Murder Ballads

Murder Ballads
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 is 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 MTV even nominated Cave for their "best male artist" award of that year, though this nomination was later withdrawn at Cave's request.[2]



Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[3]
Pitchfork (9.2/10)[4]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[5]
Rolling Stone (favorable)[6]

Murder Ballads received almost unanimous critical praise with Rolling Stone awarding it 4 Stars and stating "...never before have manic elements elevated Cave's shtick to art as on Murder Ballads....literate, sultry and tortured....the performance of Nick Cave's life..."[7] Entertainment Weekly rated the album a B+ and warned it was "Not for the squeamish, this is the rare pop record that resonates with the weight of the ages..." and 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..."[8][9] In the English music press Q magazine awarded it 3 stars and observed "...Musically, the Bad Seeds touch on tinkling cabaret jazz, country-paced morbidity and every morose station between..." while it ranked #16 on Melody Maker's list of 1996's Albums of the Year and #7 in the NME's 1996 critic's poll.[10][11][12]

Track listing

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)
    • b/w: "The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane" / "The Willow Garden"
  • "Henry Lee" (MUTE 189) (February 26, 1996)
    • b/w: "King Kong Kitchee Kitchee Ki-Mi-O" / "Knoxville Girl"


The Bad Seeds

  • 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"


  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.
  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 of a mad girl called Loretta "Lottie" whose "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 25 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.
  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. The chances are he'll have a hard time keeping track; the song runs for over fourteen minutes.
  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.

The death count on the entire album comes to 64, or a mean average (rounding) of 6.4 deaths per song.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Nick Cave letter to MTV., 21 Octopber 1996. Accessed 28 August 2010.
  3. ^ Allmusic review
  4. ^ Pitchfork review
  5. ^ Rolling Stone review
  6. ^ Rolling Stone review
  7. ^ Van Parys, B. Rolling Stone Murder Ballads Review, March 21, 1996, p.96
  8. ^ Entertainment Weekly March 8, 1996, pg. 66
  9. ^ New York Times, November 2, 1996, Section 2 pg. 30
  10. ^ Q Magazine, March 1996, pg. 93
  11. ^ NME, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
  12. ^ Melody Maker, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67


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

External links

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