The Birthday Party

Anyone for some heroin cake?
*special introductory paragraph!
*Door, Door
*Prayers On Fire
*Live 1981-82
*The Bad Seed/Mutiny!
*It's Still Living
*The John Peel Sessions

Before Nick Cave became a world class crooner of epic propertytortions, he screamed, yelped, raged and did drugs with Australia's The Birthday Party. One of the first and most creative "post-punk" bands, The Birthday Party combined outrageous guitar and drum noise with sleazy strip club music to create a form of music so extraordinarily ugly, dark and sickening that it's almost more likely that you'll hate and respect them than actually enjoy listening to them. You know how if you listen to Napalm Death over and over and over again, you become obsolete to their ridiculous overblown death metal and find it easy to nap to? That's not the case with The Birthday Party. At their peak, they were one of the most intelligent and hard-to-listen-to bands in the hemisphere. Plus, the bass player dressed like a cowboy and died by banging his head on a bathtub while having a seizure. They were that good!!!!!!

Door, Door - Mushroom 1979.
Rating = 3

This was actually recorded while The Birthday Party were called The Boys Next Door. It's way too tame, the songs are bland little guitar-piano-and-drum ditties that make Duran Duran sound like Motorhead (ooh! not a bad thought!), and Nick hasn't yet developed an interesting singing style. He just sounds like a teenager trying really hard to have a low voice that chicks will dig. Avoid it like the plaque!

Unless it's a really nice plaque. With etching on it and stuff.

Reader Comments
I kinda like this album. It is very mellow, but at least it isn't boring(like, say Duran Duran). And besides, isn't ''Dive position'' amusing?

In my opinion it is a very nice little plaque.
There is no reason why anyone needs to buy this album.

From Nick Cave: "...a repulsive piece of vinyl. One of the worst things we've ever of the worst records ever recorded. I think my singing style at that particular period was totally repulsive. It was really disgusting."

what a massive recommendation.

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Hee-Haw - Thirsty Ear 1997.
Rating = 8

Apparently this is a compilation of an EP called Hee Haw, an album called The Birthday Party and a couple of singles. A good reviewer would probably review them each individually, but I'm not a good reviewer, nor will I ever be one. However, the compilation is a very good one. The Birthday Party by this point had become a NEW type of band - a band that occasionally leapt into the realm of catchy guitar hooks, but more often preferred to create a form of music combining extremely aggressive, crisp drumming, two guitarists who simply adore tinny tones, feedback and weird echoey noises, a bassist who maintains an ugly thumpy dead tone probably just to make the band sound even sleazier than they were -- and finally, Mr. Nick Cave. Screaming and shouting and huffing and puffing and wiggling and jiggling Nick Cave. Also the occasional keyboard, I suppose, and a horn section made up of brass instruments.

These songs can be very..."challenging". Which is to say that sometimes all the instruments will assertively bash away at riffs that don't seem to have anything to do with each other. Other times, the drummer and bassist will lock in on a lurching, thomping, torturous drumbeat that seems to never get going. And ALL the time, those icky high-pitched guitar tones and fascist hooks don't exactly make you want to invite Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey over to your house for a Saturday night "jam-fest" with beer.

So what in Samnation is this type of music? Well, the mood is definitely depressing most of the time, but it's not punk OR blues OR classic rock OR heavy metal, though in certain songs I suppose you could claim it approaches new wave or no wave. Maybe no wave is the closest genre to what they were doing at this point, although there are still 2 or 3 moments of generic Boys Next Doorismsismsiismsmsmsisismmsisissmsmsmmsms. But that would all change wicked fast! When? Well, keep reading! Do I look done?

Oh. I do? Well, scroll down or something.

Can you tell I'm tired? I'm tired. New puppy. Tiring. Me out.

Reader Comments (Adrian Denning)
I don't actually own this at the moment, an old girlfriend bought all of The Birthday Party's album and I got into them that way. She was cool! Anyways, what struck me - even after having heard their later songs, was how damn different this record sounds. It's pacey and funky as hell. A classic record, full stop. What with Nicks solo career taking off these days, The Birthday Party are starting to get overlooked a little I feel. They deserve respect! Tracey Pew was a god!

