The Birthday Party – Mutiny / The Bad Seed EP (4AD EP, 1983)

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4ad | cd cad301cd | 1983

I’ve always been of the opinion that if an artist or band is going to make a final statement, then it should be well-executed and tightly-delivered. This holds true for The Birthday Party’s final two EPs, which are collected together onto this single CD by 4AD. The Bad Seed (originally released as a 12″ on the band’s UK home of many years, 4AD) and Mutiny (originally released on Mute) were both recorded at the famous Hansa Studios in Berlin and produced by the band themselves, with uncredited assistance from Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld.

By now the erstwhile drummer Phil Calvert was long disposed with in favour of Mick Harvey; Rowland S. Howard became the sole guitarist and the creative dynamic had shifted toward the writing partnership of Nick Cave and Harvey (with the exception of the opener, ‘Sonny’s Burning’, the last track written by all four members of the group). The sound is raw and urgent, but well-honed and less prone to excess, while still retaining enough of the rough edge that set The Birthday Party apart from their contemporaries.

‘Wild World’ stands out as a highlight, blessed by its sludgy blues ethic and restrained vocal performance from Cave, whose vocal has become more direct and confident throughout this awesome collection. Tracy Pew’s bass is close-mic’d to allow the resonant twang of the strings to be heard. Elsewhere, Howard’s guitar is fed through numerous effects boxes, in particular deploying his famous ‘infinite reverb’ on several tracks, which allowed cycles of feedback to spiral, ebb and flow. While recorded no doubt at the height if the band’s drug abuse, the collection is markedly more controlled than Junkyard, as if recorded in a brief moment of lucidity. Nothing is more true of this approach than the final track, ‘Mutiny In Heaven’ (featuring Bargeld on guitar), which sees the band playing with studio effects with Cave’s vocal lines overlapping and multi-tracked, while the guitars are processed into ringing bells of sound. ‘If this is heaven I’m bailing out,‘ sings Cave. The Party was nearly over, and Cave thus signalled that the last guest should leave. ‘Mutiny In Heaven’ deals with the concept of euphoric God-like feelings following a hit of smack, but I’m not clear on whether it glorifies or condemns it. More extreme than the Velvet Underground’s opium hymn, ‘Heroin’, ‘Mutiny In Heaven’ has an edge that is as marvellous as it is malevolent.

Two previously-unreleased demos from the Mutiny sessions are included on the CD – ‘The Six Strings That Drew Blood’ (a totally different track from that which later appeared on Cave’s The Firstborn Is Dead) and ‘Avalanche Of Sound’, both of which are stripped and raw and perfect even as unfinished works.

Although a year away, Bargeld’s appearance on the final track heralded the approach of The Bad Seeds, the band Cave formed around Bargeld and Harvey. As final statements go, this stacks up very higly indeed, leaving you unsure as to whether it’s enough as it is or whether you’re in need of more.

Track listing:

cd:
1. Sonny’s Burning
2. Wildworld
3. Fears Of Gun
4. Deep In The Woods
5. Jennifer’s Veil
6. Six Strings That Drew Blood
7. Say A Spell
8. Swampland
9. Pleasure Avalanche
10. Mutiny In Heaven

First published 2004; edited 2012; re-edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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