Last updated on 5 September 2017
Murder Ballads is the ninth studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, released in 1996 on Mute Records. As its title suggests, the album consists of new and traditional murder ballads, a genre of songs that relays the details (and often consequences) of crimes of passion.
"Where the Wild Roses Grow," a duet featuring Cave singing with Kylie Minogue, was a hit single and received two ARIA Awards in 1996. Other prominent guest musicians on the album include PJ Harvey and Shane MacGowan.
Murder Ballads was the band's biggest commercial success to date, most likely helped by the unexpected repeated airplay of the "Where the Wild Roses Grow" video on MTV. MTV even nominated Cave for their "best male artist" award of that year, though this nomination was later withdrawn at Cave's request. Cave later said, "I was kind of aware that people would go and buy the Murder Ballads album and listen to it and wonder 'What the fuck have I bought this for?' because the Kylie song wasn't any true indication of what the record was actually like."
The first song written for the album was "O'Malley's Bar", when the band was recording Henry's Dream. According to Cave, the idea for the Murder Ballads album came from this song: "We couldn't use 'O'Malley's Bar' on any of our other records. So we had to make a record, an environment where the songs could exist." Recordings were done towards the end of the Let Love In sessions, and there was some thought that the early material could be made into a film with John Hillcoat. Cave said, "I was going around everywhere with letters of intent, pushing them at everyone I knew, saying 'Do you want to be in this film?'"
Murder Ballads received almost unanimous critical praise. Bill van Parys of Rolling Stone wrote that "never before have manic elements elevated Cave's shtick to art as on Murder Ballads", describing the album as "literate, sultry and tortured" and "the performance of Nick Cave's life." Tony Scherman of Entertainment Weekly warned that Murder Ballads was "not for the squeamish," calling it "the rare pop record that resonates with the weight of the ages". In The New York Times, Neil Strauss felt that the album "is about more than storytelling", adding that Cave "meticulously creates a macabre fable and then distills it to a single image of death in much the way a photographer arranges a studio shoot". In a mixed review, Spin's Chris Norris complimented the album's "sordid epics and dark confessionals", but felt that Cave's "rheumy Poe-ish romance" songs were less effective.
In the English music press, Select's Clark Collis remarked that Murder Ballads "weaves itself together into a meditation on death that is both beautiful and genuinely unnerving." Q observed that "musically, the Bad Seeds touch on tinkling cabaret jazz, country-paced morbidity and every morose station between." Murder Ballads ranked number 16 on Melody Maker's list of 1996's Albums of the Year and number 7 in the NME's 1996 critics' poll.
All tracks written by Nick Cave, except where noted.
The Bad Seeds
- Nick Cave – Vocals (1–10), Piano (1, 5, 8, 9), Organ (1, 2, 4, 6, 10), Hammond (1), Gun Shots (2), String Arrangement (5)
- Blixa Bargeld – Guitar (1–8, 10), Screams (2), Vocals (10)
- Martyn P. Casey – Bass (1–5, 7, 8)
- Mick Harvey – Drums (1), Guitar (2, 4, 5, 7, 10), Acoustic Guitar (3, 5), Organ (3), Wind Organ (4), Backing Vocals (5), String Arrangement (5), Bass (6, 9), Hammond (8), Space Belt (8), Percussion (9)
- Conway Savage – Piano (2–4, 7, 10), Backing Vocals (5), Organ (9)
- Jim Sclavunos – Drums (2, 8), Percussion (4, 10), Bells (5), Tambourine (6)
- Thomas Wydler – Maracas (2), Drums (3–7, 9, 10), Tambourine (8), Vocals (10)
- PJ Harvey – Vocals (3, 10)
- Terry Edwards – Horns (4)
- Katharine Blake – Additional Vocals (4)
- Kylie Minogue – Vocals (5, 10)
- Jen Anderson – Violin (5)
- Sue Simpson – Violin (5)
- Kerran Coulter – Viola (5)
- Helen Mountfort – Cello (5)
- Hugo Race – Guitar (6)
- Warren Ellis – Violin (6), Accordion (6)
- Marielle Del Conte – Additional Vocals (7)
- Anita Lane – Crying (7), Vocals (10)
- Geraldine Johnston – Additional Vocals (8)
- Liz Corcoran – Additional Vocals (8)
- Shane MacGowan – Vocals (10)
- Brian Hooper – Bass (10)
The Moron Tabernacle Choir on "The Curse of Millhaven"
- "Stagger Lee" is based on a traditional song about the African-American murderer of the same name. Cave's version draws most of the lyrics from a 1967 transcription published in the 1976 book The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler.
