In my humble estimation, Nick Cave is one of those artists who can barely do wrong. Even when his work isn't quite up to the high standards that he's set for himself and his band over the years, it's still usually pretty darn good and most often better than a majority of the other stuff out there. Although some would cite one of his earlier albums as the high-water mark, I'd have to still put my money on Let Love In, with very high marks going to about 3 or 4 other full-lengths as well. The last few years have found him on a streak that's slightly less solid, but I still follow the man.
It was just last year that Cave stated that he and his band had a goal to try to release one album per year, and it seems that with Nocturama and now this disc, he's making good on his promise. I have to admit that I had some serious trepidation going into this newest release for many reasons. The first is that longtime guitarist/noisemaker Blixa Bargeld (arguably one of the most important Seeds) left the band before the recording of the release. The second is that I knew it was going to be a double album. Although the aforementioned Nocturama definitely had some high points, it was also seriously saggy in others, and I was worried that a 2CD set would find more than it's fair share of filler as well.
After listening to the 17 tracks and nearly 90 minutes of music on Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, though, I'm gonna have to eat at least some of my worries because this is probably the best work that Cave and the Seeds have done for a good many years. Supposedly the group recorded for 10 days straight and laid to tape nearly as many discs of music, and fortunately they seemed to have gotten things down to nearly the essence. The release is brutally raw in places and at others it's touching. They enlist a choir for many tracks and unlike some past recordings, it just flat-out recaptures some of the energy that seems to have been lost in the past couple releases.
Conceptually split into two releases, Abattoir Blues is supposedly the slightly harder in terms of musical content but the boundaries still blur between the two discs and the entire release is stronger because of it. "Get Ready For Love" opens up the release pretty much balls-out with what amounts to the one of the most blistering gospel tracks ever recorded. "Cannibal's Hymn" takes things down a bit before "Hiding All Away" unleashes Cave with another one of his masterful lyrical performances, moving from quiet to frenzied (and even making members of the choir laugh at one point) while the instrumentation follows suit in a big way. Shuffling in odd time signatures, the track may be the standout on the first disc.
The mid-section of the disc slows things down a bit again while the album-titled "Abattoir Blues" strips things back to nearly just piano, drums, and vocals and works wonderfully because of it. Just when you think things are going to get a bit soft ("Let The Bells Ring" is easily one of the weaker entries on the two-disc set), the opening disc closes with the hyper-dynamic "Fable Of The Brown Ape," a whisper-to-noisebleed track that puts a sharp punctuation on the disc.
As mentioned above, The Lyre Of Orpheus doesn't calm things down so much as to induce snoozing, and lyrically Cave breaks out some of his best material on the entire release. The title-track opens the release with a ramshackle literary-referencing piece that bursts loose and slays accordingly. While things get a little bit light in places (the bouncy "Breathless" may very well be one of the poppiest things the group has ever done), there are enough outstanding moments (like the handclapping stomper of "Supernaturally") to make amends. In truth, a couple tracks could have been cut to turn this into an epic single-disc release of huge proportions, but it's still the best work that Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have done since Murder Ballads. Here's hoping he keeps on keepin' on.