Nick Cave's been writing songs about killing and other evil things since he first surfaced in 1980 as the Birthday Party's pale, skinny, goth-punk Jim Morrison. But the murder ballads that provide this set's title are different, tantalizingly deliberate. Sure, there's plenty of trademark Cave here, but Murder Ballads is a fascinating concept album that uses the narrative ballad form of the English folk tradition to tell of murder: random deaths, passion crimes, and killing sprees, all in one package. Cave clearly thrives in this genre, and he produces some of his sharpest and most facile writing to date. "Song of Joy," a genuinely scary campfire mystery of a murdered family and an unnamed killer, chillingly weaves clues into the lyrics, while "Where the Wild Roses Grow" is a narrative duet in which killer (Cave) and victim (pop star Kylie Minogue) reveal parallel tales. Cave even shows his knack for adaptation on Bob Dylan's "Death Is Not the End": he recontextualizes a song of heavenly comfort into a sort of zombie "We Are the World" (featuring Minogue, PJ Harvey, Shane MacGowan, and others) in which "death is not the end" of pain and suffering. Above all, Murder Ballads should be heard as a work of pulp fiction--as sensationally funny as it is harrowing. The already violent traditional song "Stagger Lee" becomes gangsta folk, so ridiculously packed with obscenity and brutality it would make the Geto Boys cringe. And Cave's (unintentional?) point to would-be censors--that bad-ass songs existed long before rappers polluted the airways--should not be missed. --Roni Sarig --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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