- "Henry Lee" is also based on a traditional song (or two), often referred to as Young Hunting. It is a duet with PJ Harvey, a British rock singer who was in a relationship with Cave at the time.
- "Where the Wild Roses Grow" was a very popular duet with Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue. Cave says the traditional song "The Willow Garden" (which is a B-side on the "Where the Wild Roses Grow" single) was the song that inspired him to write "Where the Wild Roses Grow".
- "The Curse of Millhaven" takes place in the fictional town of Millhaven, created by author Peter Straub.
- "Crow Jane" shares its title with a traditional blues song; Cave's version appears to be entirely original.
- "Death Is Not the End" is a song featuring several vocalists, such as Anita Lane, Kylie Minogue, PJ Harvey, and Shane MacGowan, including Cave himself and his bandmembers drummer Thomas Wydler and guitarist Blixa Bargeld. They each sing a verse in this cover of a Bob Dylan song, the only song in which an actual death does not occur. Cave later described it as, "just kind of a jokey little punctuation mark to the whole thing. There's tongue-in-cheek to that song, even though I think it's quite a beautiful rendition."
Charts and Certification
|United Kingdom (BPI)
*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
- ^ Nick Cave letter to MTV. nick-cave.com, 21 October 1996. Accessed 28 August 2010.
- ^ Dwyer, Michael (July 1998). "Album by Album with Nick Cave". Rolling Stone Australia. No. 550. Sydney, NSW: Tilmond Pty Ltd. p. 41.
- ^ a b c Walker, Clinton (Summer 1995). "Nick Cave Evil's Elder Statesman". Triple J Magazine. No. 1. Sydney, NSW: Gore and Osment. pp. 12–17.
- ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Murder Ballads – Nick Cave / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
- ^ a b Scherman, Tony (8 March 1996). "Murder Ballads". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
- ^ Sullivan, Caroline (26 January 1996). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads (Mute)". The Guardian.
- ^ Ali, Lorraine (17 February 1996). "Bone-Chilling 'Murder Ballads' From Cave". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
- ^ Fadele, Dele (3 February 1996). "Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". NME. Archived from the original on 17 August 2000. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
- ^ Berman, Stuart (25 May 2011). "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Let Love In / Murder Ballads / The Boatman's Call / No More Shall We Part". Pitchfork. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- ^ a b "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads". Q. No. 114. March 1996. p. 93.
- ^ a b Van Parys, Bill (21 March 1996). "Nick Cave: Murder Ballads". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- ^ a b Collis, Clark (March 1996). "The executioner's songs". Select. No. 69. p. 88.
- ^ a b Norris, Chris (March 1996). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads". Spin. Vol. 11 no. 12. pp. 111–12. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
- ^ Strauss, Neil (2 November 1996). "Rapper and Rocker: Meditations on Death". The New York Times. Section 2, p. 30. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
- ^ NME, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
- ^ Melody Maker, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
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- ^ "Swisscharts.com – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- ^ "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- ^ "British album certifications – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". British Phonographic Industry. Enter Murder Ballads in the search field and then press Enter.
- The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler, Wepman, Newman & Binderman, Holloway House, 1976, ISBN 0-87067-367-X
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