NME - February 5, 1983
"Violence and the Sacred"
The Birthday Party - The Bad Seed EP (4AD)
"If, loving a woman more than anything in the world, or anticipating the possibility of such a love, one were suddenly to see her chained to a wall behind iron bars with a warder standing over her with a stick, such a feeling would be somewhat similar to the feeling the prince had now..." - and somewhat akin to the knowledge that informs the latest recording of The Birthday Party.
Like Dostoyevsky's saintly "idiot", The Birthday Party has understood that behind the strongest feeling one can bear toward another person lies the temptation of a profound horror: the horror of what can be done to that person, the limits of pain or pleasure to which he or she may be taken or exposed.
Ultimately that limit is death, and if The Birthday Party sing of love it is because, unlike ABC, they have no choice in the matter. For death is their hidden master.
Now, while much of 'Junkyard' verged on self-parody, it's high moments - 'She's Hit', 'Several Sins', 'Big Jesus', 'Junkyard' - blew away the rest of last year's competition. I am sick to my own death of the happy fools in this profession whose ears are so stopped up with mucus like 'Combat Rock' that they hear nothing in BP creations beyond junk/sex/death, a trinity which to them neatly spells out Bauhaus-boiled-with-Iggy-Stooge and shot up as rock's last bastard overdose.
The Birthday Party enter a new space every time they play. They have ripped open rock's sanctified domain with an unkempt violence equivalent to the sacking of a temple. When we talk of 'visceral' sound, usually we mean a sound bordered, contained by our limited ideas of aural damage. We do not mean this, in a a sound that, as it were, hijacks the codes of rock to twist them back into elemental sound, primal rhythm. The Birthday Party is not a centrifugal rock unit but an agglomeration of sounds born in empty space and cohering in almost arbitrary patterns of collision.
'The Bad Seed' is a four-track-EP that takes the impetus of 'Junkyard' to it's logical consummation: absolute despair, supreme love... the violence of the sacred. The original intention was to follow 'Junkyard' with, in Nick Cave's words, an EP of 'the saddest songs ever written' - among those considered being a couple of Walker Bros. songs and The Loved Ones 'Sad Dark Eyes'. In it's place, 'The Bad Seed' is an outburst of yearning delirium, of sorrow gone mad.
The Birthday Party know that music is the most intense abstraction available to us. The songs on this record - 'Sonny's Burning', 'Wild World', 'Fears of Gun', 'Deep In The Woods'- are charged with an appalling, almost absurd power. Something in them runs amok, threatens constantly to undo them. Their noises, their guitars and their beats, are not like those of others. Rowland Howard's guitar is a chameleon, ready at any instant to change from a piano or horn section into a typhoon of feedback. Mick Harvey's drums virtually dispose with cymbals, approaching rhythm with a sense of chance and brutality. His is a REAL as opposed to programmed beat. As for Tracy Pew's bass, well, that is simply the earth opening and closing around our very being. If this is that bad seed, then what is the healthy soil?
Meanwhile, Nick Cave is almost painfully aware of his being at once a poet with a mad voice and a clown, a walking cartoon of the debauched rock star. Thus, his lyrics carry their own triggers of deflation - injunctions not to interrupt; awkward colloquialisms' a bored American snarl in his phrasing; the collapse of a line into 'so on and so on and so on...'; at the end, the word 'End'. Words and music, text and sound, sensually entwined, locked in combat. Shattering cries of love, strange fables of obsession: the songs of Gun and Sonny and the girl whose honey body is eaten by the woods. Out of the "living musical cliche" of abandoned rock chaos crawls the true thing, a "theatre of clamour and impersonality".
The two sides of 'The Bad Seed' start with confident attacts but conclude in confusion and despair. The songs are of equal length, all significantly longer - and larger in conception - than their counterparts or prototypes on 'Junkyard'. 'Sonny's Burning' is a collosus on the run, a massive brute storming through a series of false endings - an eruption eventually consumed by it's own raging heat. 'Wild World' is 'a blues' about Michelangelo's Rhodini Pieta: over a 'King Ink' bass line and Harvey's formidable bash, Howard scratches out a snaking Verlaine figure and Cave, alternately sullen and desperate, intones the lyric, nosing the song along with bestial groans from the book of Ignatius Pop.
'Deep In The Woods' is the most outrageous of the risks taken. High gothic baroque, it is part nursery rhyme, part Brechtian cabaret, part funeral rite; a psychopathic lament, about love so intense it can only defile. Like 'Wild World', it bears curious echoes of Ferry's vocal on 'Every Dream Home'. At the last moment the song changes course, when Howard's guitar bursts through the melody as though from behind the sound and jolts Cave onto another plane.
If you prefer to take your 'love' songs with coffee and notebooks, there's always Squeeze. The Birthday Party alone suggest the frenzy of desire given voice, of dread staged as ritual. As Bataille wrote, 'the nature of our being invites us of our own accord to join in the terrible dance whose rhythm is the one that ends in collapse and which we must accept as it is and for what it is, knowing only the horror it is in perfect harmony with...' From bad seeds grow demon flowers.
- Barney Hoskyns