Murder Ballads

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This article is about the Nick Cave album. For the type of song, see murder ballad.
Murder Ballads
Studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Released February 5, 1996 (UK)
February 20, 1996 (US)
Recorded 1993–1995
Genre Alternative rock[1]
Length 58:43
Label Mute Records
Producer Victor Van Vugt, The Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds chronology
Let Love In
Murder Ballads
The Boatman's Call

Murder Ballads is the ninth studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, released in 1996 on Mute Records. As its title suggests, the album consists of new and traditional murder ballads, a genre of songs that relays the details (and often consequences) of crimes of passion.

"Where the Wild Roses Grow," a duet featuring Cave singing with Kylie Minogue, was a hit single and received two ARIA Awards in 1996. Other prominent guest musicians on the album include PJ Harvey and Shane MacGowan.


Murder Ballads was the band's biggest commercial success to date, most likely helped by the unexpected repeated airplay of the "Where the Wild Roses Grow" video on MTV. MTV even nominated Cave for their "best male artist" award of that year, though this nomination was later withdrawn at Cave's request.[2]

The first song written for the album was "O'Malley's Bar", when the band was recording Henry's Dream. Recordings were done towards the end of the Let Love In sessions, and there was some thought that the early material could be made into a film with John Hillcoat. Cave said, "I was going around everywhere with letters of intent, pushing them at everyone I knew, saying 'Do you want to be in this film?'"[3]

Cave later said, "I was kind of aware that people would go and buy the Murder Ballads album and listen to it and wonder 'What the fuck have I bought this for?' because the Kylie song wasn't any true indication of what the record was actually like."[4]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[1]
Drowned in Sound 8/10[5]
Entertainment Weekly A[6]
Los Angeles Times 3.5/4 stars[7]
NME 7/10[8]
Pitchfork Media 9.2/10[9]
Q 3/5 stars[10]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[11]
Select 5/5 medals[12]
Spin 5/10[13]

Murder Ballads received almost unanimous critical praise. Bill van Parys of Rolling Stone wrote that "never before have manic elements elevated Cave's shtick to art as on Murder Ballads", describing the album as "literate, sultry and tortured" and "the performance of Nick Cave's life."[11] Entertainment Weekly warned that Murder Ballads was "not for the squeamish," calling it "the rare pop record that resonates with the weight of the ages".[6] The New York Times stated "...Murder Ballads is about more than storytelling. In each song, Mr. Cave meticulously creates a macabre fable and then distills it to a single image of death in much the way a photographer arranges a studio shoot..."[14] In the English music press, Q magazine awarded it three stars and observed that "musically, the Bad Seeds touch on tinkling cabaret jazz, country-paced morbidity and every morose station between."[10] Murder Ballads ranked #16 on Melody Maker 's list of 1996's Albums of the Year and #7 in the NME 's 1996 critic's poll.[15][16]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Nick Cave, except where noted.

  1. "Song of Joy" – 6:47
  2. "Stagger Lee" – 5:15 (trad./Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds)
  3. "Henry Lee" (featuring PJ Harvey) – 3:58 (trad./Cave)
  4. "Lovely Creature" – 4:13 (Blixa Bargeld/Martyn P. Casey/Nick Cave/Mick Harvey/Thomas Wydler)
  5. "Where the Wild Roses Grow" (featuring Kylie Minogue) – 3:57
  6. "The Curse of Millhaven" – 6:55
  7. "The Kindness of Strangers" – 4:39
  8. "Crow Jane" – 4:14 (Martyn P. Casey/Nick Cave)
  9. "O'Malley's Bar" – 14:28
  10. "Death Is Not the End" – 4:26 (Bob Dylan)


  • "Where the Wild Roses Grow" (MUTE 185) (October 2, 1995)
  • "Henry Lee" (MUTE 189) (February 26, 1996)
    • b/w: "King Kong Kitchee Kitchee Ki-Mi-O" / "Knoxville Girl"


The Bad Seeds[edit]

