Rating: 4 Stars
Two big things have made this a difficult review. First, with this fall rush of releases, I have so many choices of new albums to listen to: The Blood Brothers, Elliott Smith, Jimmy Eat World and Me First And The Gimme Gimmes being at the top for me. But this is Nick Cave. That brings me to my second problem. While I know the man and his band are legends, I have never even heard them before. I have nothing to compare this album to; I must take it as it is. If you expected a review comparing his thirteenth studio release, a two-album set, to Cave's past work, you will obviously have to look elsewhere. If you want to hear about how good the albums are on their own, read on. And they are good indeed.
Even though I didn't get any sort of info or bio with album, I did a little research to try and appease those of you who already know the band. Lineup-wise, this is the first Bad Seeds album without guitarist Blixa Bargeld, with Mick Harvey covering all the guitars. Next, the two albums were recorded in one 16-day studio session; the albums are separated by choice alone. Also of note is the packaging, while of course secondary to the tunes, it is unique- an open-ended box covered in some sort of textured fabric which holds two sleeves for the disc and a heavy duty booklet complete with lyrics and plenty of cool artsy studio pics.
Abattoir Blues is very bluesy indeed, a rock and roll album with many angry songs and booming bass lines. The opener "Get Ready for Love" has remained one of my favorite tracks throughout my listens, due in part to the driving drum beat but most of all the addition of the London Community Gospel Choir, which sings with such fervor on "Get ready!" and "Praise Him!" that you can't help but try and keep up with them singing along. The solo sopranos really let fly on some incredibly high notes too; it's quite intense. Almost all the songs use the choir or at least additional backup vocalists providing a very full sound, and "Hiding All Away" is another good example. "There She Goes, My Beautiful World" is another highlight, with a rare major key chorus, still creeped out by Cave's voice, but being gorgeous anyway, again with help from the choir. "Nature Boy" is another of the few "happy" sounding tracks on the album, and this one is a toe tapper strong on piano. One last mention for this album regarding the last track, "Fable of the Brown Ape" - Cave has definitely cooked up a bizarre tale here, and with its quiet exterior, one could easily be surprised by the sudden outbursts contained within.
The Lyre of Orpheus insists on being a separate album, due to its completely different more gentle feel. It starts with the title track, which continues with his tradition (I've read) of creating and recreating myths, this one is his version of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's an outlandish story originally, and humorously phrased by Cave. Cave's version goes like this: Orpheus creates a homemade guitar with a sound so beautiful yet so powerful that it almost kills his wife when he plays it to her. He doesn't seem to mind and goes around outside playing and "Birdies detonated in the sky / Bunnies dashed their brains out on the trees." It also contains lines rhyming Orpheus with orifice, but you'll just have to hear that one yourselves. With its thumping bass and drums, twanging guitars and murderous recitation by Cave, this opener is a highlight on the disc, and from here on there is nothing as intense. "Supernaturally" is the only upbeat song on this album and it is a great one, full of strings, furiously strummed guitars, and shouts of "Hey! Ho! Oh baby, don't you go". The rest of the album is full of calm songs with brushes on the drums and twinkling piano abound. The additional singers and choir are still present, but more on the tender side than the gospel furry found on songs on Abattoir. The best song of this style would be the Barry White / Marvin Gaye style love ballad "Babe, You Turn Me On", which is full of metaphors like "I make like I'm a little deer / Grazing on the flowers", making you wonder if that means what you think it does. But he gets it all out there early on with "I put one hand on your round ripe heart / And the other down your panties". The flute-tinged "Breathless" and the majestic "O, Children" would be other toppers.
I prefer Abattoir Blues for being more upbeat and rocking, though The Lyre of Orpheus is well put together and shows the versatility of this outfit. On such a sprawling album(s), I was very impressed by the consistent high quality of the tunes; they are all obviously very well thought-out, orchestrated and performed. While I was a bit hesitant at first, Cave has drawn me in with his lyrics most of all, and secondly by the ability of him and his band to frame all the stories so perfectly. So although I felt handicapped in writing this review, I seemed to spew quite a bit out on these albums and that must say something. I would recommend this box to anyone patient enough for it, and for the previous Cave fans as well I'm sure. Well, Allmusic gave this their check for album pick out of Cave's discography, and they're always right, right?