Sunday, August 19, 2012

I don't like Nick Cave

I have a confession to make: I don't like Nick Cave.

Maybe you don't either, but I'm the one who's going to play and maybe talk about noir and crime songs at Noircon 2012, and Cave is the guy who recorded an album called Murder Ballads, his nod to murder ballads.

On first listen, I found the album noirish, all right, but too mannered, too studied, too aware of and pleased with itself. Indeed, one review had this to say (the courtesy title is a clue to the newspaper in which the review appeared:
"...Murder Ballads is about more than storytelling. In each song, Mr. 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..."
Fair enough, but I like my ballads to sound more like ballads and less like carefully posed daguerreotype death portraits. And it's not that I'm a musical stick in the mud, either. I've got a song by Jack White on my list, and Tom Waits' album Bad As Me is even more eclectic and musically daring than Cave's, and I like it just fine.

So talk me into liking Murder Ballads better. If I picked one Nick Cave song from the record for my Project Noir songs list, which should it be?

Here's one that has some good lines: "The Curse of Millhaven." Fans of noir and crime songs might notice its melodic similarity to the Pogues' "The Boys From the County Hell." And here's an "Irish Ballad" of quite another kind from Tom Lehrer.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Labels: , , , , ,

25 Comments:

Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

I'm not a massive fan of Nick's solo stuff - I've never heard Murder Ballads apart from the hit single - though I like it well enough. But I did love his band The Birthday Party. Much more fun and with a lot more humour.

The Mutiny EP had three songs that could maybe be conisered noir Swamplands, Deep in the Woods and this one which always brings a smile to my face:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcaXD--UINo

Or try She's Hit and The Friend Catcher

August 19, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stranger than Kindness from the album Your Funeral My Trial

August 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'll report back on results of the afternoon's listening.

August 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, that link is blocked where I live; I'll look for another version of the song. Interesting you should mention fun and humor, though. The general lack of both is noticeable on Murder Ballads.

August 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your Funeral, My Trial is a clever title, of course, but then, I don't think Nick Cave lacks for cleverness. I'm listening to "Stranger Than Kindness" now. The song drips with atmosphere, that's for sure.

August 19, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Those murder ballads interested me, Peter.

Especially, that one called Pretty Polly.

The Pretty Polly Stakes is a major horserace here in Ireland. Indeed, the third placed horse in this year's race won one of the major races in the American racing calander, the Beverly D stakes at Arlington Park in Chicago, just yesterday. A well named horse for gamblers, it was called 'I'm A Dreamer'.

I had known the race was named after the horse Pretty Polly who won the fillies Triple Crown back in 1904. I hadn't known that horse was named after a character in a murder ballad. You have expanded my horizons, Peter.

On the subject of crime songs, I'm afraid I can't be of much use. I love music but I never listen to the words. A prejudice that rarely lets me down.

However, there's an interesting back and forth between you and that guy called Marco back in 2008 on the subject of Carlo Emilio Gadda's novel Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana.

What neither of you nention is that Pietro Germi made a decent film of the book, called Un Maledetto Imbroglio, and that Carlo Rustichelli wrote a wonderful theme song for the movie, called Sinnò me moro. The movie version by Rustichelli's daughter is good but I think this version by Gabriela Ferri is better.

Love those Italians.

August 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An anti-words prejudice is not always a bad thing to have with crime songs. I'm still unsure what form my presentation will take, but I tentatively plan to open with Fairport Convention doing "Matty Groves." The pounding buildup of the song's introduction let the listener know the song's characters will come to no good, even before the words kick in. One song I'm considering for inclusion has no vocals at all.

I had not known that "Quer pasticciaccio brutto ..." had been made into a movie. I shall give the theme song a listen now.

August 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You'd know that was no song of celebration even if you knew nothing of the words. That repeated guitar figure does the job.

August 19, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Fairport Convention doing "Matty Groves." The pounding buildup of the song's introduction let the listener know the song's characters will come to no good, even before the words kick in

That might be true, Peter, but what I liked was when the singing stopped and Richard Thompson's guitar playing took over.

Have you ever listened to the Doc Watson version of Matty Groves? I just found out today that (at least, according to Wikipedia) the Doc part of his name came from Dr Watson of the Conan-Doyle stories. Bluegrass music and Sherlock Holmes. Now, that's a connection I wouldn't have made in a million years.

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Richard Thompson playing guitar is a treat for anybody, and the song to which I link here is decidedly on my list. I was confused when I first heard the song’s studio version because it felt like an old ballad, but it was about motorcycles.

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I haven't heard Doc Watson's "Matty Groves."

August 20, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I cant say a word against Nick Cave. There's a pretty good chance he's sitting in the aisle two rows over at St Kilda Public Library.

