In keeping with the unfathomable coolness hanging from The Duke like heaven-scented tar, I arrived quite late to the party advertised as “Nick Cave Is A Motherfucking Genius, Is What”. I’d heard him do Stagger Lee on Later… With Jools Holland, and I probably thought something along the lines of yeah, it’s very funky and cool, but really, there’s no need for so many motherfucks.
I’d heard the duet with Kylie Minogue, taken from the self-same record, and had seen the video were Cave wanders about like some dope-sick Lucifer as the angelic Kylie lies nostril-deep in swamp water. It was all very atmospheric and morbid and so on, and impressive as that fella in Pink Flamingos who sings through his arsehole, but still, once the title came up and the promo gave way to the latest Blur or some such, I forgot much of all about it.
It was, in fact, Johnny Cash who convinced The Duke that Nick Cave was obviously someone fit for suffocation by accolade. Johnny phoned me up one night, thanking The Duke for having recommended Cannibal Holocaust, and then said about how he needed to repay the favor, so what I should do is grab some records by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. I thought about it, and then decided that what a fella should do is listen when Johnny Cash offers a bit of advice, provided the advice isn’t about the best way to spend the 1980′s.
Some might say that in actual fact what happened was The Duke became mesmerized by Cash’s version of The Mercy Seat on American III – Solitary Man, and that no phone-call of any sort ever took place, to which I must staunchly retort along the lines of “Shut your filthy face, bastard.”
Any the hell way, I soon picked up a handful of Cave’s musical works, and set about depressing myself senseless with tale upon tale of philandering, no good husbands and struggling with the concept of God and murders committed in under-lit taverns and all sorts of diabolical shenanigans.
Still, though, the last couple albums left me strangely under-whelmed. No More Shall We Part, for example, was lyrically blinding and musically impeccable, but it still seemed a tad one-note, a bit monotonous, really, regardless of the baritone and the piano and so on.
So what happened of recent times was that the new album, Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus, a double, no less, arrived in the post, and The Duke stared at it for quite some time, observing the beautifully packaged discs, before sitting down on the bed and flinging the disc entitled Abattoir Blues into the player.
My jaw hit the fucking floor, is what.
You may or may not give a rancid wildebeest, but The Duke is renowned in at least three bus-shelters for his Work In The Field Of Miserable Songs. How I know something is nothing short of brilliant, is that I measure the jealousy I feel coursing through my caffeine-riddled veins. By the time track one, the brilliant, stomping, crazed evangelist hollerings of Get Ready For Love had come to an all too abrupt end, The Duke was preparing to take his place as the protagonist in one of Cave’s future ditties.
“It was back in 04 in The Northern Ireland,
The night ablaze with frenzied sirens,
Nick Cave staggers, drenched in blood and puke,
Since he done tried to mess with The Motherfucking Duke.”
Something like that. Something dark and disturbing and violent all about how this Cave son of a bitch highlights The Duke’s gross inadequacies.
Abattoir Blues is covered in the rash of genius, a blotchy growth that stems from Cave’s first holler to the closing strains of the terrifyingly surreal Fable Of The Brown Ape.
Lyrically, it’s amazing, and in so far as the “music” is concerned, it’s the most arresting thing Cave and The Bad Seeds have crafted since back in The Boatman’s Call. It’s not sweeping melancholy we’re dealing with here, though. The record comes across like a demented sermon conducted before a congregation filled with the likes of those fucked-up nuns from The Devils. It’s driven by barely-contained ecstasy, with the pounding drums and gospel choirs and the almost-jazz squealing of fuzz-drenched guitars.
I feel uncomfortable telling you folks that this right here is the best record(s) Cave has ever made, the most consistently brilliant, captivating work in that entire catalogue, right back to the art-punk squawking of The Birthday Party. I’m scared you might wanna say about “Oh, for Gods sakes, how can we trust this sonna bitch? When was the last time he didn’t like something? Every damn thing he yacks about, from the new Green Day to the new Libertines, he wants to tell us it’s the best thing you ever did listen to ever even ever.”
Well, shit, man, I just haven’t heard anything crap in a while. You wanna blame somebody, blame the artistes in question.
Maybe they’ve all upped their game now that they realise they might well starve to fucking death in, like, a week if folks get the records off of The Kazaa.
Who wants to pay 15 quid for a pile of shit they can download in a couple minutes?
Feel confident, though, in flinging your hard-earned dole money in the direction of Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus.
The evidence can be found without too much trouble; Like when Hiding All Away starts in the exact same manner as Simply The Best by Tina Turner, before slipping and sliding and transmogrifying and all sorts, coming on like Dylan at his Time Out Of Mind filthiest (sonically speaking) and bastardizing any amount of swamp-rock sludge on its way to a breathless, frenzied finale, Cave shouting about “There is a war coming! / Down from above!”
Abattoir Blues also houses at least two of the kinda love songs nobody else seems bothered to think much about. The kinda stuff you listen to and you’re not even really sure if it is a love song. It’s all a bit like that scene in Punch Drunk Love when Adam Sandler tells Emily Watson that she’s so pretty he wants to smash her face with a hammer. It’s a love that has an intensity verging on pathological.
