As Nick Cave's new album appears, most people will wonder just what he's going to try next after murder and the like. Simple: mixing nature and the ghost-like. Cave's new 2CD offering comes as a breath of fresh air. Underneath its beautiful packaging is a collection of immaculate songs which are both completely engaging and exhausting as Cave takes the listener on a characteristically dramatic and mesmerising journey. "Abattoir Blues" is a CD with perfect dynamics as he weaves the dark and melancholic with glam rock. Darker moments like the chilling narrative of "Messiah Ward", or the infective, attitude-laden strut of "Hiding All Away" show the sheer force of Cave's talents. His voice is timeless, sounding almost as if it has been around for centuries only now sharing its tales. Surrounding these songs are others like single "Nature Boy" and the energetic "There She Goes My Beautiful World" which ensure that the mood never drifts into the overly downbeat. Their Gospel Choir backing vocals are triumphant and completely engulfing. Throughout, "Abattoir Blues" is a landscape which is mysterious, glorious, dismal and beautiful all at once. And then comes "The Lyre of Orpheus", a thick and seductive collection of songs where Cave constantly changes the atmosphere: heavy, smoky bar on "Lyre of Orpheus", then comes the fresh-sounding "Breathless" and the hazy summer of the beautiful "Babe You Turn Me On". Perhaps the album's finest moment is in the closing track "O Children", where the Gospel Choir's power is at its peak. With gorgeous piano, heartbreaking and ghostly vocals by all finished off by the sparse arrangement, it is the album at its bleakest: devastating and totally, totally breathtaking. One of the strongest albums I've heard in years. The album manages to survive without one poor song, a rare achievement, especially for an artist with such a back catalogue. Immensely impressive album at a time where little comes close to this level of songwriting and musical composition.
The reverence bestowed upon each subsequent Nick Cave album by the Critics unfortunately means that when a genuinely refreshing and exciting breakthrough occurs in what is already an extraordinary and incredible career, it too easily slips through the net. 'Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus' is such an epiphany. Cave rates this record as one of, if not the best of his career, and for very good reason. It simply oozes beauty. Where previous Cave albums have been predominately dark and foreboding in mood, this album pulses with life and hope. Aided by the London Community Gospel Choir and the ever inventive Bad Seeds, Cave's music soars, brimming with wit and passion and romance. Like all great art it makes you feel differently about the world; it reassures and challenges in equal measure. From the head rush of the opener 'Get Ready For Love' to the celestial tranquillity of 'O Children', this is a mature record in the best sense of that overused phrase. Cave has finally found the perfect balance between songwriter and band leader, the Bad Seeds proving themselves one of the most exciting and dynamic groups in the business. As a long time fan of Cave I have enjoyed most of his work. Yet, in recent years there have been reservations. There was conviction missing from 'The Boatman's Call'. 'No More Shall We Part', despite moments of greatness was just a little too long-winded at times. And after 'Nocturama' I feared his muse had completely bolted. However, my fears have been allayed. This is the most significant music Nick Cave has delivered since he wrote 'The Mercy Seat' almost 20 years ago. A double album of such beauty and majesty it demands comparison with the great man's own heroes - Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone and the late Johnny Cash. Nick Cave is damn right to suspect that this really is his masterpiece. It is nothing less than that.
This 2004 (double) album by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds followed in the wake of his dark ballad masterpiece, 2001's No More Shall We Part and 2003's (by contrast) rather lacklustre Nocturama. Whilst, for me, the ballads here do not quite match up to those of the 2001 album, the overall mix provided by the album is quite breathtaking in its musical ambition, peppered as it is with sublime melodies, hard-driving gothic rhythm and blues (representing something of a foretaste of Grinderman) and, as ever, overlaid with some of Cave's most brilliantly witty and idiosyncratic lyrics. As a result, it is in my estimation an album that is probably the equal of anything Cave has yet done.
There is something of a superficial distinction between the two component albums (or CDs) with Abattoir Blues being generally rather heavier and bluesier, whilst The Lyre Of Orpheus provides more periods of studied reflection and a lighter, more (at times) acoustic feel. Having said this, in the marvellously titled Cannibal's Hymn and Messiah Ward, Abattoir contains two sublime ballad-based songs, whilst Orpheus has the superb, up-tempo Cave plea against one of the album's underlying mythological themes in Supernaturally.
Standout songs for me would include album opener Get Ready For Love, which is a rocking tour-de-force worthy as a follow-up (albeit at around one third of the length) to previous album Nocturama's closing epic masterpiece, Babe I'm On Fire, and the exquisite piano-based Easy Money, on which Cave's melancholic vocal laments on the plight of the working man and society's problems with drink and drugs. In addition, both Hiding All Away and Abattoir Blues are great blues-infected songs, with the former (in particular) providing a clear pointer to Cave's later Grinderman project. Lyrically, my favourite is the vibrant There She Goes My Beautiful World, in which Cave gives a nod to fellow artists as diverse as poet John Wilmot, Vladimir Nabokov, Johnny Thunders and Dylan Thomas, as well as featuring the top lyric, 'Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Capital, and Gaugin he buggered off, man, and went all tropical'. And finally, on the more reflective side, the album concludes with two beautifully atmospheric (and gospel choir-accompanied) songs in Carry Me and O Children.
Seventeen songs and (virtually) not a duff one among them.