I'd hand this a 7. It's really interesting to see the origins of Nick Cave and the band does sound crazy but I wish there were more great songs to be found here. Dark stuff like "The Friend Catcher" has a tremendous, crushing distorted metallic riff, and "Mr. Clarinet" is one of the greatest kooky songs ever written, and "Faint Heart" has an entertaining energy to it, but some of this is just ugly and poorly written, like "Hats Gone Wrong."

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Prayers On Fire - 4AD 1981.
Rating = 9

More than any other, this is The Birthday Party at their most idiosyncratic and AGODDAMNNNOYING. The songs are incredibly creative sloppy little bits of distemper with drunken wife-beating nudey girl bass lines driven into left field by murderous drum smashing and two guitarists wielding their wares as if they weren't even listening to the same songs. In spork, Prayers Aflame is non-stop intelligent music that sounds better and better the closer you listen!

Unfortunately, if you don't listen closely, all the headslapping noise will literally drive you up the wall. In a little car made out of noise. So abrasive, it makes The Jesus Lizard's Liar sound like The Jesus Lizard's Down! What's with all the smashem crashem drum lines anyway? Got a problem with a little backbeat, kind Phill Calvert sir?

Reader Comments (Mike Hiltz)
Sorry, Mark, I've got to disagree. I think this is the finest full-length the Birthday Party put out. I thought it was kind of annoying at first, but so was PiL's "Metal Box". Anyway, this grew on me like a bad rash, and now it's THE Birthday Party record as far as I'm concerned. But to the 4 people that have made it to the BP reviews, I still think you sould try some of Cave's solo stuff first. I mean, I think this IS better, but that should give somebody who's never heard it an idea of what kind of "Wonderful and Frightening World" you're getting into. (There's a Fall reference for ya, Mark!). But who am I? I like the Bad Seeds (especially "From Her To Eternity") and I like this Birthday Party disc more than the others. Just buy something by them and if you haven't been scared off by these reviews, you'll probably like them.
So this was recorded in 1981, therefore making it 23 years young and, (unlike so many records from that time), it barely shows it's age. It's been a few years since I last listened but it packs some nice surprises. I don't think I'd noticed the clarinet in 'A dead song' before, nor had I realised Nick Cave plays saxophone too, (Yard). Unlike Junkyard, the music doesn't try to make you vomit up your life, instead it's very catchy, filled with great hooks, mad vocals, (Capers) and barmy lyrics. And unlike Junkyard this is a highly commercial sounding record (well, on my terms anyway.)

By the way, the run out groove's scratched message is, the cryptic, 'Bilbo Talk.' Any idea?
I rekon theres a few dodgy tracks on this one, but KING INK an NICK THE STRIPPER way make up them big time... especially the latter. way back when I was a little tacker I loved 'em and all the for all the obvious reasons (imagery,lyrics to scare the bejesus out of yr folks) but now almost 20 years on they are one of the only bands that I listen to then that I can still listen to now, as well as joy division perhaps..... on a good day.

the musicianship is outstanding, especially given the fact that most of the time they had trouble standing & seeing straight while they played(more mythology there for ya).

listen to the pre chorus on nick the stripper..... tracey pew holding his 5/4 against the horns&vocals 4/4 before they resolve.

I play that to my music students to try & get them into different ideas about composition....mind you I work in a Christian school, so I have to do it very very quietly.

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* Junkyard - 4AD 1982. *
Rating = 10

Although the incorrect might argue that Prayers Torched is the most artistically innovative of Birthday Party's CDs, I personally am giving this one the 10 because it's not nearly as ear-piercing to sit through and because it ROCKS-ocks!-ocks!-ocks! The songs are produced with maximum volume in mind, with a terrific mix wherein you can hear everything so loud it's like they're playing it TWICE! And there's not a single non-awe-inspiring song to be found on the entire record!

Except "Kewpie Doll," which ruins the entire record and makes me give it a 1.

