Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus

Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (2004)

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1. Get Ready For Love 2. Cannibal’s 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. Fable Of The Brown Ape 10. The Lyre Of Orpheus 11. Breathless 12. Babe, You Turn Me On 13. Easy Money 14. Supernaturally 15. Spell 16. Carry Me 17. O Children

 

“O Children,” the last song on Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus—quite possibly the best record of Nick Cave’s career—is currently the best-selling Nick Cave song on iTunes. This may seem odd; a haunting, world-weary, near-seven minute spiritual, it was never released as a single, and, in the pantheon of Nick Cave songs, it ain’t no “Mercy Seat” or “Stagger Lee.” However, unlike those abrasive rabble-rousers of decades past, “O Children” was featured in a Harry Potter movie. If I hadn’t spent the last few days watching the first season of Mad Men and as a result wasn’t already convinced that advertising does in fact rule all our lives whether you like or not, the curious case of “O Children” would be enough to convince me. (No wonder those Twilight soundtracks are so loaded up with big names. If I ever became a rock star I’m gonna release my albums exclusively in laundry detergent commercials or something. “Make sure you tune in to the second commercial break during Desperate Housewives this Sunday to hear track four from my latest record – and learn how the leading brand is ineffective against the nastiest stains!”). Perhaps, if you’re more old school than I am, you’ll cringe at the idea of a Nick Cave song in a movie about a bunch of bratty teenagers shooting fireworks at each other. But, short of becoming a contestant on The Bachelor, I don’t think there’s any such thing as selling out anymore. Mass media is everything these days, and if you’re not willing embrace that, you’re just ripping yourself off.

The point of the long, rambling intro is that I’m not surprised that this double album produced a song that landed in a blockbuster film. Across its 18 tracks and 80+ minutes, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus sees an utterly rejuvenated Nick Cave applying everything he learned playing punk rock, dark blues, ragged country/western, poetic love songs and morose piano dirges into writing a collection of bona fide classic rock anthems and ballads. Who knows what got into him; maybe he realized that Nocturama kind of sucked and became intent on proving that he wasn’t over the hill. Maybe he just wanted to show up Blixa, who had become increasingly disenchanted with the band’s musical direction and left after Nocturama, concluding his distinguished twenty-year service. But whatever the case may be, the Bad Seeds have never sounded so good (*wins international award for Stupidest Pun of the Year*).

The record is split into two separately named discs. Conventional wisdom would indicate that the first disc, Abattoir Blues, is the “rock” half, and the second disc, The Lyre Of Orpheus is the “ballad” half. This is a lazy assessment; there are several slow songs on Abattoir and a few loud ones on Lyre. The difference between the two lies more in mood than in volume. They were certainly sequenced with two distinct flavors in mind – disc 1 is brash, powerful, warm, and pummeling; disc 2 is earthy, pretty, and somber. But despite such conscientious design, the record can’t avoid an affliction that plagues most double albums even great ones – the first disc feels like the main event and the second like leftovers. However, unlike most double albums, this sequential depreciation cannot be attributed to any lack of quality on the part of The Lyre Of Orpheus, but rather to the fact that Abattoir Blues is such a hard act to follow. A high-energy set of songs jam-packed with huge chorus hooks (not to mention a gospel-tinged choir of backup singers on nearly every song), there’s very little on Abattoir that would alienate the average classic rock radio listener. Sure, “Hiding All Away” and “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” are quite a bit more verbose than any Deep Purple song I can think of, but from a songwriting perspective, the former’s earth-shaking coda is as powerful as anything Nick has ever come up with. Ditto for “There She Goes,” which, as far as I’m concerned, may very well be the greatest song in the Cave canon. Nick ebulliently ponders the phenomenon of artistic creation atop musical backing that is at once graceful and hard rocking. One for the ages.

Blues/Orpheus is easily one of the most guitar-heavy records the Bad Seeds have ever done. In one sense, it is unsurprising that the band made this choice, since the piano balladry that dominated the previous three records had become inescapably formulaic. However, it’s also odd, considering the fact that they had just lost their lead guitarist and didn’t bother to replace him. Fortunately, they had an alternative already in their ranks – Warren Ellis gives his violin a rest and plugs in a quirky little guitar-like obscurity called the electric bouzouki, out of which he is able to conjure any number of cool distorted noises. Its texture, practically alone, is what makes the opening testifier “Get Ready For Love” such a furious barnburner and easily the most convincing request for prayer I’ve ever heard (man, I would so go to church if Nick Cave was my preacher. Imagine shuffling in half asleep on a Sunday morning and suddenly he’s up on the pulpit jumping around with a gospel choir screaming, “GET READY FOR LOVE! PRAISE HIM!!!” As long as he kept with Catholic tradition and doled out crackers in the end, I’d be all about Jesus for the rest of my life). But Ellis’ new favorite toy isn’t a one-trick pony – its presence is also felt strongly on some of the less raucous forms of guitar music found on these discs, like the near-power poppy lead single “Nature Boy” or the jangly “Let The Bells Ring.” Indeed, unlike most Bad Seeds albums, which are typically tightly focused studies on one particular type of sound, this double record is sweepingly diverse – particularly Abattoir Blues. The Lyre Of Orpheus, devoted mostly to downbeat acoustic-based balladry, is perhaps less so, though a few highlights break its self-imposed mold. The bluesy title track is a vulgarized Greek myth as told by a ‘30s chain gang; the romantic, tenderly poppy “Breathless” is probably the most unabashedly happy song in Nick’s catalog; the lively “Supernaturally” can only be described as “samba rock.”

So sure, it’s a bit overlong. A fourteen song single record would have been an even better bet, and probably wouldn’t be as tonally jarring as Nick would like you to think. But, damn, there might be a higher concentration of Nick Cave classics on this album than on any other he’s ever put out. Name anyone else who is able to boast that about a record they made after twenty-five years of being in the business.

I mean, besides America’s greatest singer, Mitt Romney.



One Comment

  1. Emily wrote:

    “a movie about a bunch of bratty teenagers shooting fireworks at each other” — EXCUSE ME?!


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