While his former cohorts found runaway success with Love & Rockets, Peter Murphy took his time to discover his post-Bauhaus identity. His angular Dali’s Car project with Mick Karn fell flat, and his Ivo Watts Russel-produced debut Should the World Fail to Fall Apart was a lively, if uneven affair. But Murphy finally broke into the fertile late ’80s Modern Rock Radio landscape with the album Love Hysteria. With backing group The Hundred Men in place, Peter Murphy kept up his momentum with Deep.
Twenty years after its release, Deep is still regarded as Peter Murphy’s finest studio work. It’s a solid collection of dramatic, dynamic pop with nary a trace of any forced “gawth” pretense. His morbid theatrics in Bauhaus were well behind him (although he re-interprets the Bauhaus song “In the Flat Field” into the jagged “The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth”) and while there’s a wistfulness and romantic longing in ballads like “Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem” and “A Strange Kind of Love,” they’re anything but new romantic cheese.
“A Strange Kind of Love” would become the nom rigueur for any kind of mix tape to a girl during the ’90s. The singles from Deep were highly sought-after for the alternate “full band” version of “A Strange Kind of Love” and a third version of the song was mixed for the video.
But it’s the spirited “Cuts You Up” that is the jewel in the album’s crown. The strings playing counterpoint to Murphy’s dusky baritone, the hooky chorus and the exuberant “la la lala la la” bridge. Twenty years later it still garners steady rotation on DJ mixes and playlists.
Thankfully the rest of the album is as rich as the two singles. On “Crystal Wrists” Murphy illuminates the darkness of his past and accepts his past transgressions with the chorus – “…I tell you man, that all I say is all I can, for I am nothing but my sin until I learn to cast them in.” All this over shimmering acoustic guitars and the spry rhythm section. The album’s closer, “Roll Call,” features jangly eastern beatbox rhythms and textures that Peter Murphy would explore further throughout his catalog, culminating with 2002’s ethno-ambient Dust.
Deep comes from a time of transition. Released on January 1, 1990, it straddles the cusp of the already-jaded 1980s and the grungy self-aware 1990s. Aside from the somewhat dated-sounding “Shy,” Deep has aged very well and is one of those albums that stirs up a lot of memories; for me, the clearest and perhaps best is driving up the California coast, pushing in the cassette and hearing “Deep Ocean Vast Sea” one more time — my future wife sitting pretty beside me in shades, the Pacific ocean glittering to my left, a pack of clove cigarettes in the glove compartment. Dammit, where are my creepers and how do I peg my jeans?