My description is as follows: Good old groovin' toe-tappin' drum and bass beats (with extra SMASH, please. What is that anyway -- a snare, of all unlikely devices?), hooky-as-pop melodies, endlessly intriguing guitar interplay (just like on the last album), and all of it shot to Hellfire with Nick Cave at the Pulpit Of Singingness! And it ROCK EOROCK! ROCK ROCK ROC KS!!!!!

Blues? Sure! Great bass lines? Indubitably! Out-of-his-mind vocals? Of course! The band could not really be topped or toppled at this point in their career; both intelligent, creative and kickass (both of those), The Birthday Party were pinning the tail on the donkey of art, unwrapping some delightful gifts of punk, wearing silly pointy caps with a rubber band under the chin of blues, hiring a stripper of noise, committing sodomy on a retarded 43-year-old man of inanity and

I think my puppy is mad at me. I'm training him wrong - because he's too SMART!!! He's learning all the wrong lessons. He had housetrained himself in one day and I managed to completely UNTRAIN him by the time the next day was done. He's learning that he can get what he wants (attention and the chance to play outside and eat the neighbor's plant) if he pees on the rug inside, and he won't poop in the predesignated terrace pan anymore because it doesn't feel safe and covered -- so he goes over and poops under the patio furniture where I can't get to him. THE BOY IS DRIVING ME BATTY!!!! :7(

Any suggestions, Nick Cave? Should I lift him by his scruff and scream at him a poem about sodomizing a priest?)

Reader Comments

So says Nick Cave on the first few seconds of this record. Jesus Christ, Nick! You sound like you're being disemboweled with a spoon. Fans of Nick's modern work simply MUST hear this stuff; he was a fucking deranged poetic junkie madman in these days, fronting the house band at every strip club in hell, The Birthday Party.

These guys may have been noisy and freakish, but they were one hell of a tight band. "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can" is not only the best avant-rock song ever, it's fucking DIFFICULT! Listen to those weird breaks and screeching guitar parts. This band never dicked around, not for a second.
how does "kewpie doll" ruin the birthday party's "junkyard"?

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Live 1981-82 - 4AD 1999.
Rating = 8

It's live and features three rare tracks, one of which is fantastic and the other two of which has one that's a Stooges cover and another that is a song for you to enjoy! Sound is no great shakes. Nothing is revealed, and "Hamlet" is weakened.

Kinda like when Mel Gibson played him. FIE on my hilarious comedy joke!

Reader Comments

Colin T.
i think this album is fantastic. listen to that bass!
This rocketed to the top of my list of all-time great live albums as soon as I got it.

Blistering and manic. Well worth whatever time and money you invest to get it.
You forgot to mention that the Stooges cover, "Funhouse," with the four-person lineup and Jim Thirlwell on saxophone, is quite possibly the best Stooges cover ever recorded. Redefines the word mindfuck and then some. Tracey Pew's bass playing is unbelievable, Harvey pounds the skins harder than I've ever heard him play, Howard's screwed-up blues playing sounds great, and Thirlwell rips off some nasty sax playing. Nick's shrieks might be more feral than Iggy's. It's terrifying, and the fact that the recording's somewhat obscured makes it even scarier - like a field recording from hell. Fucking hell yes.

That and "Dead Joe," which also rocks like a motherfucker, are the only two songs I've heard from this, but that is a situation which soon must be rectified.

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The Bad Seed/Mutiny! - 82/83.
Rating = 9

More like the first Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record than the final Birthday Party record. This stuff definitely sounds like Nick's solo stuff more than it sounds like the Birthday Party stuff. If I were asked to say whether this sounds mor eliek teha rBirthday Part or Nick Cave's solo stuff, I would definitely say Nick Cave's solo stuff. Look around all you want, but you broke Nick Cave's solo career, you buought Nick Cave's solo career. this album is full of really great, sppoky songs. They are songs that anybody could write though, as opposed to the rest of the Bitthday Party coatlog, which has special weird shit ogin on. This is GREAT shit, but normalish - you can hear some ol' Creedence and slide guitars and of course Rick Astley. No crasyz fucked up rthythms,s limebalcl horns and bas line sor tinny guitars doing shit your mama don't dance and your daddy don't got no cock. If I were asked to descrive the sound of this album, I would not.

