Review Summary: If Satan had a big band, that's what it would sound like.
It was 1981. The disco scene was somewhere between it’s complete peak and complete downfall. Rock and pop started shifting towards each other to later create glam-metal and take over the airwaves all over the world. Artists were mostly singing about love and having fun in all of it’s forms, ending up sounding exactly the same.
A bit below this major scene something else was happening. The punk scene has shaken of the post-Pistols “anarchic” appeal and sacrificed upbeat juicy guitars and shouted “so-bad-it’s-good” vocal performances for subtle melancholy and feel of isolation and thus post-punk was born. Exemplified by the likes of The Cure, Bauhaus and Joy Division, to name a few, this new genre was the blueprint for gothic subculture, packed with introverted depressed or twisted lyricism and bleak lifeless instrumentation that seemed to be the sonic equivalent of the color grey.
Most of the aforementioned bands hail from the UK, further ensuring the image of a gloomy sea-locked state. Judging by how the most famous post-punk bands came out of the British Isles, it seems appropriate to call post-punk an exclusively British genre. But far away, in the fascinating land of Australia, post-punk has taken a life on its own. And what a sick and twisted life it was.
The Birthday Party is a gang of fabulously messed up musical perverts, formed in Melbourne in the late 1970’s. The line up consisted of and Mick Harvey on guitars, Tracy Pew on bass, Phil Calvert on drums and some jacked up lunatic Nick Cave on vocals. Initially called The Boys Next Door they started out like a more or less conventional new-wave band, playing lots of punk covers. The addition of Rowland S. Howard on guitar had a huge effect on the band’s sound as the style started adapting influences from blues, jazz and even rockabilly. After enjoying some moderate success in Australia the band moved to London where the new name was chosen and the rest is history.
”Prayers On Fire” is the first LP by The Birthday Party and to this day it remains one of the most disturbing pieces of music ever made. Beginning with tribal drumming and chanting, complete with a menacing bass-line on the opener “Zoo-Music Girl” and all the way to the sickeningly distorted “parody” of a blues song “Kathy’s Kisses”, the album works like a ride to a morbid party in Hell, happening in a deranged maniac’s mind. The word “sick” is probably the best adjective to describe any track on this record; this sickness is present on every song, taking over the listener in the process. And it’s an awesome kind of sickness.
After a few spins one starts to see some sort of logic in TBP’s music. The core of it is the rhythm section, which bears the most obvious traces of blues’ influence. Guitars provide disturbing hysterical coating for the songs, little creepy melodies crawling their way into the structure here and there; and sometimes there’s hardly any melody what’s so ever and guitars just make noise, intensifying the insanity. And then, of course, there are the vocals.
It’s a bit weird to think that the ranting madman behind the mic would go on to sing with Kylie Minogue in 1996. Cave’s vocals on this are blissfully crazy and intense and it’s hard not fall in love with his performance. He shrieks, grunts, yelps and screams, seemingly loosing himself in his own world, delivering delusional nightmarish lyrics that only a mind as twisted as his could come up with. There’s hardly any singing on this album: when Nick hits an actual note it seems like an accident. For this kind of music actual singing would seem inappropriate anyway.
Overall, this album is definitely not for everyone, unless you want to torture other people with it, in which case, there more people hear it the merrier. But if you’re keen of dark, menacing music and the perspective of listening to jazz and blues being sodomized and bludgeoned to death sounds good to you, than surely give “Prayers Of Fire” a try.