I love this album. I wasn't a Nick Cave fan simply because I didn't really know his music until he duetted with Kylie Minogue. I then heard Henry Lee with PJ Harvey, and I decided to buy the album to hear more. And I'm glad I did.
This is a collection of breathtakingly original, genuinely spooky songs, each telling a story from beinning to end. Where The Wild Roses Grow, Death Is Not The End, Henry Lee are all brilliant, but then so is every track on this album. If you like original music that has something to say, this is an album for you.
Only, don't listen to it last thing at night. You may want to sleep with the lights on .........
Song Of Joy - despite the title, this is a harrowing tale of a doctor who turns up one night at a stranger's desolate house, asking if he will be given shelter for the night in payment for him telling the homeowner a tale of his life. He does not wait for an answer and launches into his story - how he married a young woman named Joy but soon after, she fell victim to a 'melancholy' that settled over the house, making her children as quiet as Church mice, almost as though Joyce could foresee her bloody end. One night the doctor came home from a house-call to find his wife and three children stabbed to death - the children still in their cots. Spookily, the doctor adds that they never caught the man responsible. Would you believe him - and would you let him stay the night??
Lovely Creature - this song is setting a man's worst nightmare to music. He takes a beautiful, well-dressed girl out for a walk, imagining that he takes her past the pyramids and all sorts of fanciful places, only to return home without her. He says he does not know where she has gone, but then he adds that she lies buried underground, still with the ribbons in her hair and green gloves upon her hands ........
Henry Lee - Probably the most twisted love story ever set to music. PJ Harvey's slightly flat, melancholy tones perfectly match Cave's - despite their actual ages, they are perfectly believable as a young couple thrown together by a chance meeting. Only she wants more than he can give her - and when he tells her he has a sweetheart back home, she stabs him 'through and through' with a penknife. "Lie there, lie there, little Henry Lee, til the flesh drops from your bones'. Who ever heard such a chilling line sung? "The girl you have in that merry green land can wait forever for you to come home," she adds viciously, before disposing of his body in a "deep, deep well that's more than one hundred feet."
Where The Wild Roses Grow - the most polished song on the album, but also one of the most charming. Nick Cave saw something in Kylie - the way she can keep on adapting and growing, her ability to allow other artistes to mould her into something new - and he knew that Kylie's sweet innocence would be ideal for the role of Eliza Day. She's the young romantic who falls for a man who gives her wild roses, then he kills her and lays her in the river next to those roses. He believes she is too beautiful to live. Eliza is singing her part of the duet from the grave - she wants the world to know that she had a name - Eliza Day - rather than the sensationalist tag "The Wild Rose". You can just imagine the newspapers coming up with that sort of moniker for the murdered girl.
The Curse of Millhaven - a bawdy romp through the murderous antics of Loretta ("I prefer Lottie") who sits at the interview table, restrained by a strait-jacket, her lips foaming as she gleefully recounts her killings - ("I'm a monster, I admit it!" Any song that can rhyme the phrase 'Rorshach Tests' is a winner with me. Classic lines - "Well, my hair ain't yellow and my eyes ain't green / it's more like the other way around!" and "If bad was a boot, I'd fit it."
Death Is Not The End - The Bad Seeds, Shane McGowan, Kylie, PJ Harvey, and Anita Lane join Nick Cave for a final, desperately hopeful sing-along. Death Is Not the End they say, and if Eliza Day can sing from beyond the grave, how can it be?
Stagger Lee - he knows he's the baddest guy in town and now he's going to make sure everyone else knows it too. He ignores the old prostitute trying to tempt him and instead turns his attentions to her pimp before killing him. It's like the lowest, meanest Western come to life ......
The Kindness of Strangers - this is a fantastic, excellent song. Young Mary Bellows leaves her home in Arkansas for the first time, to see the sea and spread her wings. She takes a train to a nameless town and, on said train, she meets a man "called Richard Slade" who she chats with on the journey. He even carries her suitcase to the door of her hotel room, but remembering her mother's advice, she tells him, "I'm a good girl, sir, she said to him / I couldn't possibly permit you in". So Slade, seeming to take this well, "tips his hat and winks his eye / and turned away without goodbye".
Alone in her room, Mary ponders on her new friendship, and begins to think her life may be more exciting if she took a few risks. So, "In hope and loneliness, she crossed the floor / and undid the latch on her front door." This is the worst thing she could have done, for Richard Slade, it turns out (if that is even his real name), wasn't that happy after all at being turned away earlier.
"They found Mary Bellows cuffed to the bed, with a rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head / O poor Mary Bellows" sings Cave, with all the macabre intonation of the sensationalist Victorian newspapers of the day. Mary echoes his last verse - warning others: "So mothers keep your girls at home / don't let them journey out alone \ tell them this world is full of danger \ to shun the company of strangers." Mary's crying can be heard as the song peters out. It's a genuinely haunting song - it greally makes your skin prickle.
How could you not love an album that not only contains such fantastic songs but, among the credits, details who did the 'screaming' and the 'crying' as well as who played what instrument. And on "The Curse of Millhaven", the Bad Seeds and Anita Lane among others join in on backing vocals as the "Moron Tabernacle Choir"!
Unfortunately, there's one song that was missed off this album of 'Murder Ballads' - a song I would have loved to hear. It's where two hundred music fans murder Peter Andre ...........
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