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Nick And The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads

  by Neil Palmer

published: 7 / 1 / 2007

Nick And The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads
Label: Select Label
Format: N/A


New writer Neil Palmer writes about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds's classic 1996 album, the theatrical and macabre 'Murder Ballads'

It is no surprise Nick Cave has recently turned his (red right) hand to filmmaking. His ‘Murder Ballads’ album is so full of theatre and visual imagery, and plastered with bloodthirsty gore and macabre murder that it seems an obvious direction. Gothic story telling was always a major part of the lyrical appeal of Cave, but on this album, adding a fair sized slab of humour and lucid sexual references, he takes things to a higher plane. “I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know / And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy’s asshole / Said Stagger Lee”, Cave spits. ‘Murder Ballads’ was a deliberate departure from the usual Bad Seeds' fare, and Cave wanted to collaborate with guest musicians and singers. Most notably, he duets with Kylie Minogue on the haunting ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, and Polly Harvey on the traditionally based, and evocatively personal, given that Cave and Harvey had a brief affair, ‘Henry Lee’. The ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ single effectively re-launched Kylie’s flagging career, giving her some much needed credibility, and took Cave in to top 20 singles chart territory. It peaked at number 11 in the UK, went top 5 in Australia and top 10 all over Europe. It was during this period that Cave famously persuaded Kylie to appear at the London Poetry Olympics to give a spoken rendition of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’. The remaining songs sound like individual episodes from a darkly thrilling and overtly explicit late-night crime show. There’s stabbing, shootings, prostitution, psychotic meandering, drowning, arson and a stoning or two thrown in just for fun, and this record, despite it’s murderous themes, is fun. You can almost hear the effect of Cave’s tongue bulging in his cheek as he sings. The killer track though (excuse the irresistible pun) is ‘Stagger Lee’, a traditional song to which Cave wrote additional words and music. It’s the aural equivalent of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, with Billy the Kid directing. The song opens with a slow groove, accentuated with The Bad Seeds trademark musical stabs, and builds to a manic guitar/scream frenzy that mirrors the story’s sexually depraved and murderous conclusion. “Billy dropped down and slobbered on his head / And Stag filled him full of lead / Oh yeah.” I recall seeing the song performed live on Mark Radcliffe’s ‘The White Room’. The song's anguish, drama and vile narrative, coupled with Cave’s impassioned and dramatic performance, still stands head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen by The Bad Seeds before or since. The final track, Bob Dylan’s often forgotten ‘Death Is Not The End’, features Kylie, PJ Harvey and Cave’s long-term friend Shane MacGowan with Cave and others from The Bad Seeds, taking it in turns to sing the verses. Their combined effect is somewhat reassuring even to this most ardent atheist, and strangely uplifting in this context. The elegantly packaged ‘Murder Ballads’, with cover art by the Swiss painter Jean-Frederic Schnyder, delivers exactly what it says on the label. No more and no less. Cave has been quoted as saying this collection of songs, although enjoyable and often funny is kind of meaningless to him, lacking in any true emotional resonance, and, on reflection, you’ll understand what he means. The entire album really is unadulterated music-hall theatre; nonetheless, as musical entertainment it is a unique, sometimes beautiful and ultimately captivating way to spend an hour with the lights turned off hiding behind the sofa. Don’t we all love to be spooked ?

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Nick And The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads

Nick And The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads

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