Nick Cave: Back With A Vengeance

'Murder Ballads' On Mute Explores Darkness, Violence...

Billboard, January 1996

by Bradley Bambarger
Sent by

New York--Ironically, what could be the most uncompromising album of Nick Cave's long career of artistic abandon could be his best shot yet at a worldwide hit. Thanks to the international success of his unlikely duet with Aussie siren Kylie MInogue, Where the Wild Roses Grow, the pump is primed for the Feb. 20 release of Cave's Murder Ballads on Mute/Reprise. "I've always wanted to write Kylie a song, to have her sing something slow and sad," Cave says. "I've always respected her, and this shows she's capable of different things."

Issued in October overseas, the haunting Where the Wild Roses Grow went to No. 2 in Australia and hit the top 10 throughout Europe. Cave performed the song with Minogue twice on Britain's 'Top of the Pops' TV program, and the video is in heavy rotation on MTV Europe.

Never afraid to probe the dark side of life, Cave has a string of albums to his credit, both with his current ensemble, the Bad Seeds, and with this previous band, influential post-punk hellions The Birthday Party. But Murder Ballads features some of Cave's strongest material to date--traditional and original songs that explore what he calls "the language of violence."

Best indicative of this violent lore is the standard Stagger Lee, which Cave and the Bad Seeds cover with a vengeance. Cave says he senses a parallel between such "bully ballads" and the fierce tales of gangsta rappers.

"I've heard various versions of Stagger Lee, Cave says, "and the trick has always been to make him as bad as possible. Our version is one of the most evil, and that reflects the tenor of the times."

Though in keeping with the raw performance style of the Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads is a departure form Cave's past work. The album incorporates much gallows humor and, in addition to Minogue, features PJ Harvey.

Cave and Harvey have been mutual admirers for years, and Harvey frequently cites Cave as an influence. The two trade vocals on Henry Lee, with Harvey taking the role of the scorned, wrathful woman with her usual aplomb. Henry Lee goes to European radio as a second single in late February.

Mute and Reprise have not yet decided on the first U.S. single, but they are leaning toward Where the Wild Roses Grow. "I think that song could be a major hit here," says Craig Kostick, Reprise senior VP, of artist development, "But Henry Lee has the cachet of PJ, and that's not to be discounted."

Kostich says the first single will go to college and commercial alternative radio in late January or early February. Videos featuring Cave with his guest stars have been shot for both tracks.

Mark Fotiadis, VP/GM of Mute U.S., says, "It's time to get aggressive in taking Nick to the next level here. We did pretty well but probably not quite what we could have with his last album, considering he played Lollapalooza '94. But he had that great track on the Batman Forever soundtrack, and this album is strong."

Cave's previous album, 1994's Let Love In, has sold 50,000 copies in the U.S. That figure combines SoundScan numbers with Cave's considerable mom and pop store and import sales, according to Mute.

Helen Rush, buyer at Kim's Underground in New York, says that Murder Ballads should appeal beyond Cave's cult following. "The theme of the record makes it really interesting. Plus, all the guest stars, especially PJ, will attract more people," she says.

Robin Edgerton, music director for WFMU New York, says she can't wait to play Murder Ballads, adding, "We've always been big fans of Nick Cave."

Murder Ballads is the first Cave album on Mute to be released through Reprise. Cave's past three records were issued via Mute's now-expired deal with Elektra. Last year, Mute reissued Bad Seeds catalog titles through ADA.

Cave's corpus of song is published by Windswept Pacific in the U.S. and by Mute Song in the UK. The Bad Seeds' booking agency is Monterey Peninsula Artists in the U.S. and the U.K.'s Fair Warning/Wasted Talent internationally.

Although Cave and the Bad Seeds and special guests will play Australia's Big Day Out festival this month, there won't be a tour to support Murder Ballads. That suits Mute chairman Daniel Miller just fine, he says, because the album was intended as an extracurricular project.

"The single being a success through so many territories is a pleasant surprise," Miller says. "But the priority is for Nick to go into the studio for the next album and further his artistic direction."

Cave says the time off from touring will allow him to concentrate on projects that the road discourages, such as scoring films. Cave and bandmates Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld have collaborated on the score to two films by Australian director Johnny Hillcoat.

Cave also recently worked with one of his favorite bands, fellow Australians the Dirty Three. Cave collaborated with the instrumental combo on a track for an upcoming album from the television show The X-Files.

Cave sings live with the Dirty Three occasionally and says he would love to record a full-length album with the band. "I want to do something that isn't Nick Cave or the Dirty Three but some strange, beautiful crossbreed," he says.

Additionally, Cave says the majority of the next Bad Seeds album is already written. The band plans to go into the studio later this year to complete the record, with a world tour to follow.

As for Cave's next album don't expect more mayhem. "The appeal of Murder Ballads is in the storytelling and the rhyme and language more than the subject matter," he says.

"My interest in the drama of crime and violence is diminishing," Cave continues. "It's a dead end, no pun intended. This record closes a chapter for me."


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