Wednesday, June 26, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 525: Nick Cave

You know those weeks where you have a whole bunch of little chores?  Not just work chores, although definitely those.  I mean home chores, community chores, just a bunch of little things that need doing.  I’m having one of those weeks.  I know from experience if you just chip away at them one at a time they’re gone in no time, but that doesn’t change that harried feeling between then and now.

Maybe I’ve got the Abattoir Blues…

Disc 525 is…. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
 And here's the reverse side...

Artist: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Year of Release: 2004

What’s up with the Cover?  Two covers for a two album set – one on each side.  With the inset flowers and the fabric cover it has a very arts and crafts feel to it, which I don’t love.  Also it makes the whole thing a bit boxy and uneven on my CD shelf. 

Still, the flower pictures are pleasant.  It is one of my regrets that I can’t name flowers by sight like Sheila can (I think she got a badge for it in Girl Scouts).

How I Came To Know It:  I was already a Nick Cave fan, so getting this album was just me drilling through his collection.

How It Stacks Up:  I’ve recently purchased Nick Cave’s latest release, “Push the Sky Away” which brings my new total to eight albums.  “Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus is pretty high up the pecking order.  I’ll say third, just edging out “No More Shall We Part” (reviewed way back at Disc 65).

Rating:  4 stars, and a hair-line from 5

This album is so affecting to a friend of mine that he can’t listen to it while out walking around in public because the experience is too intense.  While I can’t attest to that level of a reaction, “Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus” is a deeply affecting album.  I am not at all surprised that it gets people worked up; I expect that is what Nick Cave wants to happen.

This album sees Cave take the rock elements he started to introduce more strongly on “Nocturama” (reviewed at Disc 370) and fully integrate them with his folk-punk delivery.  “Nocturama” was a bit sleepy at times, but “Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus” has a much stronger energy throughout.  This album really reaches down your throat and clenches its fist around some of your innards.  It can feel a bit violent at times, but only in a good way.  Even the screeching discordant guitar pieces are perfectly placed to add atmosphere.

As ever, the arrangements on this record are pure Bad Seeds genius.  Rock guitar, harmonies reminiscent of Gregorian chants, whistles, maracas and wistful piano.  The musical choices are all over the place, but never in a gratuitous “look at what we can do” kind of way.  Each decision serves the song, and the mood that it is trying to convey.

As the title might suggest “Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus” isn’t so much a double album as two separate albums sold together.  They have enough in common musically that it makes sense that they travel as a pair, but there are enough details to separate them.

Overall “Abattoir Blues” is a bit more up tempo and rock driven, whereas “Lyre of Orpheus” is a bit more whimsical and relaxed.  Most artists releasing two albums together (or even a double album) end up with a bloated project, where half the songs should have been left on the studio floor.

Not so, “Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus” which, despite being two albums is only seventeen songs.  I might quibble on one or two but it would be just that; even the weaker songs serve as important bridges between the high points.  They’re like the cables on a suspension bridge, lending support to the project and creating a prettier profile in the process.

Lyrically, Cave is as good as he ever was, and his delivery is brilliant.  He’s like a dirty-minded, perverted spoken word poet, and every line that drips off his tongue seems destined to seduce you.

Speaking of which, this album features one of my absolute favourite love songs of all time, “Babe, You Turn Me On.”  Appearing on “Lyre of Orpheus,” this song starts with Cave a brilliant combination of the pastoral and the pornographic:

“The butcher bird makes it’s noice
And asks you to agree
With its brutal nesting habits
And its pointless savagery
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.”

Damn, that’s good stuff.  Later Cave sings of various ways his woman turns him on, combining the gentle with the explosive.  My favourite:  “Babe you turn me on…like an idea/Like an atom bomb.”  That’s romantic love right there, my friends.

The album is so drenched in brilliant lyrics as Cave effortlessly mixes ancient mythology and references to the modern world, then gets high minded and erudite, only to swiftly reveal a delightfully filthy mind.  The images tug at one another, never causing discord, only tension.

As tempting as it is, however, to over-quote this record would be to do it an injustice, because without Cave’s masterful delivery some of the impact is lost, and these lines deserve all of their impact.

The opening salvo of “Get Ready for Love” as the opening track on “Abattoir Blues” tells you that this will be an emotional journey on sometimes rough seas, but how that rough journey can be invigorating.  The last song on “Lyre of Orpheus” is the hymn-like “O Children,” the final line of which forebodingly advises us “And the train ain’t even left the station.”  It is a reminder that despite all our exploration, life, love and lust are wide and ever-uncharted seas.  That’s why we sail on them, with Nick serving as our wild-eyed and maniacal steersman; shouting challenges into the eye of the storm.

Best tracks:

From “Abattoir Blues”:  Cannibal’s Hymn, Hiding All Away, There She Goes My Beautiful World, Abattoir Blues

From “Lyre of Orpheus”:  The Lyre of Orpheus, Breathless, Babe You Turn Me On, Easy Money, Carry Me, O Children

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