Review Summary: Release the bats
What do you get when you cross drunk junkies, sleazy scumbags, violent jazz, and a vampire? Well, my answer would be The Birthday Party.
Starting off with "Blast off", this record let's you know what you are getting yourself into. Loud, scratchy, off-kilter rhythms bleed into your skull. One thing you will notice is there are two guitarists and they both love tinny, trebly, and glassy tones. Sometimes it sounds like neither guitarists have heard the same song they are playing before. There are a lot of riffs that sound like rockabilly from hell. ***ed up exercises in noise and dark slinking lines from some middle eastern purgatory.
Some of the most disgusting and rebellious music is played on Junkyard. "Big Jesus Trash Can" is a perfect example of how to play some violent and mean jazz. With the drummer swinging on the ride and off-key horns swirl around drunken rambling, while hideous riffs fill up the cracks with noise, it's easy to see that the Birthday Party were really just doing their own thing. "The Dim Locator" is another stretch of the imagination of how far and ***ed up you can take jazz.
The rhythm section isn't necessarily jazz-like in the traditional approach. Many of the bass lines are simple and heavy, with emphasis on establishing the basic structure of the song. The drums follow along nicely with unique fills and many tom-based beats and syncopated hits.
The drummer has a signature style on this album where he just SMASHES the crash and snare so hard at times it sounds like a gunshot or a curb stomp or something. Listen to the seemingly random SMASHES on "She's Hit" for a good example. He absolutely crushes the snare hits into absurdity. This aggressive way of playing complements the simple distorted bass very well.
We've talked about the guitarists and all their brittle annoying glory but this shouldn't be glossed over. Many of the riffs sound structure less and made up the night before the recording. However, the more you listen to this record their brilliance shines through. Creativity is in no short supply with these weirdos. And you got to think about how hard it would be to write guitar in a band like this. That's a testament to this record. The personality and character that you each member brings is beautiful. Everyone brings their everything and bares it all.
Now, you can't talk about this band without mentioning the singer. Nick Cave needs no introduction, but it must be stated that this is one of his most memorable and brutal performances in his whole career. He's always written lyrics with imagery and violence and this record is not different. He squawks, shrieks, screams and hollers tales of death and despair. Cave sounds like a man possessed on this record. He ended up getting much more accessible and graceful later in his career but back in the early 80's he was a madman with a huge and very raw vocal range.
Cave lends his ultra unique vocals over an extremely unique band and the result is an unforgettable experience. No one else could sing a song like "Dead Joe" and get away with it. The guy is perfect for music this unsettling, and when the title track begins and you hear Cave's trembling voice cry "I am the king" it's hard not to believe him.