Murder Ballad Review

Reviewed by Dino Scatena

Subj:Murder Review/RS Feb 96
Date:Jan 23, 1996

At a rough count, some 63 souls are graphically stripped of their lives in this collection of 10 murder ballads by Nick Cave. They include the joyless Joy and her threee infant daughters (in the opening Song for Joy) who are stabbed repeatedly in their home by an intruder with a kitchen knife. There's the massacre at O'Malley's Bar, where we follow a madman around his local watering hole for over 10 minutes as he stowly and methodically slays over a dozen patrons. But that guy's made to look like a killing amateur when we hear 15-year-old Loretta account how she inspired the Curse of Millhaven by taking 23 lives - and that's excluding her little venture into arson which alone caused the "biggest shit-fight this country's ever seen."

Nick Cave has approached Murder Ballads like an antology of short stories. He tackles his subject with literary vigour and flair, scattering his tales with colourful characters who have pumpkin-sized heads or "look like those fish with the swollen lips that clean the ocean floor."

There's a lot of black comedy (no one could possibly think Cave is straight-faced when he sings a line like "I'm a bad motherfucker, don't you know, that I'd crawl over 50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's arsehole," in Stagger Lee) but then again, a lot of it is just plain black (Song For Joy, Lovely Creature). The only real light comes with a cover of Bob Dylan's anthemic Death Is Not the End where Cave's guests - Kylie Minogue, PJ Harvey and Shane MacGowan - join for an alternative We Are the World-type finale.

Outside the thematic link, there's little other than Cave's voice to bond the 10 pieces: don't expect anything else to bear any resemblance to Where the Wild Roses Grow, his string-soaked duet with Minogue. For their part, the Bad Seeds have produced a rich score which is as diverse and extreme as their leader's stories, seamlessly skipping from grinding blues to joyous jigs to chaotic white noise to imaginative blends of all of the above.

If you've heard the last three Bad Seeds records, you might have some idea of the lyrical and musical scope that awaits you on Murder Ballads. Then again, this is a unique record even in the context of Nick Cave's career. It sounds like a Broadway musical, it sounds like some of the most confrontational rock ever made. It is, for want of a less-cliched description, genius.

Reviewed by Dino Scatena, rated 4 stars, excellent.


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