Pretty Baby, Tough Bone

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.

Birthday Party Junkyard 01Birthday Party Junkyard 04

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.

Birthday Party Junkyard 06 (2)

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
Oooh yeah
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!
Laughter, laughter
Oh baby, those skinny girls, they’re so quick to murder
Oooh yeah
Shake it baby, c’mon, shake, shake it baby
[ad infinitum]

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.

Birthday Party 07 (3)

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.

Birthday Party Junkyard 02 (2)

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.

Birthday Party Junkyard 05

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.

Birthday Party Junkyard 03

603 Down.

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.

57 thoughts on “Pretty Baby, Tough Bone

  1. I will be getting into The Birthday Party’s (short) catalog next week. I am a huge Nick Cave fan, so I am wondering if I will like it. I am leaning towards “no”, because early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is not my favorite phase of the band, and I assume that’s when their sound was closer to that of The Birthday Party.

    1. It’s definitly worth a listen but it is very much like his first couple of LPs. What’s your favourite Nick? mine is ‘Henry’s Dream’, I’ve always loved that one.

  2. I was lucky enought to get to see them live somewhere between ‘prayers on fire’ and this album.. What a crazed live band. It was pretty scary, but ohh so exciting at the same time.
    Funny, i never found them too abraisive and mind warping tho, they seemed just the right thing for my angst ridden teenage mind. I still enjoy listening to them.. Albiet in smaller doses these days.

    1. Wow, I’ve not heard from anyone/met anyone who’d seen them before. It amuses me to compare and contrast ‘mature’ Nick Cave (who I love, unreservedly) with the rake thin screech owl that he was back then too. Coming from a straight-forward metal background I found Junkyard really tough to get my head around after too many years of Faster Pussycat!

      Thanks for dropping by my gilded palace of nonsense!

    1. I know! How cool is that – its the same both sides because the two tracks don’t have their lyrics on the inner sleeve – I think that was a very classy touch from 4AD. I do have another 7″ with the lyric on, I have absolutely no idea which though – they’re not even catalogued … to my eternal shame.

      Thank you very much, that is kind and I did really enjoy writing that review. But, tell me what have you got against these Caulfield Grammar School boys? I’m continually shocked you don’t like Nick Cave.

      1. Now here is a bit of odd cosmic synchronicity. In the post I published just one minute ago, the mentor mentioned in part V taught Nick Cave in primary school somewhere in rural Victoria. That was before he became a smart-arse public school poseur, of course.

      2. I wouldn’t know, because I’m trying to read the F****** thing, but you keep interrupting me with all your commenting and suchlike! God – Lester Bangs never does this to me when I’m reading one of his books!! Oh.

  3. Oh man. Great stuff again. I came to this after discovering Cave’s Murder Ballads (I believe) and remember thinking “what just happened?” Marvellous. A headbangers ball in a ramshackle shack.

  4. That was a really great review. Your descriptions matched my feelings towards The Stooges’ Fun House, which is one of my all-time favorite albums, so I’m interested in checking this one out. I listened to The Firstborn is Dead a while ago at a friend’s place, but didn’t really dig it. How does it compare to that one?

    1. Thank you, that’s really kind Ovidiu. There’s a real similarity between the two LPs, that’s a good spot – but I’d say this one is a bit further ‘out there’. Fun House is my favourite Stooges LP too.

  5. I’d add wedding toast maker to your christening/motivating credentials!
    Incidentally, high schools in Canada are rebranding ‘motivational speaker visits’ as ‘high impact events’

  6. God! Your reviews! You could sell sand to the Sand People. I think since I’ve stopped drinking and taking drugs 🙁 most things Nick Cave sound like a distant rumble in a cave – in which I’ve spent years wading through bat guano as thick and sticky as black tar heroin to escape. In other words, it sounded good to me then, but now… grates like a madman sharpening an axe in a nursery. I’ve still got a soft spot for it… but it’s well boarded up.
    I think I’m getting old.

    1. Sand to the Sandpeople! YES! That’s this guy, it’s insane!

      Man, in Episode 1 when the sandpeople were taking potshots at the pod racers, I totally lost my shit. My favourite part of that film!

  7. I am a fan of Nick CAVE, but for the Birthday Party I need to do more SPELUNKING (see what I did there?).

    I love your description. It makes me want to read more, as always. Your damn writing makes me want to buy everything. You should write for record labels. Or at the very least only use your powers for good and never for evil.

    The majority of the stuff by this band that I’ve heard was a track here or there on Henry Rollins’ radio shows (he’s a huge fan, and a friend of Cave’s). But I’ve never heard a proper album. Might be time to change that. Thanks for the heads-up!

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