How did I do on your typing test, Mr. Temp Agency Guy? Did I do okay? Now can I do data entry for $2.75 an hour?

Hey if you had a six-week old puppy hounding your ass all day, your reviews would suck too.

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It's Still Living - Virgin 1991.
Rating = 7

This album was recorded live in January 1982 and released by The Birthday Party's old record company without their permission (which you must know pissed them off, especially an angry young heroin addict named Nicholas Caverino). But I gotta side with the greedy management this time round, because this is a really great-sounding live recording. Must be soundboard, because you can hear EVERYTHING. The bass line thuds its sluggy, swoopy, dirty lines as clear as a heavy bell, the crankle-de-tinny guitars are separated into the 2 speakers (or 4 if you have a Quadrophenia system). Drums? Fine. Playing? TIGHT AS A CUN'S NUNT. Singing? Well, there's what hurts the piece a bit. Nick isn't at his finest here. Kind of off-tune, sounds really exhausted -- his shouts sound more tired and pathetic than psychotic and desperate. Pussy, there's something wrong with the mic chord and it keeps making awful little staticy noises.

But songs so good! So good for you and me! At least half are GRATE! The other half are GOODY PROCTOR! I just read a biography of Mr. Cave, btw. It pointed out that during his heavy drug era, he used to be really paranoid and felt like the audience was against him. So he'd kick them in the heads and stuff. Also, apparently the song "Release The Bats" was a band in-joke. I'm not exactly clear where the humor comes from, since it honestly doesn't sound much different from their other songs (simpler and much easier to play, but still with the scratchy guitars and thub-dub bass line), but in the book Rowland S. Howard says they were laughing really hard when they wrote it, and couldn't believe it when it became their most popular song ever. So if you get a copy of this RARE cd, that's why one member of the Party announces that track with the line, "This is the song you love the most and we hate the most." I personally don't love OR hate it. It's okay.

They really WERE tight -- I mean, to make songs as cacaphonous and calatimous as "Zoo Music Girl" and "Big Jesus Trash Can" come across in a live setting is pretty darn impressive in my book (The Holy Bibble). If you get canker sores, take this vitamin thing called Lysine and gargle with warm salt water. It actually WORKS! You can still feel that the "sores" are there, but they don't hurt. Also if you get a stress headache, try grabbing your open left hand with your open right hand and using your right thumb to squeeze the pressure point between your left thumb and forefinger. It really works! And if you don't want a hangover, take aspirin BEFORE you drink, and try to drink a glass of water for every glass of alcoholic beverage that you drink. And PLEASE finish college. It's really hard in today's world to get a decent-paying job without a college degree. And apply anti-perspirant/deodorant twice a day EVERY day. Not just deodorant -- but anti-perspirant. It's the only way to keep from stinkin' up the joint. If you have pimples, try to get on a medical plan and get on accutane. It works pretty darn well. I still get little pimples, but not ANYTHING like the huge disgusting face-covering purple patches I used to get. Of course now my face is DRY all the time, but what can one say about that? If you feel like shit all the time and you're pretty sure it's your brain, don't blame yourself and don't be surprised if you can't change your thought processes by yourself. That's a possibility if it is LEARNED behavior, but a lot of times it's actually an error in the actual physiological make-up of your brain, and you need medicine to get it physically back on track. And if you can't get a boner, blame the girl. Just tell her she's ugly and her boobs are too small. Then go whack off out the window onto some guy's head.

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The John Peel Sessions - Fuel 2000 2001.
Rating = 8

If you ever get a chance to do a BBC session with John Peel, DO IT! If he wants newly recorded alternate live-in-the-studio-style versions of your hit singles, chances are that they'll sound a jillion times better than the studio versions you had before. I don't know if it's his production style or the BBC Studios themselves, but whenever a band issues John Peel (or even just BBC Sessions, quite frankly), they sound crystal clear. The same even holds true for one of the noisiest, most raucous musical outfits ever to set foot in the city of London -- The Captain and Teneille.

