THE BIRTHDAY PARTY: MUTINY / THE BAD SEED (1982-1983; 1989)
1) Sonny's Burning; 2) Wildworld; 3) Fears Of Gun; 4) Deep In The Woods; 5) Jennifers Veil; 6) Six Strings That Drew Blood; 7) Say A Spell; 8) Swampland; 9) Pleasure Avalanche; 10) Mutiny In Heaven.
After Junkyard, The Birthday Party had no place left to go. They'd taken the formula to its absolute extreme — one more step in the same direction and the band would have exploded in its own madness. On the other hand, there could be no talk of stopping and stagnating, either: Nick Cave was not about to let his band turn into an endlessly self-repeating hardcore-goth-mix machine, forever releasing inferior sequels to Junkyard. There had to be some changes made, but this meant running into internal creative conflicts. Throw in some trouble with the rhythm section (drummer Phil Calvert was fired for alleged loss of competence, and bassist Tracy Pew had temporarily vanished from the radar due to law troubles), and the end becomes predictable.
The Bad Seed, an Evangelical title that Nick would eventually appropriate for his next band's name, and Mutiny were two EPs that the band released over their last troubled year of existence, later to be put together on one CD and now seen as the Birthday Party's last testament. It is very tempting to call them «transitional», a bridge between classic Birthday Party and early Bad Seeds, but that would depend on how one actually perceives the difference between B.P. and B.S. As far as I can see, the arrival of Blixa Bargeld to replace Rowland S. Howard as Nick's principal sparring partner was the principal change from one to the other — Howard's flashy, psychotic style of playing always took a lot of emphasis off Nick's performance, whereas Bargeld would rather play off Cave, adapting his guitar parts to attenuate the man's self-expression.
From that point of view, Mutiny/The Bad Seed is still a bona fide Birthday Party record, even despite the fact that Bargeld already appears on ʽMutiny In Heavenʼ, adding a distant wall of industrial clang in the background. On the general scale of «intensity», these EPs, I'd say, fall way below Junkyard, but still remain above Prayers On Fire. Only a couple of songs, like ʽSwamplandʼ, sound like they could have been outtakes from the Birthday Party's aggressive peak — the rest are either slower than usual, or more disciplined than usual, or, sometimes, more subtle and quietly spooky than usual (not in a «Bad Seeds» way, though).
Nothing is radically new, but the songs, particularly on the Bad Seed EP, are still perfectly written and executed. Nick's "HANDS UP WHO WANTS TO DIE?" at the beginning of ʽSonny's Burningʼ is as classic a Birthday Party moment as anything, and the rest of the song gallops along like a mix of hardcore epic with old style psychedelia, with the chainsaw buzz replaced by (catchy!) acid guitar riffs and mind-twirling «astral» leads. ʽFears Of Gunʼ is only a tad slower, more in a jazz/blues-rock vein, but a viciously murderous one, as bits of guitar shrapnel fly in all directions while Mr. Cave is running down the street, loudly announcing that "the fears of Gun are the fears of everyone" («Gun» is animated and personalized in this song).
On the opposite side of the business, ʽWildworldʼ and ʽDeep In The Woodsʼ lean towards the Goth angle, particularly the latter, all of it hanging upon a cruel descending bassline, each bar taking us deeper and deeper in the woods where "the woods eats the woman and dumps her honey body in the mud", well, you can imagine the rest. I do have to say, though, that after Junkyard, these spooky horror shows come across as a little too grotesque and theatrical: way too many DIEs, DEATHs, and DEADs rolled up in gravel for the hyperbole to work in a properly intimidating (rather than black-humorous) manner. Of course, once Rowland S. Howard cuts in with all of his «wounded mammoth» might, everything is forgiven.
As for the last EP, it sounds a bit too fussy and disorganised, with fairly strange rockers like ʽSix Strings That Drew Bloodʼ that never seem to properly understand whether they are headed for musical coherence or musical chaos. ʽJennifer's Veilʼ and ʽSay A Spellʼ tread the same turd as ʽWildworldʼ, but with less interesting results. Only ʽSwamplandʼ, a convict-on-the-run performance that initiates Nick's decades-long series of scum-of-the-earth impersonations, truly stands out in its relentless punch — Cave seems invigorated by the very idea that his «madman» image can be put to more realistic use, and if you thought you could do without any more throat-tearing screaming after the entirety of Junkyard, you might at least make an exception for his "down in swampland...!", delivered as if the hound dogs were already tearing at his calves, pulling him down in the filthy muck.
On their own, the songs are strong enough to merit an unquestionable thumbs up — in terms of the global curve, though, these EPs mark relative stagnation. Nobody questions the ability of Cave and Howard to come up with «hook after hook», vocal-wise or guitar-wise, but emotion-wise, they all sound now like variations on themes fully explored before, and while that might have kept old veteran fans of the band happy, it sure didn't keep the band members happy. New configurations were necessary, so it is only natural that ʽMutiny In Heavenʼ concludes the album on a note of new partnership: Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld, meeting up in Berlin after the Birthday Party relocated there in 1982, disappointed with the London scene. And really, we should all be happy: The Birthday Party lived the exact amount of time it was supposed to live, reaching its absolute peak and breaking up at the first signs of stagnation, its members re-emerging in fresh new formats. Good lesson for too many people who refuse to learn.
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