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As a youngster, I remember seeing the music video for "Where the Wild Roses Grow" and wondered to myself who is this lanky mutant hanging out with Kylie Minogue. Years later and I'm pretty familiar with Nick Cave and in fact rather enjoying his previous two albums Dig Lazarus Dig and the garage album by his side-project Grinderman. I decided to hark back to the old days and give Murder Ballads a full listen.
Unsurprisingly morose and morbid the murder ballads album is a concept album about murders, I noticed another reviewer praised the wittyness and sort of made out it was more subtle than any concept album pulled off by metal bands following the same theme - I disagree, Macabre's Murder Metal is actually pretty factual and apart from the odd actual ballad, this album is no less in your face, in fact Nick Cave's wailing is likely to make the average listener want to switch it off faster than Macabre's!
Where The Wild Roses Grow is notoriously catchy and Stagger Lee is a fun track too albeit full of cursing but the problem is that too many of the tracks are similar to O'Malley's Bar which looks good when you read the lyrics but doesn't really work as a song and comes across as self-indulgent and hard to follow due to detailing a full-scale pub massacre complete with character profiles in one song.
Whilst it's interesting, it doesn't stand up as enjoyable music and it's nowhere near one of my preferred albums by the artist.
Murder Ballads is the ninth album for Australian Nick Cave and his band the Bad Seeds
Song of Joy
The opener sets the tone for what will follow as Nick croons over a lush string section with a dark throbbing bassline. This song is more narrated than actually sang and the length means it does drag on a bit.
The next track is a bit lighter musically but the gloom still hangs lyrically. Very bass heavy track which im all in favour of keeps your foot tapping while old Nick angrily spits out the various ways Stagger butchers a pub full of characters. Personally I found this song amusing, not sure what it says about me but ah well.
The first track with a guest and its a quality one in P J Harvey. Its a tender ballard with lush piano and guitars. Again its about murder (sense a theme ? ) but not as graphic as the previous two tracks.
After the lull in the sea of madness with Henry Lee we get back to the rough stuff. no actual tune i can put my finger on here , a rolling drum beat, pounding bass and clashing guitar with some female la la`s in the background. Its a bit of a nothing really.
Where the Wild Roses Grow
The song that introduced Nick Cave to the masses thanks to Kylie Minogue during her latch onto anyone to look cool after being binned by her label phase.despite Kylies efforts this is still the stand out track on the album, the strings are beautiful and helped along with a steady bass . Add to that Nick Cave sings about killing Kylie.... bonus ( ok ok its only in character but still )
Curse of Milhaven
Nuts, pure nuts. Just like most of the other songs this is sang from the view of a character , this one pretty much slaughters a town along to a tune that really shouldnt be this jaunty ....oh and shes fourteen
Kindness of Strangers
A bit of a droning piano dirge to be fair
Yet another story led by heavy bassline. not bad but not much to get you excited
O` Malleys Bar
Another slaughter, this one lasting a whole quarter of on hour. pretty poor this, a plodding bass and an annoying organ make this an unpleasant listen in what seems a very self indulgent effort
Death is not the End
Finally we get to the end of a brutal album. This track brings back P J Harvey , Kylie and throws in Shane MacGowan to turn an old Bob Dylan song into a mental Band Aid type song
A very hit and miss album that feels like Cave regressed lyrically back to his Birthday Party period. One for Cave junkies only really 6/10
BTW, this is my first album review so any comments would be pretty good cheers.
Everone knows Nick Cave can be drark in his epic song writing. However, how dark is answered in this ten track album centred on the art of murder and all things gruesome. Yet Cave doesn't go for a barrage of grotesque lyrics like some sort of Heavy Metal word-spewer but forms his dark, devious thoughts into ten uniquely melancholic songs drenched in as much humour as blood.
The album's opener has an eerie backbeat which sets the tone for the album where as 'Stagger Lee' tells the traditional story of a drunken cowboy with Cave's own darkened humour thrown in.
Track three, another Lee (Henry), sees him team up with PJ Harvey and yet this isn't even the best duet on the album! That award goes to 'Where the Wild Roses Grow,' the most tender of songs with his fellow countryman Kylie Minogue about love,sex and murder. 'The Curse of Milhaven' is a wurlitzer of a song encompassing all the fun and creepy noises of the fair with the psycopathic actions of a teenage girl (joyous!).
If those weren't enough reasons to tempt you then surely an 11 minute epic village shoot out and a collaboration on an old Dylan number ('Death is not the end') would be.
In my opinion, this is Nick Cave's best album in a discography that includes many others classics.
Murder Ballads is the ninth album by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. It is the album on which their truly malevolent style of song writing reaches an almost sadistic level of competency. As the name of the LP quite rightly leads you to believe, this is indeed a concept album built around a selection of murder ballads. During the album's running time various members of the human race are dispatched in increasingly imaginative ways.
