Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Abbatoir Blues & The Lyre of Orpheus


Okay, kids, this is a very long review. I'm doing it song by song, ‘cos, quite simply, it's too brilliant not to review it all.



Okay, kids, this is a very long review. I'm doing it song by song, 'cos, quite simply, it's too brilliant not to review it all. I would feel that I had short changed you if I did a review full of smug Cave theories. No, let's pretend we've never heard of him. It's more exciting that way.


"Abbatoir Blues"


"Abbatoir Blues" kicks off in rollicking fashion with "Get Ready for Love". This is a full throttle stomp, almost tripping over itself at points. Cave roars round the pulpit, bottle in one hand blackthorn stick in the other. Growling, fuzzy guitars, a windswept choir, smashing, clattering drums: what more could you ask of an opening track? "Cannibal's Hymn" is, in stark contrast, a muted song, with only a little instrumental activity getting in the way of Cave's sad lament. The sounds build up slowly, almost agonizingly to a boil; sympathizing, one feels, with the lovelorn, bittersweet thoughts that are expressed.


"Hiding All Away" crawls menacingly over a rocky archipelago wasteland, like a monitor lizard looking for something to chew. A glorious choral lambasting intervenes from time to time. Cave is suddenly at his most preacher-like, spitting dark thunder at all and sundry. Apparently this song is all about a girl chasing the singer, though you wouldn't have guessed it.


"You asked the butcher

Who lifted up his cleaver

Stuck his fist up your dress

Said he must have been mad to leave you

But I had to get away dear, hiding all away

I had to get away dear, I was hidden all away"


"Messiah Ward", by contrast, begins with a few notes on a piano, quietly colouring and enforcing the melody. The sense of space on this track is well nigh incredible. How the band got such an epic feel in such a stripped back sonic setting is beyond me, but then, this is the Bad Seeds. The vocal delivery drips tragedy, and the lyrics are brilliant.


"We could navigate our position by the stars

But they've taken out the stars

The stars have all gone

I'm glad you've come along

We could comprehend our position by the moon

But they've ordered the moon not to shine

Still' I'm glad you've come along"


"There She Goes" starts quietly, builds up on steam and explodes into a bar room stomp of a chorus. The song captures a sense of frustration that Cave seems to be experiencing; shit it seems he can't be as creative as he wants to be. Me neither, mate. Hell, what a track, what a testament to the creative impulse. No sense that Cave is sitting back smugly. There's a real sense of urgency, of creation, of being in love with your art and muse.


"Nature Boy" picks up on this theme, somewhat more reflective but none the less urgent and honest. And a bloody funny song to boot.


Suddenly the album drops a degree or two in temperature, as "Abbatoir Blues' rumbles off around the block; a somnolent, brooding tract with only backing vocals and the odd press of a piano key to keep it company. Things thaw somewhat with "Let the Bells Ring", as a mournful guitar lick soon blossoms out into a beautiful lament. There is a spiritual, almost defiant air to the music despite its quiet delivery. "Fable of the Brown Ape" ends this album. A sinister tableau, concerning an ape, a snake and a misunderstood farmer. It's very brooding, menacing and strange. It's very Nick Cave.


Okay kids, as I've told you before, this is a double album, and we are half way through; which means that you will get a bunch more paragraphs of me telling you how good it is. So what I suggest is, you go out to the shop and buy it, then return to read the second installment, okay?


"The Lyre of Orpheus"


You're back? Good. "Lyre of Orpheus" snarls and mumbles its way through a somewhat 'bastardized' version of the Orpheus myth, backed up by a primitive, stripped down Stone Age band. As usual the lyrics are fantastic. Can't imagine Har Mar Superstar or Goldie Lookin' Chain using Greek myth for song writing subject matter, can you?


"Breathless", surprisingly, is very much in "John Barleycorn Must Die" territory, with pastoral flutes and acoustics abounding. It is beautiful though, with a heart rending chorus lifting it up above the clouds. I've never heard such joyful lyrics on a Nick Cave album, I have to say. I'm not complaining, as it's wonderful.


"Babe You Turn Me On" continues the loving mood in fine style. It's a reflective song, and possibly the quietest song on both records. Not without humour though, as the lyrics show.


"Now the nightingale sings to you

And raises up the ante

I put one hand round your ripe heart

And the other down your panties"


"Easy Money", by contrast, is a brooding edict full of melancholy and regret. Swirls of fog envelop the song, giving it an autumnal air. There is a very Eastern European feel to this song. You can just imagine Cave as an embittered nobleman sitting penniless in his Dacha.


"Now I'm sitting pretty on the bank

Life shuffles by at a low interest rate

In the honey coloured meadows

And all the interesting shadows

They leap up then dissipate"


"Supernaturally" kicks up a gear, harking back to the song swirls on "Abbatoir Blues". And it's another love song, brimful of things you could imagine Eroll Flynn saying aboard his pirate galleon. "Spell" is a much sadder, more haunted affair. Brushed drums and mournful violins tell of a nights' trudge through a snow laden wood. "Carry Me" is caught up in a violin snow swirl, hesitant and restless till the vocals give shape to a spooky 'danse macabre'...


"I heard the many voices

Speaking to me from the depths below

This ancient wound

This catacomb

 Beneath the whited snow"


The last song, "Oh Children" is a sinister tale concerning two children, seemingly carted  off to an internment camp. The muted music keeps the story incredibly tense and unbearably sad. Only the choral backing vies with Cave's cracked, emotive voice.

Okay, that's it then. I've finished. Long read, I know. Sorry. But if you have got this album already, you will forgive me for getting carried away. If you haven't got it, you will realize, I think, that it's recommended. 


Words : Richard Foster