on 7 August 2001
The Birthday Party's first 'proper' album (released in 1981, it was preceded by an eponymously-titled collection of EPs and singles) is a bona-fide rock classic. Although many critics prefer its successor, Junk Yard, for me Prayers on Fire has the edge, largely because of the inclusion of the terrifying Zoo Music Girl and King Ink. Although the band's arty, jazz-influenced sound was startlingly original, Cave's demented screaming and taste for self-degradation ( e.g. Figure of Fun, Nick The Stripper) recall Iggy Pop in his prime with The Stooges. As is the way with great talents, Cave built intelligently on rock's history and heritage without seeming merely derivative, and in so doing, produced a record that still sounds fresh and original after two decades. An essential purchase!
on 29 April 2000
When this album landed on these shores it was hard to believe that something so right had suddenly splashed down amidst some of the worst music being commited in the u.k.It was post -punk time and everyone seemed to be self conscious and austere ,no show of emotions..a cooling off period...Then,BAM!Prayers On Fire arrived like a drunken Uncle at a Family Barbecue....One listen to Zoo Music Girl,the opening track ,will set up the onslaught to come ..Superb baby-Burundi drumming with a boiling brutal bass sat atop...itchy-scratchy guitars wading in through separate channels and then the booming tone of Mr.Nick Cave arrives...his lyrics a cut-up psychobabble of animal lust and cradled desire...And its got a singalong chorus too!It ends with a faded out trumpet the band still burning underneath..A brief rest and then a great drum and bass motif usher us into 'Cry'which features a slightly more subdued Cave until the chorus rips the top of your skull off! The power in this band is luckily captured forever on this album as they had yet to begin the transition toward their own take on world weary blues with the drummer,Phil Calvert,taking a backseat more often than not.Their poppunknewwave influences are still apparent on many tracks and also occasional displays of silliness(Capers)autobiographical confession (Nick The Stripper)and near perfect rock (King Ink)...At the heart of all this is a band at the top of its awesome power about to look inside itself and piece by piece,hack itself apart.
Here seemingly Nick strips to the music inside his head. The blues had not come to be the main tour de force on this, but jazz, pere ubu, pop group, iggy, punk, james chance and whatever pre punk jollies he\they listened to, were strained, filtered and re interpreted. All eventually surfaced in this act of self denigration and aural mutilation. Live it was cacophony incarnate.
On the album textures, structures and violence jostle to the fore. Live, and the album which followed it was full on aural violence, a punk noise Stooges, stethoscope in hand to hear the sound of the world cracking apart. Loud, loud guitars, screams of utter dread, with bass and drums keeping the mojo intact, some semblance of linear sanity whilst Nick evoked the Demons of Frankie Teardrop, James White and Screaming Jay Hawkins.
A tour de force, as King Ink comes to town and sniffs around whilst Nick the Stipper is on all fours, playing alongside Raw Power for get up and go motivators to blast into a Friday night to Thursday night reverie before finally hitting the the stage floor of the normal world. Zoo Music Girl is another ripple of the muscles as the music screams its desire. "Yard" is a saxophone plea to the gods of pathos. These were the explorers of an interior volcanic extreme, as music devolved into fop. The lyrical cut ups expressed the latent violence circulating the environs of the 80's hanging over from previous eras.
It slows down in force between the hard blast and the silent scream to provide a sense of balance. The album marked an ongoing tete a tete between Nick and Rowland over musical direction, with Rowland contributing Capers, Ho Ho and Dull Day, with an extra track on the Cd of Blundertown.
Pere Ubu experimentation turns up in Capers, a view of life on anti depressants masking the distorted whirlitzer at the end of a carny show. As the voices distort into jibberish and the arms are seized by a Doctor and Social Worker, you know its time to relax and take your part within the normal system.
No visitors came, well all gaped at the freakshow. The "Figures of Fun" related back the carny acts of the 1800's as the Birthday Party blasted into solipsist worlds. In retrospect it was a bacchanal, a feast at the table of despair, the world collapsing throughout the 80's into greed, alcoholism and vulgar public displays of wealth.
Contains humour, madness all bottled up in memories receding back into the past quicker than a snort of the speed of light.