  • Nick Cave – Vocals (1–10), Piano (1, 5, 8, 9), Organ (1, 2, 4, 6, 10), Hammond (1), Gun Shots (2), String Arrangement (5)
  • Blixa Bargeld – Guitar (1–8, 10), Screams (2), Vocals (10)
  • Martyn P. Casey – Bass (1–5, 7, 8)
  • Mick Harvey – Drums (1), Guitar (2, 4, 5, 7, 10), Acoustic Guitar (3, 5), Organ (3), Wind Organ (4), Backing Vocals (5), String Arrangement (5), Bass (6, 9), Hammond (8), Space Belt (8), Percussion (9)
  • Conway Savage – Piano (2–4, 7, 10), Backing Vocals (5), Organ (9)
  • Jim Sclavunos – Drums (2, 8), Percussion (4, 10), Bells (5), Tambourine (6)
  • Thomas Wydler – Maracas (2), Drums (3–7, 9, 10), Tambourine (8), Vocals (10)


  • PJ Harvey – Vocals (3, 10)
  • Terry Edwards – Horns (4)
  • Katharine Blake – Additional Vocals (4)
  • Kylie Minogue – Vocals (5, 10)
  • Jen Anderson – Violin (5)
  • Sue Simpson – Violin (5)
  • Kerran Coulter – Viola (5)
  • Helen Mountfort – Cello (5)
  • Hugo Race – Guitar (6)
  • Warren Ellis – Violin (6), Accordion (6)
  • Marielle Del Conte – Additional Vocals (7)
  • Anita Lane – Crying (7), Vocals (10)
  • Geraldine Johnston – Additional Vocals (8)
  • Liz Corcoran – Additional Vocals (8)
  • Shane MacGowan – Vocals (10)
  • Brian Hooper – Bass (10)

The Moron Tabernacle Choir on "The Curse of Millhaven"[edit]


  1. "Song of Joy" is a story of a man whose wife Joy and their three children, Hilda, Hattie and Holly, are murdered, leaving the man a drifter, as all he loves and holds dear has been stolen from him. In Cave's biography, Bad Seed by Ian Johnston, which only goes up to the preceding album Let Love In, it is mentioned that he was working on a new song called "Red Right Hand II", involving a man killing his three children. This may be the same song in a finished form, and, indeed, the lyrics mention "in my house he wrote his red right hand, which I'm told is from Paradise Lost". The Narrator portrays himself as the victim of the crime, however, the song itself strongly implies a connection between the killer's continuing murder-spree and the widower's seemingly-aimless wandering; Cave's delivery and further references to Milton suggest that the narrator is, in fact, himself the murderer. (Narrator quotes Milton three times during the song, first quote being 'Farewell, happy fields, Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail' - Paradise Lost, Book One, 249-250; second 'The sun to me is dark And silent as the moon' - Samson Agonistes, Line 86; and finally 'the sum of earthly bliss' - Paradise Lost, Book Eight, 522).
  2. "Stagger Lee" is based on a traditional song about the African-American murderer of the same name. Cave's version draws most of the lyrics from a 1967 transcription published in the 1976 book The Life: The lore and folk poetry of the black hustler (see reference).
  3. "Henry Lee" is also based on a traditional song (or two), often referred to as Young Hunting. It tells of a woman who kills a man because he did not sleep with her or love her. It is a duet with PJ Harvey, a British rock singer who was in a relationship with Cave at the time.
  4. "Lovely Creature" tells an abstract tale of finding and losing love through death. It is possible to interpret the lyrics as a sort of vanishing hitchhiker legend.
  5. "Where the Wild Roses Grow" was a very popular duet with Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue. Nick says the traditional song "The Willow Garden" (which is a B-side on the "Where the Wild Roses Grow" single) was the song that inspired him to write "Where the Wild Roses Grow".[citation needed] It is a classic tale of a man courting a woman and killing her while they are out together.
  6. "The Curse of Millhaven" is a song about a 15 year-old girl called Loretta "Lottie", who's "eyes are green" and "hair is yellow". She describes the deaths of townsfolk, pointing out how "all God's creatures, they've all got to die". It is then revealed, in the failed stabbing of Mrs. Colgate, that Lottie is in fact the killer. "Curse" uses the fictional town of Millhaven, created by Peter Straub and came out on paper in his books regarding "The Blue Rose Murders". In particular, the novel The Throat has been recommended by Nick. It might also be stated that this song has the largest number of deaths, being at least 23 murders.
  7. "The Kindness of Strangers" centers on a young girl named Mary Bellows, who travels to see the ocean. On the way she meets Richard Slade, but tells him to leave once she has a room. She finds herself lonely and unlocks her door, only to be killed by (presumably, although it is not explicitly stated) Slade.
  8. "Crow Jane" shares its title with a traditional blues song. Cave's version appears to be entirely original. In his version, it seems Crow Jane is gang raped, then visits a gunshop, arms herself, and kills the twenty miners who raped her.This song can also be seen as being loosely connected to Cave's novel "And The Ass Saw The Angel." The mother of the main character (Euchrid Eucrow), being named as Crow Jane
  9. "O'Malley's Bar" is a long song about a man who goes into a bar and kills his fellow townsfolk. He feels elated and sexually aroused by this killing, but is caught by the police. In the car, moving away from the bar, he begins counting those he killed on his fingers. Cave said, "we couldn't use "O'Malley's Bar" on any of our other records. So we had to make a record, an environment where the songs could exist."[3]
  10. "Death Is Not the End" is a song featuring several vocalists, such as Anita Lane, Kylie Minogue, PJ Harvey, and Shane McGowan, including Cave himself and his bandmembers drummer Thomas Wydler and guitarist Blixa Bargeld. They each sing a verse in this cover of a Bob Dylan song, the only song in which an actual death does not occur. Cave later described it as, "just kind of a jokey little punctuation mark to the whole thing. There's tongue-in-cheek to that song, even though I think it's quite a beautiful rendition."[3]