Somewhat surprisingly, Murder Ballads has been the band's greatest commercial success to date. There is no doubt that this is part due to the repeated air play that Where the Wild Roses Grow received on channels such as MTV. MTV even nominated Cave as Best Male Artist of the year, but at Cave's request the nomination was pulled.
It is also the second Bad Seeds album to feature violinist and Rasputin impersonator, Warren Ellis, who would later become a full time member of the outfit.
The best songs from the set are the ones in which a crime is caused in the name of passionate love. The aforementioned Where the Wild Roses Grow is the most publicised single from the album and it reached a peak of number 11 in the UK chart, making it one of The Bad Seeds' most successful singles over here.
Do not be fooled into thinking that a duet with a pop star such as Kylie Minogue is doomed from the off, as it proves to be one of Nick Cave's strongest bodies of work. The orchestration is lush and carries you away on a wave of romanticism, as Cave relays his troubled love for Kylie Minogue's character, Eliza Day. Things reach a gripping finale in which Cave declares with regret, "... And I kissed her goodbye, said all beauty must die, and placed a rose 'tween her teeth...". The song features one of the most grief stricken melodies ever composed by the band and the violin in particular is most salient.
The other duet here, Henry Lee, is equally morbid. The gentle piano notes roll by blissfully and the chorus is a thing of understated beauty. PJ Harvey has a tremendous voice and it complements Cave's baritone wonderfully. This time it is Nick Cave's character, the Henry Lee of the tale, who is the victim of an over adoring love, as he is "plugged, through and through" by Harvey. Something worth noting is that Cave's relationship with Harvey extended beyond a professional one. This was well documented on the personal set of songs on The Bad Seeds' 1997 album, The Boatman's Call.
Stagger Lee is undeniably cool and full of grit. Nick Cave performs his very own interpretation of this classic tale with an ultra violent series of events, gratuitous swearing, and a homo-erotic spin on our good old friend Stagger Lee. If you are yet to hear this song then you are yet to live. Every time I hear it I have the largest grin on my face and I'm confident that you'll be rendered similarly impressed. The bass line is instantly recognisable and you can almost see Stag strutting with each gentle strum of the bass.
Another highlight is The Curse of Millhaven, in which Cave takes great delight in carrying out the murders of 14 year old psychotic schoolgirl, Loretta. Some of the treats here include a circular saw taking out a handyman and a dog named Biko being stapled to a door! This song surely sets a new benchmark for demented fairy tales.
The penultimate 'ballad' is the terrific O' Malley's Bar. O' Malley's Bar is a 14 minute epic in which a small rural town is brought to ruin when one of the inhabitants snaps and dispatches all of those unlucky enough to be in O Malley's Bar on this most fateful night. The verses are packed with Cave's wry wit and full of his observations of the human race. The song is propelled forth by a demented organ section that loops over, lurking behind Cave's schizophrenic character with menace.
Things end with a cover of Bob Dylan's Death is Not the End. Minogue, Harvey and Shane MacGowan are just some of the musicians who turn up and provide vocals on this pretty resolution for all those who have just passed away.
I think to call Murder Ballads an essential Nick Cave album would be a little too much. It is tremendous fun and a great listen, but naturally the source material will not appeal to everyone. However, if you are looking to try something new, you could do far worse than pick up a copy of this entertaining and often inventive piece of psychotic drama.
Read more of my reviews at www.danielkempreviews.co.uk
This is the first Nick Cave album I bought many many years ago. I now have them all and Murder Ballads is still my favourite.
As the title suggests all 10 songs are to do with death and killing. Lovely. What a joyous theme.
The thing is these songs are good fun because the lyrics are jam-packed with dark humour and Nick Cave has a knack of making cliched, cringe-worthy lines and rhymes sound pretty damn cool.
The stand out track for me is Stagger Lee which contains some pretty foul lyrics and is packed full of violence, describing a wild west gunslingers exploits - all whores and shootings.
The album features a number of guest vocalists. Henry Lee is a beautiful ballad duetted with PJ Harvey and track five features fellow Australian Kylie Minogue duetting on Where The Wild Roses Grow which was a pretty popular single at the time (1996) and still sounds gorgeous now. Even if it is about murdering your lover!
Nick Cave's voice on some of the tracks is so mean and snarling that you are almost convinced that he means it when he spits out lines like "I jammed the barrel under her chin and her face looked raw and vicious. Her head it landed in the sink with all the dirty dishes" (O'malley's Bar). Great rhyme. Shameless stuff!
The album closes with a sombre Bob Dylan cover with various guest vocalists (including Shane McGowan!!) chipping in for a very fitting finale - Death Is Not The End
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Song of Joy
2 Stagger Lee
3 Henry Lee
4 Lovely Creature
5 Where The Wild Roses Grow
6 Curse of Millhaven
7 Kindness of Strangers
8 Crow Jane
9 O'Malley's Bar
10 Death Is Not The End