Know your LP by the manner in which it was recorded,
‘At the end of the recording session the studio slapped a hefty surcharge on to the group’s bill for the extensive damage they had caused and for the recording equipment that had ‘disappeared’ in order to fund certain members’ addictions’
Mixed by the producer, Tony Cohen, at maximum volume, because he was going partially deaf, to be as distorted and abrasive as possible ‘The noise was so bad it made your fillings pop out of your mouth! It was a vicious sound’ this LP is a bit of a difficult fish.
I first bought Birthday Party Junkyard when I was at university. I bought it for the track titles and the mean, awesome Ed Roth cover art AND the fact that LA sleaze punks Junkyard* had taken their name from them AND had an inner sleeve picture that referenced the cover of this album.
I got it home, slapped it on and was confronted by a strange melange of percussive vocals, swampy jagged chicken scratch guitars, howling out-of-tune vocals and what sounded like a bassist and drummer playing totally different tunes, badly. Ah tunes, there weren’t any of those I could hear. I genuinely found it frightening to listen to. I know I tried it again, once or twice but I just couldn’t grok Junkyard. So I sold it six months later, probably to buy beer and beans.
I’m a stubborn MF and I grew into a big Nick Cave fan, so it was inevitable that I would tangle with the Birthday Party again and a couple of years ago I picked up a deluxe reissue with a bonus 7″ and vinyl thick enough to stop a six-inch gold blade. Junkyard and I have reached an accommodation these days, it’s still a scary LP to listen to, possibly even scarier to read:
I stuck a six-inch gold blade in the head of a girl
She: lying through her teeth, him: on his back
Hands off this one, hands off! she cried
Grinning at me from hip to hip
Hands off, pretty baby, tough bone then so soft to slip
I stuck a six-inch gold blade in the head of a girl
Sharks-fin slices sugar-bed slices that pretty red-head
I love you! now me! I love you!
Oh baby, those skinny girls, they’re so quick to murder
Shake it baby, c’mon, shake, shake it baby
Arguably that’s the most tuneful and commercial song on the album; Nick Cave’s writing about his then girlfriend Anita Lane there, by the way.
What I’ve found is (and bear with me** if this makes me sound like a pretentious cur) you have to listen to Junkyard like you’d read Ezra Pound or T.S Eliot’s poetry, just let it wash all over you, savour the sound and the impressions of it and turn that part of your brain off that’s trying desperately to make any melodic sense of the whole thing. Just like life, in my experience, Junkyard is a lot easier if you give in, stop striving to understand any of it, surrender to the undertow and let yourself get swept off downstream … to your inevitable death and subsequent decomposition^.
Which makes it all sound like a bit of a chore^^, which it really isn’t. There’s a mad, strung-out-on-cleaning-products-since-last-Thursday gallows humour thang going on here, after all check out the LP cover, check out Anita Lane’s lyrics for ‘Kiss Me Black’ (the ‘incubus/succubus/fuck to us’ rhyme scheme is a treat), in fact check out most of the less murderous lyrics hereabouts, check it all out, preferably without checking out though. You want Hamlet warped forwards as a modern-day psychotic? no problem (‘Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)’). The deranged nature of Junkyard that so put me off it at first, is exactly the quality that draws me in now, mind you their live shows were legendarily insane and insanely violent affairs, so this is probably only a pale wax imitation of the true levels of the apocalypse these Melbourne boys brought to our shores.
Fully-qualified Nick Caveologists like myself would be advised to look to ‘Several Sins’ as a marker for his and the Bad Seeds’ path to come. The most melodic and atmospheric track here, there are echoes of Son House, mighty mighty mighty, ‘Death Letter’, Rowland S Howard plays some great guitar on this one too. My other big favourite is the standalone single ‘Release The Bats’, which has to be a massive piss-take of the, then, nascent goth scene – cave gets to shriek about sex and horror and death and sex and sex and sex over a rickety rackety trebley, umm, racket as he totally nails it, ‘Sex horror sex bat sex sex horror sex vampire / Sex bat horror vampire sex /Cool machine’; that’s Goth for you, but with extra bats.
This here platter won’t be to many people’s tastes, it pushes the boundaries of whether it’s actually to mine, but if you fancy a strange, impressionistic shot of nihilistic stuff^* then give it a go. The band’s own internal chemistry was so volatile at the point of recording Junkyard, predominantly because of the volatility of several members of the band’s own internal chemistry was being illegally augmented, that the Birthday Party soon splintered and split after this.
Enjoy the splinters.
PS- quotes in the opening intro bit from Ian Johnston’s marvellous Bad Seed: The Biography of Nick Cave (1995). Roughly pages 97 – 101. Read it.
*okay on LP, Junkyard were just incredible live. I mean like really incredible. Like, incredibly so.
**I suddenly had a massive crisis of confidence there over whether ‘bear’, or ‘bare’ was correct. It’s ‘bear’ and I was totally wrong.
^I’d make such a great life coach/motivational speaker. I’m also available for children’s parties and christenings.
^^’Dead Joe’ aside, if you can listen to that one on headphones all the way through you’re officially hardcore.
^*I ran out of proper describey words right there.