The death count on the entire album comes to 65, or a mean average (rounding) of 6.5 deaths per song (7.2 deaths per song, excluding the murder-free final song).

Charts and Certification[edit]

Weekly Charts[edit]


  1. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Murder Ballads – Nick Cave / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  2. ^ Nick Cave letter to MTV., 21 October 1996. Accessed 28 August 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Walker, Clinton (Summer 1995). "Nick Cave Evil's Elder Statesman". Triple J Magazine. No. 1 (Sydney, NSW: Gore and Osment). pp. 12–17. 
  4. ^ Dwyer, Michael (July 1998). "Album by Album with Nick Cave". Rolling Stone Australia. No. 550 (Sydney, NSW: Tilmond Pty Ltd). p. 41. 
  5. ^ Kinchin-Smith, Sam (20 May 2011). "Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In, Murder Ballads, The Boatman's Call, No More Shall We Part (reissues)". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Scherman, Tony (8 March 1996). "Murder Ballads". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Ali, Lorraine (17 February 1996). "Bone-Chilling 'Murder Ballads' From Cave". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Fadele, Dele (3 February 1996). "Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". NME. Archived from the original on 17 August 2000. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  9. ^ Berman, Stuart (25 May 2011). "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Let Love In / Murder Ballads / The Boatman's Call / No More Shall We Part". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads". Q. No. 114. March 1996. p. 93. 
  11. ^ a b Van Parys, Bill (21 March 1996). "Nick Cave: Murder Ballads". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Collis, Clark (March 1996). "The executioner's songs". Select. No. 69. p. 88. 
  13. ^ Norris, Chris (March 1996). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads". Spin. Vol. 11 no. 12. pp. 111–12. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  14. ^ New York Times, November 2, 1996, Section 2 pg. 30
  15. ^ NME, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
  16. ^ Melody Maker, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
  17. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  18. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  19. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  20. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in French). Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  21. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  22. ^ "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  23. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". GfK Entertainment. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  24. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  25. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  26. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  27. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  28. ^ "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  29. ^ "British album certifications – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Murder Ballads in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search


  • The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler, Wepman, Newman & Binderman, Holloway House, 1976, ISBN 0-87067-367-X

External links[edit]