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The Birthday Party: Mutiny/The Bad Seed

March 1, 2012

Roll: 1-7-11
Album: The Birthday Party, Mutiny/The Bad Seed

What would have happened if a band had just stuck together will always be a source of speculation and debate for fans. If you listen to the first proper records by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison after the break up of The Beatles, you can imagine the 1971 Beatles album that might have been (for better or worse). Arguably, ten songs cherry-picked from their early solo outings would have been another classic in the band’s oeuvre. Assuming they could stand being in the same room together long enough to record this imaginary album. An album I wouldn’t have any time for anyway.

Similarly, it’s fun to imagine The Police playing on Sting‘s Dream of the Blue Turtles or how The Clash would have approached the Big Audio Dynamite material. The latter example couldn’t be any worse than Cut The Crap, but maybe with The Police it would have been the first album in a series of diminishing returns for the trio.

The point is with every band that broke up before they started putting out really crappy records, we’ll never know what they might have done. Sometimes I even like to imagine U2 broke up after Rattle and Hum and speculate where they might have taken their sound in the grunge era—now that’s an exciting thought! (sigh…)

The final recordings by The Birthday Party inspire similar conjectures. The Mutiny sessions in particular sound not terribly unlike the first The Bad Seeds recordings. Perhaps it’s in the new found sense of restraint (if you can call it that) which gives you a hint of the trademark Nick Cave/Mick Harvey dynamic taking hold. Really only “Swampland” and “Mutiny in Heaven” approach the off-kilter ferocity of Birthday Party’s previous work. You might even speculate this almost imperceptible shift in artistic direction must be what ultimately lead to the break-up of the band until you hear the Mick Harvey/Roland S. Howard dynamic still at work in Crime and the City Solution. As much of an asset to The Bad Seeds as Blixa Bargeld and Barry Adamson were, you can’t help wonder what From Her To Eternity would have sounded like with Roland S. and Tracy Pew in attendance.

The first half of this compilation, The Bad Seed EP, is closer to business as usual for the gang but again it’s a little more “restrained” than their earlier work. Of course, almost every record recorded by anyone in the history of rock is.

To toss words like “trashy” and “gothic” and “visceral” and “a completely unhinged hedonistic orgy of blood and rust” at Birthday Party records is to do them a disservice. They’re so much messier and much more dangerous than that.

The bottom line is there were not only no bad Birthday Party records, there’s none that aren’t completely essential listening for anyone who claims to like “rock’n’roll” music. Mutiny/The Bad Seed might not be Junkyard or Prayers On Fire, but as far as swan songs go it blows the doors off the likes of Let It BeCombat Rock and In Utero.

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