A Life Less Lived - The Gothic Box

Various Artists

Rhino, 2006

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/23/2006

Right on time for Halloween 2006, Rhino Records have once again gone above and beyond with the release of this massive box set dedicated to re-introducing the genre of goth rock to the world.

Known for their creative and caring approach to packaging re-issues, Rhino continues that fine tradition with A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box, a sprawling set of three CD’s containing 53 songs that define goth rock, as well as an additional DVD of 12 videos (none of which are duplicates of cuts found on the CDs).

As someone who has been closely involved with the gothic subculture for the past decade, I admit that I was skeptical about yet another collection. Most of the ones I’ve seen before have been fairly mediocre attempts to accurately portray the genre, but this one is the best of them all.

Of course, there are certain songs which must be included on any respectable goth compilation, such asBauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” and Sisters Of Mercy’s “Temple Of Love.” But what impressed me the most was not only that many of the songs included were unfamiliar to a veteran like myself, but that Rhino has made a concerted effort to try to show how deceptively diverse goth music can be.

Sure, there are plenty of examples present containing goth rock’s signature moody sound – jangly, neurotic guitars underpinned with nervously probing bass lines and robotic drumming, and nasal, croaking vocals broadcasting lyrics of inner turmoil, pain, sex, death and longing. To the set’s credit, it also provides many glimpses of other musical directions, including the abrasive approach of “Mutiny In Heaven” by the Birthday Party, the redneck psychobilly of “Power” by Fields Of The Nephilim, the trash glam of “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” by Alien Sex Fiend, the upbeat dance pop of “I Go Crazy” by Flesh For Lulu, the avant-garde “Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle, straight-up punk in “Halloween” by the Misfits and even industrial through Ministry’s “So What?,” a genre often considered goth’s violent cousin. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What struck me the most while listening to this is how vital these forlorn anthems of anguish still are, much like the classic punk rock of which goth is an offshoot. By not pandering to the mainstream gimmicks and trends of the time, most of the songs found here are not only a snapshot of the vibrant ‘80s underground music scene but are timeless and do not sound like anachronistic throwbacks.

A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box comes in packed with high-quality artwork full of dark themes and includes a 60-page book full of artist commentaries, photos, an essay on the history of goth music, track-by-track evaluations, and some rather tongue-in-cheek instructions based on timeworn clichés on how to run a goth club and how to dance gothic (something that has become the butt of jokes within the scene itself). As if all that weren’t enough, the set comes wrapped in an appropriately kinky faux leather lace-up corset! After all, a large aspect of the goth scene is the focus on dark beauty and elements of exotic sexuality.

Yet there are a few cases where one drinks too often from the same well. There are no less than 6 tracks from various permutations of Bauhaus (Bauhaus, Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, Dali’s Car, Love And Rockets, Flesh For Lulu) plus another two on the DVD, so I’d say there’s a bit of over-representation in that sense, though to be fair the songs are quite different stylistically.

The other fault is the almost exclusive concentration on material from the ‘80s. Undeniably, that was when goth rock was new and fresh, but that doesn’t mean it died once that decade ended. In fact, there was a popular revival in the mid-‘90s but only three of those songs are here, including a Cure cover by AFI. More recent music would have been nice.

However, A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box is the definitive goth-rock compilation, serving as a reminder of the wonderful music for fans and a great place to start for the uninitiated. Goth rock is well overdue for a revival, and I sure wouldn’t mind seeing this set appear in my black velvet stocking for Christmas.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.