This is a great double-set - easily standing as Nick's best work since The Boatman's Call and really offering astounding value for money - with both albums featuring tracks that could very easily rank amongst the best of Cave's respective career thus far. In a way, it's the album I've been wanting him to record for some time, with one side of the album (Abattoir Blues) featuring the heavier, more aggressive songs, whilst the second side of the record (The Lyre of Orpheus) features the more plaintive or melancholic tracks. Whichever you prefer is really down to personal taste... however, there's really no faulting the records as a whole, with both discs sure to delight the majority of Cave fans, old or new. There's really too much quality material to cover in a 1000 word review, with both albums deserving of our full attention. However, I will say that Cave and the Bad Seeds are playing with a variety of different sounds, styles and ideas, mixing both the bleak and heavier sound of early Bad Seeds albums like Tender Prey and Let Love In with the more pastoral and reflective sound of The Boatman's Call and No More Shall We Part (with some of the wild eclecticism of Nocturama thrown in for good measure). As I've said before, the rougher, more exuberant stuff is on Abattoir whilst the sombre stuff is on Lyre, although both albums mix together a few disparate styles and genres, moving from the industrial rock of Cannibal's Hymn to the perfect pop of Nature Boy and the brilliant There She Goes My Beautiful World, whilst songs like Breathless and Carry Me take on both orchestral and psychedelic folk/pop influences... and to great effect, I might add. If the music might seem a little strange at first, the lyrics are classic Cave, and probably the best of his career. His use of rhyme and phrasing, coupled with the evocative power of some of the songs aforementioned (not to mention the beauty of songs like Easy Money, Get Ready for Love, O' Children and Babe, You Turn Me On), and you have some of the most potent and emotionally captivating rock music of the last few years. Whereas the Bad Seeds of albums like Tender Prey and The First Born is Dead sounded like a more angst-ridden and gothic take on the territory of Leonard Cohen haunted by The Cure, this incarnation also picks up on the spiritual analysis of early Cat Stevens (Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat), the surreal pop of Donovan (Sunny Goodge Street, Happiness Runs, Guinevere), and the mystical ruminations of Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, Almost Independence Day and Veedon Fleece), which makes the songs all the more haunting and evocative. The imagery of the songs here really stays with you, whilst the range of instrumental touches from both Cave and the Bad Seeds is astounding and perfectly performed. The guitar playing for example really shows a great deal of restraint, managing to convey the more folk-influenced sound of Breathless as well as the more glam-rock style found on There She Goes My Beautiful World (...the lyrics to this song are amazing!!), without feeling the need to go overboard with tons of solos or showy effects. Musically, lyrically and vocally, these albums can't be faulted... whilst the sequencing of the tracks makes it the best Bad Seeds listening experience in some time (although, I personally quite liked the last few albums). Still, this is Cave and the band really pushing themselves further than they had before, with the group managing to take on board new sounds and influences and combining them with their own trademark sound to create a record that should appeal to the majority of Cave's fans, and maybe some people who've never listened to a Bed Seeds album before. For me, Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues is a perfect double set... and was one of the many musical high-lights of the great year that was 2004.
This is a wonderful recording by a real artist, blessed with possibly the greatest band any singer/songwriter has ever worked with. Like many, I've had the privilege of following Cave and the Seeds work over the last twenty years, and it's doubtful whether anyone can lay claim to a more consistently fascinating (and, thankfully, still evolving) body of work. In a world which still contains Bob Dylan, I guess St. Nick himself would blanche at that claim, but I don't need to be falsely modest on his behalf. What is immediately striking about "Abattoir../Lyre.." is how satisfying the record is going to be to those already acquainted with Nick's world, whilst at the same time being a perfect place for the completely uninitiated to waltz right on in. If you lined up 1984's "From Her to Eternity", and followed through to 2001's "No More Shall We Part", you'd be, in the main, following a path from complete Dionysian abandon to a much calmer, more orderly approach to music making. Maturity, I guess, but with none of the boring MOR tendencies associated with that word. Last year's "Nocturama" suggested that Nick and the band were re-embracing some of the fury of old, whilst still containing much of the tranquil beauty of more recent recordings. This new double set delivers on that suggestion by the bucketload. From the initial seconds of "Get Ready for Love" to it's closing, "Abattoir Blues" has a rawness and sheer joyful abandon about it, which, on a first listen, had me laughing with pleasure. The mixture of the various personalities Nick's voice can conjure, backed in many places by the London Community Gospel Choir and the wonderful racket, which only the Seeds seem able to dredge up, makes this disc an absolute blast from start to finish. It's certainly not one paced, but the percussion and a loose, organic, production job by Nick Launey and the band (Jack White would approve, I'm sure)gives the whole thing a sense of unity. "The Lyre of Orpheus" is, generally, much calmer, sitting much more comfortably with Nick's latter work. Again, the sheer sympathy both playing and production show for the songs is breathtaking. Oh yes..the songs. 17 in all, and no flab anywhere. No lazy lyric in sight and moments in all of them that left me, at least, grinning with sheer joy. As befits a great record, the packaging is very beautiful too. Great records reveal themselves- to those who want to listen- one item of clothing at a time. I've listened to this beauty three times now, and she's hardly gotten round to taking off her first glove off. One could live inside this one for months. £8.99 for all of this? A steal.
Hate to admit it but it was watching the latest Harry Potter that pulled me towards this album. Found out the featured track was O Children and ventured onto itunes thinking I'd buy just that one track. Had a listen to the others and thought to myself that this sounds like a lovely collection of songs. Of course I then bought it from amazon and glad I was too as the packaging on this double album is very nice. Given the album a couple of listens so far and love it - all the songs are different with a wide variety of styles. Can't recomend this highly enough - give it a listen. You wont be disappointed.