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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus’ (Mute)

SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: January 01, 1970
Label: mute

It has to be tough being Nick Cave — taking off your coal-black trench coat, lecturing your lady about the darkness in your soul, calling down a curse from the Lord on the upstairs neighbors, and shooting out the lights. But the black-hole gravity Cave cultivates gives the Australian crooner asolemn authority that recalls his idol Johnny Cash (memorialized here on “Let the Bells Ring”). The pile-drivingAbattoir Blues disc of this double album opens with one of the greatest songs of Cave’s 26-year career, “Get Ready For Love,” a torrential rocker about divine love as encroaching terror. “Praise Him!” yells the London Community Gospel Choir, and Cave, his powerhouse baritone trembling, goes them one better: “Praise Him until you’ve forgotten what you’re praising Him for!”Last year’s logorrheic explosion “Babe, I’m on Fire” seems to have launched Cave to new heights of verbal invention. “Hiding All Away” features the latestincarnation of the Bad Seeds hammering down a lurching riff whileCave spits out a dozen paranoid, Dylanoid verses; then the skies split open and the gospel choir howls, again and again,”There is a war coming.” “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” is a roaring plea to a muse that name-drops St. John of the Cross and Johnny Thunders in the same breath.

The Lyre of Orpheus is effectively Abattoirspillover:more mellow (it’s almost all trudging slow ones), less grand in conception, but-somehow-more pretentious in execution. The title track could pass for a tongue-in-cheek parody of bad Nick Cave (“Bunnies dashed their brains out on the trees / O mamma, O mamma”), and elsewhere he demands,”Don’t you go all supernatural on me,” and repeatedly calls his girlfriend “thee” for the sake of a rhyme. Cave loves to wrestle with the big stuff, although he tends to freight every line with so much seriousness that when he tries to crack a joke-“I woke up this morning with a Frappuccino in my hand”-it feels inappropriate. Johnny Cash never had such problems.