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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus

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Artist: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Album: Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus

Label: Mute

Review date: Oct. 21, 2004

Religion seems to be popping up all over the place in pop culture these days – from Kanye West to Sufjan Stevens, from The Passion of the Christ to Saved!, religion is a hot-button topic on the pop culture map once again. It’s probably not a coincidence that President Bush is in the process of bringing about the end times.

Of course, there are those secular figures like Nick Cave, who have been exploring religious themes in their work for ages (in Cave’s case, over the course of four decades). The truth is, there is no one with a perspective on religion quite like Nick Cave; he treats his subject matter at once with reverence and with disgust.

With his new double album, he paints himself as a dark, apocalyptic prophet, pondering the events of the book of Revelation as if he was watching them unfold before his very eyes. Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus differ from Cave’s previous albums in that they actually sound like religious music. For the majority of the first disc, he enlists the aid of the London Community Gospel Choir. On paper, this could read like a recipe for a very bad Nick Cave album, but Cave incorporates the choir in a way that adds to the unsettling portrait of God and man he’s trying to paint here. Or, more simply, the choir provides great atmospherics for the doomsday jamboree that is Abattoir Blues.

The opening track “Get Ready for Love” could almost be mistaken for a straightforward praise-and-worship song (that is, if any ex-members of Pussy Galore were the musical directors at your church) if it weren’t for the inclusion of a line like “Praise Him till you’ve forgotten what you’re praising Him for.” The combination of the gospel choir and the Bad Seeds’ raucous, careening squall is perfect, and they keep it up for the majority of Abattoir.

Cave also continues his exploration of sex and religion, a steady theme throughout his body of work. He places tawdry tales, like disc two’s “Babe, You Turn Me On,” alongside “Spell” and “Breathless” – two pure, genuine love songs to God. “Babe” is the Song of Solomon to “Spell”’s Psalms or “Fable of the Brown Ape’s” Proverbs.

Not every track explores Biblical themes – “Hiding All Away” is a sea shanty and “The Lyre of Orpheus” is a re-telling of Greek mythology, with a very different ending: “Eurydice appeared brindled in blood / And she said to Orpheus / If you play that fucking thing down here / I’ll stick it up your orifice!” Cave’s sense of humor also pops up on “There She Goes, My Beautiful World,” where he makes jokes about a laundry list of historical figures like Willmot, Nabakov, Marx, Gaugin, and also Johnny Thunders and Dylan Thomas.

The Bad Seeds have not made a record this ambitious, well, ever, and the results are rewarding, thoughtful and challenging. Cave’s lyrics have always been amazing, but here, when given a larger palate with which to work, his words resonate even more.

By Daniel M. Gill

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