40 Best Albums of ‘04
#1 - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus
MOJO writers’ records(s) of the year celebrated by Sylvie Simmons
“THE WORK,” Cave told MOJO, “of a genius.” Though his tongue was presumably no too many miles from his cheek, he was spot on. This was his big one. A personal milestone in a more than quarter-century recording history. And the return of the Great Double Album- a long-lost creature last seen around the time Cave swapped Birthday Party for Bad Seeds 13 albums ago.
With CDs offering a berth for 70 minutes of music, it’s rare these days for an act to stick its neck out and offer a double- unless they’re out of their heads (OutKast), bent on commercial suicide (Wilco), incapable of editing themselves, or all of the above. But Cave decided he needed two discs for his sweeping 80-minute treatise on Love, Lust, History, Humanity, Myth, Apocalypse, Panties, God, Rock n’ Roll- the capital letter stuff that’s been his lifelong obsession- and he was right. A mating pair, spiritual and secular, squally and sweet. Dealing lightly with weighty themes, weightily with light ones.
With the help of the Bad Seeds (bar Blixa Bargeld), Birthday Party producer Nick Launay, a London gospel choir and a Paris studio, Cave dug first into rock’s blues-gospel roots then deeper, past Australia, right down into the Underworld in pursuit of the urrockstar of Greek myth, Orpheus, whose lyre-playing charmed the trees, rocks and even the dead. The result, among many excellent things, was a title track as picaresque and side-splitting as his greatest OTT narratives: O’Malley’s Bar from his Murder Ballads record or John Finn’s Wife from Henry’s Dream.
The focus and authority needed to pull off a work this audacious is something you get form the great artists, particularly as they age. Although three years off 50, Cave seemed somehow too boyish to join that canon, preferring the role of admirer and emulator- Leonard Cohen and Neil Young tributes; singing harmonies with Johnny Cash; writing songs for Marianne Faithfull. But on Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Cave a Prospero on his own Stygian island, has been guaranteed a spot up there with the big boys.
SPEECH! Nick Cave says, Thank You!
“WOW, I’VE arrived! That’s great, right? I haven’t heard the other albums, but I suspect ours deserves to be Number 1. I’ve always liked MOJO –it’s a music magazine- so there’s some kind of meaning in that. I don’t mind awards, it’s the ceremonies- having to sit there. There’s nothing more agonizing for me than having to do that. Not that I’ve done it. At the thought of having to do something like that, it’s just much easier to say no.
“With this album, we knew early on that we had really good songs. We’d had this songwriting thing where me and Warren [Ellis, viola[ and Marty[Casey, bassist] and Jim[Sklavunos, drums] had all gotten together to write in Paris, which was helpful. And there were a whole lot of different things happening within the group that made the recording process somehow very cathartic, and a real pleasure at the same time.
“Blixa[Bargeld, guitarist] was no longer in the group. As much as it was very sad for him to go, it was also an enormously freeing thing. James [Johnston, keyboards] had come in really fresh, and dying for the job. It changed the whole chemistry of the band, and allowed us to play a certain type of music that we would’ve had problems playing in the past, which was some basic rock ‘n’ roll music. It just opened things up, allowed us to let go.” -As told by Andrew Perry