Wednesday, 30 April 2003

Album Review: Murder Ballads

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds might be the most consistently under appreciated artists of the last decade. Cave has constantly released utterly amazing LPs and yet receives little praise from the record buying public. The fact that he sounds more like a mortician than a pop star belies the fact that he is possibly the finest songwriter to have ever walked the earth. Murder Ballads is Cave’s ninth album and his first stab at something resembling a concept LP.

Murder Ballads is certainly the best example of poetry set to music of the last decade. Death might sound like a boring premise; but a subject as broad could never be dull in the hands of someone as talented as Cave. From sad tales (Kindness of Strangers) to the macabre Song Of Joy to the downright grotesque Stagger Lee the listener is treated to the different faces of The Bad Seeds on this Murder Ballads.

The opener, Song Of Joy is astoundingly atmospheric. The story is a chilling tale of murder where clues as to whodunit are cleverly woven into the lyrics. Only a thorough knowledge of John Milton’s work will allow the listener to fully understand it (or you can simply read the liner notes).

Where the opener is complex and clever so Stagger Lee is downright gruesome. Instrumentally the track is reminiscent of Cave’s earlier classic Red Right Hand but paints a much more monstrous picture. While it is a remarkable aural experience, it doesn’t seem quite the same without the video of Cave prancing around in a pink Take That tee shirt.

The album’s highlight is the incredible O’Malley’s Bar. The track certainly has the highest body count on the album. Cave plays an unknown rampant local maniac who slaughters the patrons of his local bar. Musically it remains suitably threatening until its climax and as Cave yells lyrics - the listener can be nothing but in awe. Similarly chaotic is The Curse Of Millhaven. Here Cave plays the part of a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, however Baby One More Time this is not. Cave’s character Loretta is a deranged young lady who takes pleasure in the decapitation, burning and drowning of the other inhabitants of the town of Millhaven. The track is yet another example of Cave’s uncanny knack of mixing murder with substantial wit.

Somewhere in amongst these maniacal tales come some moments of tenderness. The single Where The Wild Roses Grow probably continues to be Cave’s most well known moment, if only for the inclusion of Kylie Minogue. Similarly Henry Lee substitutes Minogue for PJ Harvey, for a slight reworking of the traditional song.

With Cave adopting the persona of a crazy teenage girl one minute and a homosexual homicidal maniac the next, Murder Ballads can make for uncomfortable listening, but I’ve certainly never heard anything like, and I dare say you won’t have either.

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