Review: Jack Foley
THE allure of Nick Cave is something I have hitherto been unable
to comprehend, despite the fact he is highly regarded by many
musicians, journos and fans alike.
Thirteen studio albums in, and he is still going strong. His
latest, a double-CD entitled Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus,
is another of those affairs that is likely to divide listeners
just as markedly.
Recorded by Nick Launay at Studio Ferber, in Paris, in Spring
2004, and including the Bad Seeds line-up of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey,
Thomas Wydler, Martyn Casey, Conway Savage, Jim Sclavunos, Warren
Ellis and James Johnston, as well as the London Community Gospel
Choir, the albums find the band at their most diverse - occasionally
heavy, occasionally light, and sliding between the off-kilter
and mainstream with an effortless aplomb.
How much you like it depends purely on how much you like Cave
and co. Fans will, no doubt, lap up every single excess it affords,
while the curious, perhaps aroused by the quality of recent single,
Nature Boy, might find the entire effort an arduous journey.
A lot depends upon which album you listen to first. Abattoir
Blues, which features Nature Boy, is a much harder
affair, featuring the aforementioned choir, as well as several
big drum moments and plenty of electrifying guitar. It is much
more serious in tone, compared to the lightness which surrounds
The Lyre of Orpheus (the clue is in the titles, I guess).
Abattoir Blues begins strongly, with the gospel-laden
Get Ready For Love, complete with a highly-charged Blues
vibe, before easing into hard-driving tracks such as Nature
Boy, There She Goes, My Beautiful World and the title track,
which is probably the stand-out effort on both long-players.
It also provides a dazzling showcase for Cave's wildly inventive
songwriting skills, with lyrics such as 'Karl Marx squeezed
his carbuncles, while writing Das Kapital, And Gaugin, he buggered
off, man, and went all tropical' (on There She Goes,
My Beautiful World), and 'you asked an electrician,
if he'd seen me round his place, he touched with you his fingers,
sent sparks zapping out your face' (on Hiding All Away).
The journeys he takes listeners on can be richly rewarding, for
those prepared to really listen, just as they can be wildly surreal
and, quite frankly, irritating.
So while tracks such as There She Goes... deal with
easily identifiable themes such as self-doubt and writer's block,
others, such as the absurd Fable of the Brown Ape, which
features a farmer, an ape, and a cow caught suckling a serpent
(!), seem a little too surreal to become enjoyable.
It is during such moments that Cave's music takes on a storytelling
form, undermining some of the good melodies he has created in
tracks such as Breathless.
But then Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds are nothing if not eclectic,
and it is nigh on impossible to pigeon-hole the double album.
Occasionally beautiful, as in the soulful Easy Money;
occasionally upbeat, as with the vigorous Supernaturally;
and at other times, downright candid, as in Babe, You Turn
Me On (with lyrics such as 'I put one hand on your round
ripe heart, and the other down your panties'), this is an album
that provides many challenges for a sceptic such as me.
So was I converted? Suffice it to say, the idea of listening
to a Nick Cave double album filled me with dread, and yet I emerged
at the other end mildly surprised. Many of the traits I had come
to avoid were present and correct, along with a newfound appreciation
for some of the songwriting excellence.
The album, as a whole, is something I could ultimately take or
leave, but I found as much to admire, as I did to hate. It was
nothing if not challenging, occasionally rewarding (as in tracks
such as Spell and Breathless), yet it still
had me reaching for the skip button.
The inclusion of the London Community Gospel Choir was another
thing to work in its favour, adding a touch of class to many of
the records, and prompting favourable comparisons to The
Killers' similar use of a choir on All These Things That
I've Done. Yet their absence makes certain tracks seem all
the more lacking.
Cave fans will no doubt hail it as another masterpiece and it
is easy to appreciate the talent involved, so bearing that in
mind, I guess it comes highly recommended, particularly if you
are a long-time follower. The unconverted, however, might do well
to catch a listen before purchasing, even though the majority
of music fans out there might take something from it.
Disc: 1 - Abattoir Blues
1. Get Ready For Love
2. Cannibals Hymn
3. Hiding All Away
4. Messiah Ward
5. There She Goes, My Beautiful World
6. Nature Boy
7. Abattoir Blues
8. Let The Bells Ring
9. The Fable of the Brown Ape
1. The Lyre of Orpheus
3. Babe You Turn Me On
4. Easy Money
7. Carry Me
8. O Children