Nick Cave Abbatoir Blues
Seven years ago Nick Cave released Boatman’s Call the record that many saw as the peak of his career so far, a mature masterpiece that eclipsed his previous releases with The Bad Seeds and the youthful chaos of his days in The Birthday Party.
Composed and delivered mostly on piano with subtle backing from his seven piece band it really couldn’t escape the analysis that this was very close to a solo record, the follow up record No More Shall We Part continued this theme of piano led reflective musings but despite a handful of great songs and some nice lyrical twists there was a nagging doubt Cave was heading into a cul de sac musically.
Last years Nocturama saw the reintroduction of some dirt and rock into proceedings courtesy of a more upfront Bad Seeds backing but despite another handful of great moments again it paled in the shadow of Cave’s best and more consistent recordings.
As it turns out these two records now appear essential in Cave refining his craft, as over 17 songs on his thirteenth album he delivers the best music of his career.
Split into two different CD’s the combined 82 minutes of music was recorded at Ferber Studios ( Parisian studio were Nina Simone and Serge Gainsbourg recorded ) using analogue equipment over a ten day period.
The music has a heavy slant towards backing vocals, a gospel type effect that acts as a nice foil to Cave’s own distinct vocals.
This record also features much more of a band feel, the tasteful, effective and deft touches of the Bad Seeds light up the record on a regular basis.
Critically this record has been almost universally acclaimed, notably reviews have extensively quoted and focused on Cave’s lyrics but musically this record holds its own too, memorable tunes are in abundance, as is stylistic variety and only Fable Of The Brown Ape which closes Abattoir Blues veers into more obtuse territory.
Abattoir Blues opens with the most frantic song on show, the stomping Get Ready For Love; a call to arms for religious fervour in secular times, a cacophony of sound meets gospel backing, Cave sounding like a demented preacher watching his ruined church collapse under the apathy and chaos of the modern world.
The clanging mutated and eventual staccato backing of Cannibal’s Hymn is balanced by acoustic guitar and piano, Cave delivers a cautionary plea perhaps borne out of his own earlier indulgencies.
Hiding All Away is one of the key songs in this collection, lyrically it works on several levels, the elusive figure in the song could easily be regarded in subsequent verses as God, the devil or Cave himself, the verses are split by an intense outburst from the Bad Seeds and Cave is echoed vocally by dramatic vocal backing in time honoured call and response fashion until the final coda where there is an anthemic finale which turns the song on its head musically and lyrically.
After that intensity the mood is lightened musically by Messiah Ward, soothing backing vocals and a shuffling beat work well on this piano led number, no less intense lyrically the song laments some modern catastrophe offset by an achingly wistful tune.
There She Goes My Beautiful world reflects on art and it’s motivation and name checks a range of personalities from Johnny Thunders via Karl Marx to Philip Larkin, cunningly it under plays Cave’s own talent with a telling lyric whilst the passionate vocals both lead and backing again mix rock and gospel.
Nature Boy is a more obviously commercial number, it drives along melodically and it reflects on the bitter sweet nature of human existence, as is the case with the rest of the songs there is no small amount of wry humour underpinning the weighty subject matter.The title track follows a beat heavy blues, strong in melody and economic in structure.
Let The Bells Ring is Cave’s tribute to Johnny Cash, an uplifting homage, featuring yet again a superb lyric that is plaintively effective.The first disc closes with The Fable Of The Brown Ape, a strange 2 minutes 45 seconds of dynamic changes from a mournful verse to cataclysmic chorus, a more challenging tale that ultimately fails to meet the standards elsewhere.
The Lyre Of Orpheus in general has slower material although the title track recalls the first disc in its call and response structure, a comic mutation on the Orpheus tale, it features another blues gospel refrain.
Breathless features flute and an exotic Spanish/Brazilian folk beat, another commercial moment that has an excellent chorus, a love song that is a refreshingly effective detour.Babe You Turn Me On, is the centre piece of this record, a beautifully constructed and delivered song that again works on several levels-is the love/lust at the centre of the song an oasis of hope in chaotic times or is it one of the human weaknesses that have created that very chaos?
It’s a lovely song that could just as easily be taken on a literal level as Cave both narrates and sings metaphorical and lyrical twists.
Easy Money keeps the pace slow and the quality high, a sampled effect works well married and blended with acoustic instrumentation.The next track Supernaturally ups the tempo with its hand claps and percussive piano chords, its Hey Ho refrain fracturing the tensioned feel on the verses.Spell has a spookier feel and a more understated refrain with Cave on backing vocals for once and Warren Ellis violin plays against what sounds like a sampled version of itself.Carry Me continues the mood of the preceding track, Cave's vocals echoed by the backing singers until the effect is reversed on the main refrain, it's a nice soulful number that keeps itself in check at just over three minutes.The album closes with O Children, an epic 6 minutes plus that finishes the record in great style, a hopeful end that goes full circle to the opener on Abattoir Blues, a New Testament closer to an Old Testament opener.
In terms of production, the second disc works much better, the quieter material also seems to have more spacious arrangements, the rockier first disc can sound a bit forced at times although the detail is there. For me the music overshadows the actual production and with the size of band and the quick recording it is perhaps no surprise it can sound a bit congested at times. A bit more clarity would have been nice but volume plays a big part with the revival of the Bad Seed sound, it's a slight problem that I can live with.
It's quite easy in terms of modern music to lament the absence of greatness, Cave alludes to and works in the shadows of the greats, this record is in my humble opinion equates to their achievements in a modern sense, it is that good and I defy anyone after half a dozen or so spins of these 17 tracks not to agree.
Its success is down to several factors, Cave has the same foundations and beliefs as the greats but he writes about God and bigger issues in realistic terms, he is the believer with the human flaws and sins, the humour and gritty reality of his writing demystifies him and he writes with a fantastic balance of space and specifics. The effect is space for the listener's imagination to indulge itself and yet it is also full of cleverly observed truths. Several songs could be seen to allude to current conflicts and yet the effect is more powerful and more precise for not dealing with these events specifically.
Cave has became a master craftsman, he's worked hard to fuse stronger tunes with his obvious lyrical talents and has delivered a collection full of energy, wit, fear and love.There is a conviction to his writing that prevents the songs unravelling despite outlandish concepts. His writing has an artistic weight that holds the mundane and epic together.
Finally as with all great records it can be listened to as a set of quality songs that work as escapist entertainment. Nick Cave recently commented that he was so happy with this record that he considered it to be the work of several geniuses and bandmate Mick Harvey stated it was clearly their best record to date.They weren't wrong,my record of the year by a country mile.
© Ben Campbell
Sonically the music is horribly compressed. The package is quite nice. Not a gatefold but picture sleeves throughout and some nice embossing.