“Velocity Bird,” the first song on Peter Murphy’s new solo album, Ninth, kicks off promisingly, with a fat beat and a raw, distorted riff. Then Murphy opens his mouth. Doing his best impression of Iggy Pop’s worst self-caricature, the former Bauhaus frontman pushes his trademark croon so far above his range, it sounds like his tonsils might pop. Fortunately, the song is over quickly. Unfortunately, it’s followed by another.
Murphy has had mixed luck as a solo artist since Bauhaus first dissolved in 1983. But he managed to pull it together beautifully for the pioneering goth group’s 2008 comeback, Go Away White. While Ninth maintains much of that guitar-fueled momentum, Murphy sounds like he’d be better off singing the more subdued material from his last solo album, 2004’s mediocre Unshattered. Ninth’s loudness only accentuates Murphy’s lack of energy; the dark, driving “Seesaw Sway” comes close, and at least he settles back into his natural register amid the song’s chiming hooks. Where his menace once oozed, though, it now hiccups.
That’s not to say Ninth’s blackened heart is in the wrong place. The disc has its moments: The single, “I Spit Roses,” is a brooding yet muscular mini-opera of moonlit spookiness that rises above its truly corny keyboards. And the album’s heaviest track, “Uneven & Brittle,” overcomes a plodding lockstep and some strained melodrama to sound suitably, epically Murphy-worthy. Too bad the song’s title unintentionally describes the whole of Ninth a little too well.