LISTENING TO NINA SIMONE at a friend's house a few weeks ago, I was suddenly struck by how much contemporary music is lacking in artists who make classic, timeless music with any kind of emotional depth.

Previous generations have given us Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, and Billie Holiday. We're leaving behind... Beck? The Red Hot Chili Peppers? The Dixie Chicks?

Thank God for Peter Murphy. That's right--the man destined to be haunted forever by his former incarnation in Bauhaus is one of the few current artists to even aspire to such heights.

So it comes as no surprise when Murphy responds to the reference.

"That's interesting that you should talk about Nina Simone," says the surprisingly soft-spoken singer. "Back in 1982, my life was changing and I was sharing [a place] with a friend temporarily. And we were playing a lot of Nina Simone, and I really felt the same about that then as the example you gave now. It's odd. I mean, if you're about to say that my work has that quality, I'd be very complimented [laughs]."

A listen to Wild Birds, a recently released collection of Murphy's years on Beggars Banquet, proves that the lessons learned during that time--that music can be emotionally powerful and enduring--weren't lost. Songs like "Cuts You Up" and "Keep Me from Harm" reverberate with a passion missing from most modern music.

Unfortunately, expressing any kind of genuine emotion (with the exception of anger) hasn't been fashionable for quite some time. And ironically, the same people who praise the extraordinary vocal talents of Frank Sinatra and marvel at the palpable sense of pain and longing in the work of Billie Holiday seem to be the first to dismiss Murphy's solo material as trite or pretentious.

Hopefully, the release of Wild Birds, and the subsequent tour, will bring Murphy the credit he deserves. Few other contemporary artists exhibit such an appreciation of the real power inherent in music, or have created a body of work with such resonance. And of course, there's That Voice.

"I am principally a vocalist," stresses Murphy. "That's my raison d'être. If I had had different opportunities, I could have been completely satisfied as an opera singer. But I've crafted my own niche out of necessity and wish, really.

"Playing the songs live again with the band and stripping them down--what it's uncovering is the songs underneath," he continues. "What I'm discovering is that there's a lot of heavily weighted melodic quality in the songs, and a very upward-lifting and obviously lyrical quality, so there are some very beautiful songs there. But there's a real singer there, somebody who can really sing a song rather than mouth its words. I'm very proud of it actually--and sort of surprised to see the reaction of the people that I'm working with in the band, working on that music.

"Peter DiStefano comes from the Porno for Pyros experience, and Eric Avery from a similar strain--from Jane's Addiction--and Kevin (Haskins) from Love and Rockets," he explains. "It's interesting how people are playing songs that they probably would never have written or played on before, which are really based around a personality and a singer rather than a groove-oriented culture. And they're enjoying it. I can see that there's part of them sort of wondering how they're going to fit in with it."

They should fit in just fine. The power and complexity in the makeup of his touring band ought to complement those same qualities in the music itself.

After all, Murphy's world is one where exquisite pain and joy exist side by side; where the experience of one heightens the sensation of the other. There's an underlying feeling of yearning--of having seen truth and beauty and trying to re-create that in a world that can be cruel and brutal.

"I think there's something heroic in my motives, something always searching for the better part of myself," agrees Murphy. "There's a longing in my music, which I think people identify with: a sense of aspiring to beauty."

It's a romantic world view, and seemingly no longer a popular one. But it's one that Murphy believes in, and one that springs to life in his music. It strives for an emotional level far beyond the relative safety of Lou Barlow's postmodern confusion, Trent Reznor's tortured cries for help, or Billy Corgan's self-obsessed whining and shallow rumination on archaic concepts like truth and love.

In short, it's the kind of music you can almost see your grandchildren putting on with good friends and deep conversation. Timeless and beautiful--like Murphy himself.

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