Hillary pulls a stack of records from our Ikea shelf. She’s purposefully picked from the area of her taste that doesn’t cross into our indie rock Venn Diagram.
The top record is the Birthday Party’s “Prayers on Fire”, a moody work from Nick Cave’s pre-Bad Seeds band. ’70s post-punk — the music that deepened and darkened the possibilities opened up by the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and their contemporaries as New Wave acts pushed in the opposite direction — is one of Hillary’s favorite eras, and a time that’s only hit-and-miss for me.
We put it on. Upfront bass, serrated guitars, Cookie Monster vocals: our cat hates it, and stares out the window in disdain. (Or at whatever she usually stares at.) Hillary picked the album up, like most of her collection, when she worked at a record store in college. She liked Nick Cave already and bought this on a whim. She was surprised at how much she liked it. I will be surprised if I can make it to side two.
“Try to go back to feeling 13 and angsty,” she says. I was listening to Incubus and blink-182 then: I would’ve hated this record. I can’t say I like it much better 15 years later. I never went through a goth phase.
“Ho-Ho” comes on, a lugubrious but more melody-inclined track that reminds me of “House of the Rising Sun,” burned out and abandoned. We flip the record over and Cave spasms like a dying man, “ah, ah, ah, ah!” Horns make occasional, impressive appearances across this record, and when Cave stirs himself from gibbering ’50s rocker to fully-formed Dracula, it takes on real power. There are interesting ideas happening as the band tears rock ‘n’ roll music into shreds, but not many that draw me in like the artwork: it’s Cave’s own, colorful and abstractly demonic. The Birthday Party and the bands of their era tap into a corner of my wife’s brain I’m surprised exists: at least we both like “True Detective.”
Come back all week for more crate-digging. Are you a Birthday Party fan?
* Inspired by My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection, Oregonian music critic David Greenwald will be diving into unfamiliar selections from his wife’s vinyl shelves all week. Read the introduction here.