Top positive review
27 people found this helpful
Death never sounded so good
on 30 April 2003
Personally I think that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have been 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.
Don’t let the ‘concept album’ tag put you off though. For this is not a series of odd beeps and thuds. It 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 quite unlike any song I have ever heard. Not only it is astoundingly atmospheric (sounding not unlike a Godspeed You Black Emperor track), 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, like me you can simply read the liner notes). Not all the songs are as cunning at ‘Song Of Joy’ though. 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 where Cave pranced 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, predictably, 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.
It is hard to qualify ‘Murder Ballads’ as ‘entertainment’ as at times it is very difficult to listen to. Cave adopts the persona of a crazy teenage girl one minute and a homicidal maniac the next, which does make for uncomfortable listening. However, fans of The Bad Seeds or anything slightly off-centre should consider this an essential purchase. I’ve certainly never heard anything like, and I dare say you won’t have either.