I heard Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads the first time maybe a year and a half ago. I was in a telecine session with Ben over at Smoke & Mirrors and he put it on. One of the advantages of a telecine session is that you don’t need to hear audio from the cut, so you can listen to whatever the hell you want. I’ve discovered a load of new music that way over the years, and this record is a prime example of that.

When he put it on, I immediately perked up and was all, “What the hell is this?!” and he told me that it was Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads. “Murder Ballads?!” I said. “Murder Ballads,” he said. “I LOVE murder ballads,” I said.

“Where The Wild Roses Grow”
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And, really, what good, red-blooded son of a bitch doesn’t enjoy a murder ballad? I can only take so many love songs before I want to get sick. But dish me up a plate of songs about murder and you’ve got my attention the whole time. And we’re not talking your typical heavy metal, horror movie murder stories. No, we’re talking about salt-of-the-earth, regular folk kind of murders. The best kind.

Wikipedia describes the murder ballad thusly.

Murder ballads are a sub-genre of the traditional ballad form, the lyrics of which form a narrative describing the events of a murder, often including the lead-up and/or aftermath. Traditional ballads are independent from broadsheet ballads insofar as the typical broadsheet form does not use the same formulas or structures and is rooted in a literate society: traditional ballads flourished within non-literate groups within society.

Pretty dry for something so juicy.

“Stagger Lee”

Armed with a direction and something to look for, I left my telecine and sought out the album. This was, perhaps, March of last year, and I was, even then, still buying a lot of music on compact disc. Remember those? Unfortunately the album was long out of print and not readily available. So I did what any conscientious consumer of music would do; I pirated Nick Cave’s entire discography.

I am glad I did it too, because the album is amazing. Originally released in 1996, I completely missed it the first time around. I was 14 years old and did not have ears for anything that wasn’t metal. I remember I had a CD alarm clock then and was woken to Napalm Death’s Fear. Emptiness. Despair. every day for a year or so. Murder Ballads would have been lost on me at this point in my life even if I had heard it. Besides, who wants to listen to some crap record that has not only PJ Harvey but also Kylie Minogue on it?? (Read: I do.)

“Henry Lee”
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I added this album to my “For the Phone” playlist on Spotify recently and it has provided a perfect companion for nighttime walks through the suddenly-below-freezing New York City streets. I wander around, looking at people, singing “I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know/And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole” from “Stagger Lee” to myself, and wonder what they would think to hear the music I am using to hide from them in plain sight.

Yesterday I was complaining about how the “singer” from The Man-Eating Tree can’t sing. And the truth is that Nick Cave does not have a good voice at all, but he’s in that same realm as Lou Reed or Tom Waits. That is, it doesn’t matter if he can’t sing, because that’s part of his schtick. His vocals would actually be worse if he had some dulcet singing voice. His coarseness complements his lyrical content, and that is what is important.

“The Curse of Millhaven”

Give the album a listen. And then listen again. It’s that good. Then listen again with headphones and pay attention the lyrics. If you generally like the recommendations I make here on The Black Laser, I promise you will like this.

If anyone out there really loves me, I think you know what to do.