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Hits is a compilation of recordings by the Australian Post-Punk band the Birthday Party. Released in 1999 on 4AD Records the CD has 20 songs that have been selected from the bands short, yet explosive, three year existence in the early Eighties.
The title Hits is in fact a bit misleading as the band never really had any commercial hits as such, though their single 'Release the bats' is the track that most listeners will associate with the band.
Deemed as a gothic band (probably due to Nick Cave's dyed black hair and morose lyrical subjects) the albums tracks are varied in style and delivery. What are common on all these tracks are the unique howling feedback guitar styles of guitarist Rowland S. Howard and the gigantic lung capacity of the growling Nick Cave.
The band changed line up towards the end of its career and slimmed down by losing drummer Phil Calvert.
The key musicians throughout this CD are -
Nick Cave - Vocals
Mick Harvey - Guitars, Drums, Keyboards
Rowland S Howard - Guitars, Vocals
Tracey Pew - Bass guitar
Phil Calvert - Drums
There are twenty songs on the CD and are in a chronological order of release. The tracks are selected from both album tracks and single releases.
1. Friend Catcher
This was the bands first single and is a slower version of the song that the band performed in their earlier band The boys next door. The slowing down of the song has given it much more intensity and depth. The track is punched along by a really deep and compressed tone of Tracey Pew's bass playing covered with the wide stereo guitars of Rowland Howard and Mick Harvey. Nicks vocals on this are relatively subdued which adds a new layer of ambience to the song.
2. Happy Birthday
The b-side of the bands second single was a confusing affair. A crackling guitar line is met with a really disjointed drum and bass track and the key here is awkwardness.
Nicks vocals are slightly strained but mellowed by Rowland's backing vocals.
3. Mr Clarinet
This was the bands second single and was quite musical (well as musical as the Birthday Party ever got!). It's a straight forward step beat that is welded with a distorted organ riff that conjures up images of freak shows and scary marionettes.
4. Nick The Stripper
The bands scary slow grinder of a single and noticeably the first song to see Nick Cave's vocals starting to growl and howl. The bass guitar loop on this song is really powerful and slugs its way through a track laced with trumpets and sparse guitar doodling.
The video to this track is surely disturbing and features pig's heads on sticks and Nick dancing around campfires - Truly bizarre.
5. Zoo Music Girl
Taken from the bands debut album Prayers on fire this track has a really tribal feel to it. The drums and bass are really dancing and the guitar playing is crackly yet surprisingly effective. Nick sings of making love to his 'Zoo Music Girl' in yet another track that conjures up images of devil worship and darkness.
6. King Ink
One more slow and morbid track Taken from the Prayers on fire album. This track is in the same vein as Nick the stripper and is a slow and rumbling song with thumping drums and crunching bass. Like Nick the stripper the song sings of an imaginary dark and depressing character.
7. Release The Bats
This is renowned as the Goths favourite track! I think elsewhere that I compared this song to Adam Ant on steroids - I still stand by that remark! The shuffle tom drum beats and the swinging bass guitar riffs are drowned in swathes of guitar reverb whilst nick spits and splutters about releasing bats!
8. Blast Off
This howler was originally released as the B-Side of the Release the bats single and possibly the bands noisiest song in their career. The wail of guitars and demonic brass stutters are topped with a larynx bleeding vocal from Nick. The song sings of 'Fires in fields of wheat' which summon up images of human sacrifice and cult festivals.
9. She's Hit
This is the first of 6 tracks to be taken from the bands second album Junkyard. The track is a much more musically sparse and less claustrophobic offering than the earlier songs on this CD. The song has a slow swinging bass line and sparkling hi hats that are really roomy. Nick croons a tale of death and woe (for a change!) and Roland's guitar cuts through you with its sonic sharpness.
10. Gold Blade
The lyrics of this song are about a man killing a girl with a knife. It is probably the most lyrically direct song on the album and paved a way for a lyrical them that Nick Cave would follow for the rest of his career post Birthday Party.
11. Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)
The third track to be taken from the Junkyard album. The band really explodes on this one. The tale of a murder set to the Shakespearean character is backed by a jaunty bass line and clattering guitar that build and build throughout the song until they final explode in a joyous cacophony of mutilated music.
12. Dead Joe
This is the fourth track to be taken from the Junkyard album. This song that details the spectacle of a car crash and the rubber neck fascination with mortality is jousted along by a train line of drums and rumbling single bass line. Roland's guitar riff is like a mangled Chuck Berry affair and the whole song crashes around your ears so quickly that it's finished before it's started.
The fifth track from Junkyard and the title track its self. This track is a really slow and grinding song and details darkness filth and depravity. Musically we are in familiar territory with the grinding bass tones topped with swathes of guitar feedback.
The vocals on this towards the end are Nick bawling and you'd think that he'd been placed in a vat of boiling oil whilst recording this track!
14. Big Jesus Trash Can
The final track to be taken from the Junkyard album is in my opinion one of the betters track on the album. This song is a hybrid of Jazz, Swing beat and Rock that are combined to glorious sonic effect. The whole mix and feeling of the track is sleazy and desperate. Lyrically the song is of a bad man bringing trash (probably drugs and sex) to a town. Compelling, frightening, yet rewarding listening!
15. Wild World
This song is a bit of a crooner. A slow staggering blues loop plays background to a soulful and reflective lyric from Nick.
16. Sonny's Burning
Nick shouts 'hand up who wants to die' and the military drumbeat of Mick Harvey marches the band into a start-stop pot of fury. Nick sings 'Fire and flowers both consume me' and this was a valid lyric as it described perfectly the way that the band was burning out into a 2 dimensional normality. On one hand you had the slow trundling swamp blues ballad and on the other hand the excessive rock jazz apocalypse.
17. Deep In The Woods
Once more we have a slow song that depicts a murder and burial in the woods. The song is almost grinding to a halt when it picks up into a fast wailing outrun. It is quite clever musically as the intro fits perfectly the scene of skulduggery and deceit and the change in tempo lifts the song to a post murder adrenaline rush.
This is a growling two note track that shows the Birthday Party have lost their control over sonics and are venturing once more into musical excess and indulgence. Swampland is an appropriate title as the whole sound is saturated. The vocal scream of the closing S-w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-m-m-m-m-m-p-p-p-p-p-p-l-l-l-l-l-a-n-d is Nicks most demonic and powerful vocal recorded.
19. Jennifer's Veil
A nice slow and relatively relaxed song is the penultimate track on the album. Perhaps it was included to lull a false sense of security!
20. Mutiny In Heaven
This, in my opinion, is the natural choice for a conclusion to the album. The song swaggers and sways like a ship that has lost its course and is sailing into abandon. The lyrics are thrown in and out at random the guitars spurt and stutter and the Birthday Party sink to their peril in a sea of distortion and confusion.
I've always said that the Birthday Party are an acquired taste and are not everybody's cup of tea. For those who do like them then it is likely that they would like the complete recorded works rather than a compilation of random tracks. The selection of songs is good and the fact that the tracks are placed in chronological order also helps but I feel that the band's music doesn't really fit into the 'Greatest Hits' format and would be better listened to in their original environment.
The one advantage is that this CD can be found relatively cheap online and offers a good introduction to the band for the uninitiated.
Price and availability
This CD was available from www.amazon.co.uk for £7.98 at the date of writing (2nd September 2008).
Copyright M Jones (Otalgia) 2008-09-02
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Friend Catcher
2 Happy Birthday
3 Mr Clarinet
4 Nick The Stripper
5 Zoo Music Girl
6 King Ink
7 Release The Bats
8 Blast Off
9 She's Hit
10 Gold Blade
11 Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)
12 Dead Joe
14 Big Jesus Trash Can
15 Wild World
16 Sonny's Burning
17 Deep In The Woods
19 Jennifer's Veil
20 Mutiny In Heaven