And it even works for Nick Cave's The Birthday Party! The impossible-to-comprehend smashing, echoing cluttering din of "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can" and "(Sometimes) Pleasure Heads Must Burn" has been replaced by the clean, crystally choice "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can" and "(Sometimes) Pleasure Heads Must Burn." They lay off the reverb and echo, the drummer and bassist lock into a tight, squirrelly cross-section of animosity and Nick sings and shouts like a man possessed. (by another, angrier man)

WHAT A BAND! This is the best production they have EVER had -- if the band previously gave you a headache, you gotta pick this up and try 'em out again. The bass lines are amazing - they get under your skin, grab ahold of your heart and make it beat up and down and all around like the jazzyass bebop thrash clasherings of Phil Calvert (and Mick Harvey, after they dumped Phil for financial reasons). The guitars are airy scrape-and-clamors building an intimidating wash in the background; the real story here is the rhythm section and DICK CAVE (euphemism for "vaginer").

There are FOUR different John "David" Peel "Of 'Have A Marijuana' Fame" Sessions on here -- from September 80 (I was seven, so they played "Yard" for me, knowing that I liked to play out in the yard), April 81 (I was still seven, so they played two previously unavailable tracks to keep my interest as I passed through the difficult teen years of seven -- "Roland Around In That Stuff," which rides on the usual catchy bass line and crazy military drums that taunt timekeeping and threaten to reel right over the stage and hurt somebody, and a disserpointing mostly-noise cover of Iggy Stooge And The Pops' "Loose."), December 81 (I was eight, so they played this awesome uptempo driving spy-style song called "Bully Bones" because they knew that I'd secretly pushed the school bully into a huge vat of radioactive waste in the library) and November 82 (I was nine, so they played some weirdass song called "Marry Me - Lie! Lie!" that started good and then slowed down and fell way out of tune when some non-Cave person began singing, because they knew that I had a crush on Nicole Melillo, who ended up a druggie later on, probably because of Nick Cave's influence).

Some questionable song choices make it a less-than-perfect experience ("Loose" and "Marry Me," of course -- and neither "King Ink" nor "Release The Bats" are among their finest songwriting contributions, IMHOP). But if you're looking for clarity in the racket, The BBC Sessions are right up your alleyway!

Reader Comments
Whoa! What's up with all them wrong-sized words and letters? Anyway, this album kicks all kinds of ass utilizing a variety of all kinds of feet. At first when I'd put it on I'd be like "Bleh, them drum/bass lines rule, but what the hell are they doing with those guitars? Throwing them into a woodchipper?" Then eventually, I realized that the axeworking is just as brilliant as the vocals/lyrics. Cause of course it's Mr. Cave that pushes the Birthday Party past the mediocre envelope of "extremely creative and influential band" into the coveted realm of "fucking geniuses, mate!" His primal growl is truly ferocious and frightening, and he can carry a tune too! "Bully Bones" is my favorite song here, but they're all at least pretty good, although I will agree with you that the cover of "Loose" is rather disappointing. Subsituting actual guitar chords for throwing your amp down the stairs over and over again may not have been the best idea this band's ever put forth. I do like "Release The Bats" though...but not as much as I like "Cry" and "Figure Of Fun". "Pleasure Avalanche" is another tune that makes me jump up and down like a lab monkey. Wish I could say something about the production, which is obviously very crisp and clear yet raw and unpolished at the same time, but I can't because this is the only record I own by this band. A nine.
Prindle, you are the God of sense of humour.

And as for Peel(god bless his soul, wherever it is recording deceased artists) Sessions, it's the hallmark of the Birthday Party. I only wish I could have seen them live. *sigh*

Anyway, you reviewed some pretty shitty bands. Don't you think it's time for Nick's solo stuff, or at least Einstrüzende Neubauten?
The non-Cave person singing on "Marry Me (Lie! Lie!)" is Rowland S. Howard, who also sang on "Ho-ho" off of "Prayers On Fire" and used this song for his debut single with his post-Birthday Party band These Immortal Souls, which consisted of himself, his brother Harry on bass (who filled in for Tracy Pew for at least a couple of gigs when Pew was doing time for a DUI arrest), a girl named Genevieve McGuckin on keyboards who wrote a couple Birthday Party lyrics ("Capers"), and some dude who called himself Epic Soundtracks on drums.

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