Prayers on Fire

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Prayers on Fire
Studio album by The Birthday Party
Released 6 April 1981 (1981-04-06)
Recorded December 1980 – January 1981
Studio A.A.V. Studio 2 and Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Australia
Genre Post-punk
Length 42:06
Label Missing Link
Producer Tony Cohen, The Birthday Party
The Birthday Party chronology
The Birthday Party
(1980)The Birthday Party1980
Prayers on Fire
Drunk on the Pope's Blood
(1982)Drunk on the Pope's Blood1982

Prayers on Fire is the debut studio album by Australian rock group The Birthday Party, which was released on 6 April 1981 on the Missing Link label in Australia, later licensed to the 4AD label. This was the band's first full-length release on an international record label and the first after changing the group's name from Boys Next Door to The Birthday Party. It was recorded at Armstrong's Audio Visual Studios in Melbourne and Richmond Recorders in the nearby suburb of Richmond, between December 1980 and January 1981.


Prayers on Fire is the debut album by Australian post-punk rock group The Birthday Party.[1] In February 1980 Melbourne-based new wave group, The Boys Next Door, changed their name to The Birthday Party.[1] They consisted of Phill Calvert on drums, Nick Cave on vocals, Mick Harvey on guitar, Rowland S. Howard on guitar and Tracy Pew on bass guitar.[1] They relocated to London and soon signed with the 4AD label which issued the extended play, The Friend Catcher in the United Kingdom. In July, their Australian label, Missing Link Records, released "Mr Clarinet" from the EP as a single.[1] In November Missing Link followed with a compilation album, The Birthday Party under the band names The Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party, which combined previously issued EP and singles tracks with some previously unreleased material.[1]

Also in November 1980, The Birthday Party returned to Australia and toured.[1] According to Australian music historian, Ian McFarlane, "It was during this time that the band cemented its reputation as a peerless live act, with its omnipresent influence settling over the Melbourne scene".[1] On 6 April 1981 they issued the album and followed in June with its lead single, "Nick the Stripper".[1] The group returned to London.[1] The track "Ho-Ho" is featured in the 2004 German film, Head-On.

Members of Melbourne jazz rock band Equal Local contributed the brass section to "Nick the Stripper" – tenor saxophonist Mick Hauser was mis-credited as Mick Hunter. Equal Local had formed in 1980 by Dean Richards on guitar, Philip Jackson on synthesisers, trumpet and rhythm generator, Melissa Webb on synthesiser and piano, Bryce Perrin on acoustic bass, and Hauser.[2] Richards and Jackson were bandmates from post punk rockers, Whirlywirld and contemporaries of The Boys Next Door.[2] Equal Local disbanded in early 1982.[2]

Composition and recording[edit]

Eight of the eleven tracks on Prayers on Fire were written or co-written by Cave, "[it] was a kind of reaction to the major disappointments we felt when we went to England... [we] began to see a vision and I don't think we were positively influenced ... we didn't want to be like the English New Wave pop groups of the time".[3] Pew observed "[it] stinks, quite honestly ... The engineer slept through the entire session for a start".[3] In Melbourne, in December 1980 and January 1981, they joined engineer and producer, Tony Cohen, in Armstrong's Audio Visual Studios (A.A.V. Studio 2) and Richmond Recorders, to record their tracks.[1] Music journalist, Toby Creswell, noted that the band "struggled with creating their own identity some of them also began indulging an appetite for alcohol and heroin".[3] Cave was embarrassed by "Zoo Music Girl" but noted "we were digging for something and we kind of just found it with some songs" and cited "King Ink" as an example of "a certain kind of sound that we wanted to work with on records after that".[3]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating 4/5 stars[4]
Allmusic 4/5 stars[5]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[6]
Spin (9/10)[5]'s Carew felt Prayers on Fire was able to "capture the qualities of their infamous live-shows on record ... the evocatively-produced set dared dress key cuts in blaring brass; giving a sense of perverted-cabaret to their mordant racket, turning Cave from nihilist, self-destructive savant to theatrical, flamboyant showman".[4] Allmusic's Greg Maurer's found "a fascination with the dark, (self-)destructive side of religion is more than evident in his later work... While there might not be any of the explicit Biblical imagery on [the album] that Cave would later ejaculate, the title ... is apt".[5] McFarlane stated it showed the band was "irrevocably and unashamedly changing for the better, being more aggressive than anything they had ever recorded".[1] Sound Stage Direct described it as "a creepy carnival of tribal rhythms, wonky discordance and garbled surrealism".[7] Music critic, Ed St John summarised, "this is an expression which ebbs out beyond the confines of proficiently played music ... [it] is akin to watching a film of Jackson Pollock painting or listening to Dylan Thomas in full alcoholic flight".[3]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Lyrics Music by Length
1. "Zoo-Music Girl" Nick Cave Rowland S. Howard 2:38
2. "Cry" Cave Cave 2:42
3. "Capers" Genevieve McGuckin Howard 2:39
4. "Nick the Stripper" Cave Cave 3:52
5. "Ho-Ho" Howard McGuckin 3:07
6. "Figure of Fun" Cave Cave, Howard 2:48
7. "King Ink" Cave Cave, Howard 4:41
8. "A Dead Song" Anita Lane Cave 2:13
9. "Yard" Cave Cave 5:04
10. "Dull Day" Howard Howard 3:04
11. "Just You and Me" Cave Mick Harvey 2:03
CD reissue bonus tracks
No. Title Lyrics Music by Length
12. "Blundertown" Howard Howard 3:10
13. "Kathy's Kisses" Cave Cave 4:05


The Birthday Party members[8]
Equal Local members on "Nick the Stripper"
Recording details
  • Producer – Tony Cohen, The Birthday Party
  • Engineer – Tony Cohen
  • Studios – Armstrong's Audio Visual Studios (tracks 1–5, 7–9, 12–13), Richmond Recorders (tracks 6, 10, 11)
    • Mixing studios – Armstrong's Audio Visual Studios (tracks 6, 10, 11)
Art work
  • Photography – Jenny, Polly Borland, Evan English (cover photo)

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1981) Peak
UK Independent Albums Chart[9] 4


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McFarlane, 'The Birthday Party' entry. Archived from the original on 9 August 2004. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b c McFarlane, 'Equal Local' entry. Archived from the original on 13 August 2004. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Creswell, Toby (2007) [2005]. 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them (RocKwiz ed.). Prahran, Vic: Hardie Grant. pp. 324–325. ISBN 978-1-74066-458-5. 
  4. ^ a b Carew, Anthony. "Definitive Albums: The Birthday Party Prayers on Fire (1981)". (The New York Times Company). Archived from the original on 14 February 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Maurer, Greg. "Prayers on Fire – The Birthday Party". Allmusic. (Rovi Corporation). Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Dave Marsh, John Swenson, ed. (1983). "The Birthday Party – Prayers on Fire". The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Random House / Rolling Stone Press. ISBN 0-394-72107-1. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "Prayers on Fire (180 Gram)". Sound Stage Direct. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Lazell, Barry. "Indie Hits: "B"". Cherry Red. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 

External links[edit]