Messiah Ward, for example talks about “You are a force of nature, dear / Your breath curls from your lips”, but then a couple seconds later he’s suddenly going on about “They’re bringing out the dead now / It’s easy to look away”, concluding that “It’s been a strange, strange day.”
The stuff about this songwriter or that songwriter is a poet is something flung about with discomforting ease nowadays. Sure, there are the Shane MacGowan’s and the Morrissey’s and the Bob Dylan’s of the world, the Cobain’s and the Bragg’s and the Mitchell’s, but there are also a chart-load of folks who manage to rhyme “Baby” with “Maybe” in a half-competent manner and suddenly everyone sees Keats rising from his grave and standing before their very skull-balls on the MTVH-1 or whatever, maggots and decomposition replaced by the specters of sex and vulnerability.
Nick Cave, though, is one of very very few songwriters whose lyrics stand up when the music and the blistering performances are dashed brainless on a step and so the words must offer their wares from only the cold printed page.
So many lines contained herein are enough to knock you three feet in the opposite direction.
From There She Goes, My Beautiful World;
“I look at you, and you look at me and
Deep in our hearts know it,
That you weren’t much of a muse,
But then I weren’t much of a poet.”
And another, from the Cockney Rebel-esque Nature Boy;
“I was walking around the flower show like a leper,
Coming down with some kind of nervous hysteria,
When I saw you standing there, green eyes, black hair,
Up against the pink and purple wisteria”
Who the fuck would think of rhyming hysteria with wisteria? Who, outside of some deranged fool sitting on a park-bench scribbling frantically on a battered, nicotine stained A4 refill pad?
Abattoir Blues even on its own would be a monumental achievement. That it’s packaged with nothing less than the fucking breathtaking The Lyre Of Orpheus, that these are the results of the same sessions, is evidence enough that Cave should be poked with a stick and flung into a lake since he’s obviously in league with Satan.
Maybe he is Satan, in which case not only has he the best tunes, but the filthy diabolical hound sees fit even to wave the finest lyrics in humanity at our faces, also.
The Lyre Of Orpheus begins with the wickedly funny title track, a retelling of the Greek story by, I dunno, John Grisham or Zeus or somebody, about Orpheus, the fella who creates this Lyre, the music produced from which being so beautiful that it proves homicidal in its gorgeosity.
He plays it to his wife;
“Look what I’ve made, cried Orpheus,
And he plucked a gentle note,
Eurydice’s eyes popped from their sockets,
And her tongue burst through her throat”
Anybody would assume that it’s high time he put the damn thing down, but no, he carries on strumming through the fields, as “Birdies detonated in the sky” and “Bunnies dashed their brains out on the trees.”
Only when he annoys God (“A major player in heaven”, we are informed), does he suffer for his actions, getting smacked with a hammer and flung down a well into the underworld, where he meets his recently tongue-burst wife;
“If you play that fucking thing down here,
I’ll stick it up your orifice!”
Maybe it’s all a big parable about the file-sharing, like in the religious books when folks wanna talk about seeds and weeds and farmers, but no, it’s about God, is what it is.
Maybe what happens is that a fella discovers Kazaa, and downloads music that is nothing less than gorgeous, maybe even the new Nick Cave album, but the cost upon his soul is immense. Also, it makes folks die.
File Sharing Is Killing The Musicians For Fucks Sakes
Orpheus… is a slightly poppier, ever so slightly mellower affair than Abattoir Blues, although the gospel choirs and so on are all retained. It’s still just as mad as a bag of Coke-crazed assholes, though, and just as much fun for the lonely gentleman.
Babe, You Turn Me On has a title reminiscent of Bob Dylan, but its spoken word verses are closer to the aforementioned Late, Great Mr Cash. Even though Johnny would be unlikely to write lyrics like,
“Now the nightingale sings to you,
And raises up the ante,
I put one hand on your round, ripe heart,
And the other down your panties.”
Easy Money tells of a fella (perhaps Cave himself), meeting a vagrant in the park and feeling guilty as hell on account of his financial security.
“Money, man, it is a bitch,
The poor, they spoil it for the rich”
What the point to be made might be, with regards this new record by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, is that whether you see it as a coherent whole, or as two albums released in the same case, like maybe one of those Beach Boys compilations with Smiley Smile and Best Of The Beach Boys – Surfin’ California shoved on there, whatever way you wanna approach it, there are some “constants”, some of the old “facts” that remain unchallenged, like stuff about how humans need to breathe, most likely, as opposed to other sorts of “facts” like the sun revolves around the earth, or Sgt Pepper is the best Beatles record.
The facts of the motherfucking case are thus;
Lyrically, this is Cave’s best album.
Musically, this is the best stuff The Bad Seeds have ever crafted.
And, ultimately, if this is indeed two albums, then The Duke has even more reason for to seriously consider nailing Nick Cave to a plank of wood and demanding the knowledge he so obviously possesses regarding the invocation of the sublime.
Thanks Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, you pack of fucking shits.
The Duke resides at Mondo Irlando