Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds: “Murder Ballads”
New Reissued Double Vinyl Album
Original Release Date: 1996 Mute Records
My Rating: (4 Stars)
Song Of Joy
Where The Wild Roses Grow
The Curse Of Millhaven
The Kindness Of Strangers
Death Is Not The End
To begin, I can’t address the topic of Nick Cave’s album, “Murder Ballads,” without first recalling a personal memory of my own. As discussed in earlier blog posts, it’s an unfortunate fact that I used to enjoy a drink…or five… much more than just once in a while. During this time in my life I would often find myself crashing overnight at multiple friends’ homes due to lack of safe transportation, reliable mobility, or simple consciousness. During these frequent, "sleepovers," my nights would consist of chain smoking, drunken rants, and of course, lots of good tunes. I know what you’re thinking, “Who parties to an album titled, “Murder Ballads?” Well, my answer is, “Not me.” However, it definitely sounds like something my friends and I would have really been into at the time. Actually, the reason, “Murder Ballads,” reminds me of those crazy nights is because more than once I recall waking up on my friend's basement apartment floor with the jewel case to this CD stuck to my face. It would go like this; My eyes open to a large cigarette burn on the carpet. As my senses come back to life I realize I’ve been sleeping on the large pile of albums we were singing along to the night before. My head is pounding and I try not to shift my eyes too much when suddenly I catch sight of the cover, “Murder Ballads,” by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. I think, “Wasn’t that the first thing I saw when waking up last week on this floor? We should totally listen to that.” I then do a triple back flip onto my feet, apply perfect makeup to my face, and arrive to work ten minutes early. Okay, that last part was a total lie. However, I was telling the truth when stating I always wanted to listen to, "Murder Ballads." So for the, “record,” this particular post is definitely a true example of me, “Filling In The Gaps.”
Today, about 12 years after peeling it from my face for the first time, I’m so glad I finally got around to listening to this album. I guess the only way I can think to describe, “Murder Ballads,” is as a supremely demented version of the play, “Our Town.” From start to finish, this record tells stories of murder from the perspectives of victims, criminals, and bystanders. The reason this blogger could not get the comparison to, “Our Town,” out of her head is due to the familiarity Nick Cave creates between all of the songs on this album. Not only are many of the songs set in locations one would find in a small community, but several characters mentioned during these ballads have the same last names. Taking these two facts into consideration, while also acknowledging that one of the song titles is literally called, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” this listener began to feel like she was experiencing a musical play about a town rather than listening to an album.
Notable moments during, “Murder Ballads,” include songs like, “Where The Wild Roses Grow.” During this piece it’s apparent how talented a storyteller Cave is when opposite perspectives of a sublime tale of violence is revealed through the unlikely pairing of Cave’s handsome timbre and vocalist Kylie Minogue’s angelic voice. Likewise, impressive guest performances on this album continue to be found on songs like my personal favorite, “Henry Lee.” During this performance, Cave is joined by the dazzling PJ Harvey who lulls a listener into false comfort through tenderly singing about a serial killer. One can barely resist her haunting voice as it exclaims, “And the wind did howl, and the wind did blow.” Of course, this leads perfectly into the next song, “Lovely Creature,” whose instrumental introduction is seriously reminiscent of the howling wind Harvey was previously singing about. Coincidental, I think not!
Other examples of Cave’s uncanny ability to construct the perfect scary story can be found through songs like, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” and the rather epic, “O’Malley’s Bar.” As mentioned before, I find, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” to be the song that sums up this entire album the best. Not only does it create a sense of community between the characters mentioned throughout this entire record, but the actual music itself mimics that which is previously presented during, “Henry Lee.” In addition the song, “O’Malley’s Bar,” is the perfect companion piece to, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” since it's extremely easy for a listener to envision mass murder taking place at a cursed establishment in Cave’s extremely unfortunate town of Millhaven. The only question is, “Was the murderer in, “O’Malley’s Bar,” the previously mentioned, “Henry Lee” or could this killer be his bastard brother…cousin…uncle…neighbor…mentioned in the song, “Stagger Lee?” How do these two characters know each other, and why in God’s name is anyone in the cursed town of Millhaven even going outside anymore?
Lastly the album, “Murder Ballads,” surprisingly ends on a high note with a beautiful cover of Bob Dylan’s song, “Death Is Not The End.” Throughout this piece all of the contributing artists on the album are featured individually, as if giving a final bow to their audience during curtain call. It's this particular song that allows a listener to finally find some peace with the multiple morbid topics presented. At the same time Cave ends his, “story,” with a powerful nod to the afterlife. The afterlife, perhaps it could be the topic of his next play…I mean album.
"Where The Wild Roses Grow": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBq_PSg3vHc