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ALBUM REVIEW

Bone-Chilling 'Murder Ballads' From Cave

February 17, 1996|LORRAINE ALI

*** 1/2

NICK CAVE

"Murder Ballads"

Mute

Rock's master of the macabre offers a chilling collection of songs on his most tantalizing album in years. In this twisted and often gory record, baritone crooner Nick Cave changes his vocal inflections to play narrator, killer and victim as surreal sonic backdrops set the stage. But rather than using gratuitous violence and cruelty to titillate (he leaves that up to Hollywood and dozens of Ice Cube wannabes), Cave's tales writhe with bone-chilling dramatics and dark psychological innuendo.

The 10 songs are graceful, tragic, romantic and as creepy as a midnight walk in the woods. Cave's persona swings from the vicious mind of the classic blues character Stagger Lee to the dark psyche of a murderous child, while the music sounds like old folk ballads updated with distortion and dissonance. Duets with PJ Harvey ("Henry Lee") and Australia's former queen of bubble-gum pop, Kylie Minogue ("Where the Wild Roses Grow") are the album's most memorable songs.

It wouldn't take an Einstein to see that murder is a played-out theme in the '90s, but Cave takes the subject and infuses it with depth and consequence.

* New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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