothic box.
On the other end of the Gothic spectrum from Cave is the highly influential Ministry, who punch in with “So What,” an insane, fire-driven trip past Hell’s gates. Their impact can be felt when listening to artist and bands such as Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. The intense, screaming vocals, synth samples, heavy guitars, and bass mixed with the sometimes explicit lyrics involving politics, dark fantasies, and more sex is what separates them from the other bands here. These are the guys who weren’t afraid to push and experiment to fashion a unique sound.
A Life Less Lived is packed with the best that Gothic music has to offer: Echo And The Bunnymen, The Cult, The Creatures, Christian Death, Joy Division, The Damned and Love and Rockets to name just a few; there are also appearances by some of the members of these bands in solo outings.
My only complaint is that Rhino approaches this project as a novelty thing. Supposedly included in the book is a section on how to dance Gothic. The set is promoted as “5 hours of mood-lowering music” and even the title, A Life Less Lived, seems to be a knock. As for “Mood-lowering”, at times some songs are, but many are danceable and upbeat, which make it hard to sustain a bad mood. And as far as a life less lived, I’d say that the Gothic lifestyle, for those that truly live it, is anything but. The scene is involving, the clubs jump, all the darkness attached screams nightlife, and there’s an intense interest in the unseen things that go bump in it.
Written by Fantasma el Rey