Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

"Prayers On Fire” has always been the one BIRTHDAY PARTY LP whose charms have continually eluded me, and I consider myself a – if not a worshipper, then a mighty big fan of this seminal early 80s hellfire & brimstone band. I’m a longtime partisan of "Junkyard” and especially those two godhead late-career EPs, “Mutiny!” and “The Bad Seed”. Does drug-fueled low-end rumbling Satanic goth punk get any better than “Sonny’s Burning”, “Mutiny In Heaven” or “Jennifer’s Veil”? I thought not. Listening to Prayers On Fire this week, the image this band must’ve thrown off really hit me – I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be confronted LIVE with the ghastly site of 90-pound Nick Cave and his cowboy-hatted junkie band cranking out this unholy noise. I saw cheap imitators SCRATCH ACID (who I love), but seeing the Birthday Party themselves must’ve been the shit (and the amazing “Live 1981-1982” CD confirms it).

But “Prayers On Fire”, their second LP and first one as the Birthday Party proper, still doesn’t deliver the solid kick to the groin the follow-ups did. I just got it on CD (thanks CS) and again gave it the once-over thrice. Sure, the overall panic attack is in full bloom – a mix of barbed punk rock jabs, cabaret-from-hell piano and horns, and a stinking-drunk lounge crooner/screamer. Standout tracks are the bump/grind of “Nick The Stripper”, "Zoo Music Girl"'s thumping rhythms, the plinking “Kathy’s Kisses”, and the slash-guitar of the hook-filled “Cry”. You can hear quite clearly just how musically adept and educated these young men were, as they touch upon tribal elements, 1930s vaudeville/cabaret and smoldering post-punk in liberal quantities, and with their talents bared & obvious. The Australians built on the success of homeboys the Birthday Party and patented this foul brew in the late 80s, and shipped it overseas in many forms (Bloodloss, Lubricated Goat, King Snake Roost and others). Compared to those sometimes-worthy bands, “Prayers On Fire” is light years above, but still set below the high-water mark set by “Junkyard” and the 1983 EPs.