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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus


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.

Track listing:
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

Disc: 2
1. The Lyre of Orpheus
2. Breathless
3. Babe You Turn Me On
4. Easy Money
5. Supernaturally
6. Spell
7. Carry Me
8. O Children

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