It’s almost certain that Nick Cave’s most widely known known song resides here and it’s also as likely that said song worked wonders for two careers. The duet “Where The Wild Roses Grow” with soap star and PWL (a.k.a Stock, Aitken and Waterman) starlet Kylie Minogue thrust Cave into a pop world he’d normally have been excluded from and it bestowed a veil of alternative cool on Minogue.
“Murder Ballads” is a collection of original songs, traditional arrangements and covers of songs on the subject of murder, or specifically “crime passionnel” as the French would have it, crimes of passion. “Where The Wild Roses Grow” is a perfect example of the genre, sung from the point of view of both sides of the passion and resulting in the male protagonist beating his love’s brains out with a gert big rock ! It’s a musical format that has existed for centuries.
The songs on this album are populated by a bunch of psychopaths, cut-throats, sadists and nut-jobs. The arrangements of two traditional songs feature “Stagger Lee”, a violent pimp from 19th century America who murdered Billy Lyons allegedly for stealing his stetson, and “Henry Lee”, a traditional Scottish tale of infidelity and murder sung as a duet with PJ Harvey.
“The Curse of Millhaven” regales us with the story of Lottie, a 15 year old serial killer and no lover of dogs either; “Lovely Creature” is an ambiguous tale set among a choir of eerie vocals concerning a girl who meets a man and is most certainly done away with; “Song Of Joy” sees a gent return from his travels to find his whole family brutally murdered; “The Kindness Of Strangers” is a favourite of mine. Poor Mary Bellows just wants to escape home and travel to see the ocean. She meets Richard Slade upon whom she impresses the fact that she is a good girl, but still they “found Mary Bellows cuffed to the bed with a rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head”; “Crow Jane” is another traditional song but Nick makes it his own to the extent he gets a writing credit. Jane is ravaged by 20 miners in her own home and subsequently takes bloody revenge by reducing the population of the mining town of New Haven by 20 souls.
“Murder Ballads” crowning glory is the first song that was written for the album and the reason the album was made at all. “O’Malleys Bar” was written during the recording of “Henry’s Dream”, 4 years previously, but was so different from anything else written for that, or the subsequent album “Let Love In”, it was decided to make an album on which the song could co-exist with others like it. It is a 14 and a half minute epic of dark brooding, murderous malevolence in which a man walks into a bar (boom-boom…literally) and kills everyone inside, describing each murder in great detail (for example “and with an ashtray as big as a f*cking really big brick, I split his head in half”), and ruminating upon his reasons before meekly surrendering to the Police because he doesn’t want to die. It’s quite brilliant and someone should turn it into a film.
Final song “Death Is Not The End” is a cover of a Bob Dylan song in which, surprisingly, no-one dies. In total 65 people and a dog die during “Murder Ballads”*** (plus those covered by the line “he's done many, many more" in “Song Of Joy” and the uncounted victims of "the fire of '91" mentioned in “The Curse of Milhaven”) making it, I would think, the most homicidal album ever made. It is with that in mind that I can’t help but wonder whether all those Kylie Minogue fans that bought it weren’t scarred for life.
The Comfort Of Strangers - https://youtu.be/gunKL5lfUt4
***Yes, someone counted them - http://www.bad-seed.org/~cave/info/albums/mb_count.html