Nick Cave is certainly an interesting artist. He is intensely fascinated with death, murder, love and religion, and mixes all of these subjects into his songs. This time Nick Cave decided to bless us with a double album, entitled Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. This probably have people divided, some thrilled because there’ll be a lot of new music by Nick Cave for people to listen to, and some who are afraid that this will suffer from what most double-albums suffer from. Fillers. In actual fact these discs are just about 40 minutes in length each, and could probably have been slapped on to a single album, with a few outtakes. Why weren’t they then? Well there’s a very simple reason. These are two separate albums, in a sense, with a completely different feel to each of them, stressed by the fact that they have two different titles, both aptly chosen. Abattoir Blues is Nick Cave’s attempt at blues-rock, while The Lyre of Orpheus is a gentler album consisting of mostly ballads, though there are a few exceptions . I don’t necessarily listen to one and then the next afterwards. There’s no cd 1 and cd 2. They could have been released separately, which gives me, the reviewer, a problem. How is this supposed to be reviewed? As one entity, or as two separate albums? I decided to do a bit of both, and even giving a separate rating for each album. We’ll start with Abattoir Blues, since it’s first in the title.
True to Nick Cave’s style, most of these songs are about love or religion or both, fairly evident on the first track of Abattoir Blues.
“Get ready for love! Praise Him!” is repeated in the powerful blues-rock chorus, complete with a gospel choir, crashing drums and guitar. It’s clear from the very first line that his lyrics revolve around religion, which might be somewhat of a pet peeve to some. Now, I’m not much of a Christian, but there’s no denying that this is a fantastic song, which sets the tone for the first of the two albums. The album does shift between up-tempo and quiet songs, even though it is considerably rockier than The Lyre of Orpheus. A song like ”Messiah Ward”
, could’ve been on Orpheus instead, it’s not exactly a strict division. The over-all feel of the albums are quite different though. This is no “The Boatman’s Call”. Gone are the gentle, introspective ballads, replaced by loud rock n’ roll. Many of the songs feature the same majestic choruses with gospel choirs, which work surprisingly well, avoiding the obvious risk of sounding cheesy. In fact Abattoir Blues wouldn’t be as good at all without the gospel choirs. The stand-out track ”Hiding All The Way”
, builds up for minutes, ending with with Nick Cave crying out, accompanied by his choir, ”There is a war coming”
repeatedly, which happens to be one of the best moments on a Nick Cave album (...that I’ve heard).
His lyrics are packed with imagery as usual, a lot of it with religious undertones, but it doesn’t hurt the album at all. The songs do have very different lyrics though, for example stand-out track ”There She Goes, My Beautiful World”
, which upon first listen will seem like a love song, but is actually about the act of writing, or rather not being able to write anything. (“John Willmot penned his poetry / Riddled with the pox / Nabakov Wrote on index cards / at a lectern, in his socks / St. John of the Cross did his best stuff / Imprisoned in a box / And Johnny Thunders was half alive / When he wrote Chinese Rocks”)
, followed by a stanza, which opens with (“Well, me I’m lying here, with nothing in my ears”)
. Nick Cave laments that he wants to move the world, but is unable to come up with anything. The lyrics are actually quite different throughout the album, and definitely add another layer of enjoyment to the record. Nick Cave is very famous for his literary, though dark lyrics, which are comparable to artists like Leonard Cohen
and Tom Waits
The album closer is ”Fable Of The Brown Ape”
, which uses a soft verse and a powerful chorus (I’ve said that a lot, I know, but a lot of the choruses are really strong, which is augmented by the choir) to create a sharp contrast. It ends the album on a sombre note, but the song itself is not as strong as some of the other songs on the album.
Kicking off the second album is an equally strong opener, though a more quietly disturbing track called The Lyre of Orpheus. It tells the tale of the musician and poet Orpheus, with a Nick Cave twist. The lyrics are dark and humurous, to the point where some might find them cheesy and silly. (Look what I’ve made, cried Orpheus / And he plucked a gentle note / Eurydice’s eyes popped from their sockets / And her tongue burst through her throat)
. Nearing the end of the song, she threatens to stick the lyre up his “orifice” as it is elequently put. The song doesn’t have an actual chorus, but a short refrain (O mamma) at the end of each stanza. This is a definite highlight. It isn’t as representative of the album though, as “Let The Bells Ring”
was for Abattoir, in that it isn’t a very gentle or soft song at all. It’s quite menacing and disturbing. The choir is often heard on this disc as well, but used to add emotion to the songs, rather than adding punch to a chorus, as it is mainly used on Abattoir.
The next song ”Breathless”
, however, is much softer and gentler, though quite upbeat and happy. It starts with a lot of strange flute sounds, but is really a pretty standard love/religious song (The lines are somewhat blurred in a lot of his songs. Whether he is praising a woman or God or both isn’t always clear). Again the flow of gentle songs is not a constant throughout the album. ”Supernaturally”
is quite upbeat , while retaining a more or less accoustic instrumentation., and the aforemention ”The Lyre of Orpheus”
is really not that gentle at all. What’s true for all of the songs is the quality of the songwriting, though some of course stand out more than others. If you choose to listen to it in the order of Abattoir Blues followed by The Lyre of Orpheus, you have advantage of one mother of a closing track. ”O Children”
is a fantastic, epic, frightening ballad, up there with the best songs Nick Cave have recorded.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic double-album by Nick Cave, which does not suffer from the fillers most double-albums seem to. It’s as good a starting place as any to get into Nick Cave, since, while it is lengthy, it is divided into two albums, which can be absorbed one at a time. Most of the brilliant tracks are on Abattoir Blues, and as a whole, it is a better album. The Lyre of Orpheus does drag slightly, at least when put against Abattoir Blues. The two albums are good for different moods though. I was actually surprised when I realized that I preferred Abattoir of the two, because Nick Cave usually writes songs in the style of ”The Lyre of Orpheus”
, and it was really that album I was anticipating the most when I bought this. Below are the ratings and some highlight tracks, which I found very hard to pick for this album.
Abattoir Blues: 4,5/5
Get Ready For Love
Hiding All Away (Probably the best track on Abattoir)
There She Goes My Beautiful World
The Lyre of Orpheus: 3,5/5
The Lyre Of Orpheus
O Children (Hands down the best track on Orpheus)
Combined score: 4/5
– A solid album, strongly recommended.