The bit I like in Matty Groves is not Richard Thompson's guitar (I do like R Thompson and have seen him a couple of times) but Sandy Denny's vocals which are pretty hard to beat. On Liege and Lief Farewell Farewell has got to be the emotional highlight.

My brother and I used to disagree about Matty Groves (yes there wasnt much to do in Carrickfergus) I thought that everyone acquited themselves quite well in that song except for the sneak who ran off to tell Lord Donald and the result was reasonably fair with honour satisfied all round; my brother thinks the outcome was a moral disaster for everyone with no real upside at all.

August 20, 2012  
Anonymous Diogenes said...

First of all, I'm really struggling to believe a noir fan could not like the Prince of Darkness.

If you have to choose from Murder Ballads Henry Lee is a great song on an average album.

Nick has lots of other brilliant noir crime songs. Mercy Seat (being the electric chair) and The Carny immediately come to mind.

My favorite would be (Love You) Till The End of the World, which I played at my wedding (to my wifes disgust).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkoOA2wlmZE

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Bryan Howland said...

The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane is a b-side of Where the Wild Roses Grow and it's a helluva song.

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Diogenes, don’t be startled by anything I write about Nick Cave, at least not yet. This is my first experience with his music. Thanks especially for pointing me to some songs not on Murder Ballads. Mercy Seat gives Cave some crime-fiction credibility; at least one crime writer, Martyn Waites, has written a novel by that title.

”The Carny” ought to be interesting, since carnies were largely a phenomenon from before Nick Cave’s time. Is he engaging in noir nostalgia? I’ll find out.

Despite my tentative antipathy to Nick Cave, I congratulate you on your choice of wedding music. A lot of men in your position would have chosen “Your Song” or some shite like that.

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Bryan. I'll try to scare up a clip of that song. If it's a Nick Cave original, his choice of Scottish and Irish names for the characters certainly suggests a tip of the hat to the old ballad tradition.

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Northern Ireland really was fiercely riven by disagreements when you were greowing up, wasn't it? I'm with your brother on this, with the caveat that different versions of the ballad cast the characters in slightly different lights.

But in Fairport Convention's version, and probably in most, the only moment of nobility comes when the lord lets Matty strike the first blow. Other than that, the song could be called "The Adultress, the Seducer, the Cuckold, and the Snitch."

Sandy Denny sang like a ghost, an eerie thought considering how young she was when she died. "Matty Groves" is a brilliantly produced record, I'd say. All the elements come together so well.

August 20, 2012  
Anonymous Diogenes said...

Peter. I'm an Aussie so Nick Cave is a home product. The Carny is a bit of a taster of a cult classic novel by Cave called And the Ass saw the Angel.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/And-Ass-Angel-Nick-Cave/dp/014104487X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345542237&sr=8-1

August 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The Carny" sounds like something from a horror-movie soundtrack. I have yet to convince myself that Cave can do more than that, though.

August 21, 2012  
Anonymous Derek said...

""The Carny" sounds like something from a horror-movie soundtrack."

Funny you should mention that - it was one of the stand-out tracks on the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987)

August 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I realized when I read The Getaway this week that noir, at least Jim Thompson's variety of it, shares much with horror. Nick Cave amd Wim Wendwers may have realized this before I did.

August 31, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

you're right,Peter, Murder Ballads is overly-mannered but the Henry's Dream album isn't, and is far more noirish. Take these lyrics, among others, from Papa Won't Leave You Henry:

"I went out walking the other day
The wind hung wet around my neck
My head it rung with screams and groans
From the night I spent amongst her bones
I passed beside the mission house
Where that mad old buzzard, the reverend,
Shrieked and flapped about life after your dead
Well, I thought about my friend, Michel
How they rolled him in linoleum
And shot him in the neck
A bloody halo, like a think-bubble
Circling his head
And I bellowed at the firmament
Looks like the rains are hear to stay
And the rain pissed down upon me
And washed me all away
Saying


Papa won't leave you, Henry
Papa won't leave you, Boy

September 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That induces a chill in the bones, and auditory hallucinations of a chill wind whistling through bare trees, or at least it would if I were not at this moment sitting within view of the Atlantic Ocean on a beautiful summer morning.

The refrain is chilling, almost as much so as Tom Waits' "They pay me not to come home."

September 01, 2012  
Blogger Juri said...

"Red Right Hand".

I've been more fond of his work with Birthday Party, check out the song called "Zoo Music Girl".

September 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your comment arrived just as I writing a short piece about a Finnish crime novel. The zeitgeist had a decidedly Finno-Ugric touch there for a minute.

You're not the first commenter who has preferred Birthday Party to Nick Cave's solo work. My Nick Cave education continues. Thanks.

September 03, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home