Murder Ballads

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.

Murder Ballads
Studio album by
Released5 February 1996
GenreFolk, blues[1]
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds chronology
Let Love In
Murder Ballads
The Boatman's Call
Singles from Murder Ballads
  1. "Where the Wild Roses Grow"
    Released: 2 October 1995
  2. "Henry Lee"
    Released: 26 February 1996

"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 was 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 MTV even nominated Cave for their "best male artist" award of that year, though this nomination was later withdrawn at Cave's request.[2] Cave later said, "I was kind of aware that people would go and buy the Murder Ballads album and listen to it and wonder 'What the fuck have I bought this for?' because the Kylie song wasn't any true indication of what the record was actually like."[3]

The first song written for the album was "O'Malley's Bar", when the band was recording Henry's Dream. According to Cave, the idea for the Murder Ballads album came from this song: "We couldn't use 'O'Malley's Bar' on any of our other records. So we had to make a record, an environment where the songs could exist."[4] Recordings were done towards the end of the Let Love In sessions, and there was some thought that the early material could be made into a film with John Hillcoat. Cave said, "I was going around everywhere with letters of intent, pushing them at everyone I knew, saying 'Do you want to be in this film?'"[4]


  • "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, while the music itself is updated into a reggae song.[5]
  • "Henry Lee" is also based on a traditional song (or two), often referred to as Young Hunting. It is a duet with PJ Harvey, a British rock singer who was in a relationship with Cave at the time.
  • "Where the Wild Roses Grow" is a very popular duet with Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue. Cave 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]
  • "The Curse of Millhaven" takes place in the fictional town of Millhaven, created by author Peter Straub.
  • "Crow Jane" shares its title with a traditional blues song; Cave's version appears to be entirely original.
  • "Death Is Not the End" is a song featuring several vocalists, such as Anita Lane, Kylie Minogue, PJ Harvey, and Shane MacGowan, including Cave himself and Bad Seeds 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. Cave later described it as, "just kind of a jokey little punctuation mark to the whole thing. There's tongue-in-cheek to that song, even though I think it's quite a beautiful rendition."[4]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [6]
Entertainment WeeklyA[7]
The Guardian     [8]
Los Angeles Times    [9]
Q     [12]
Rolling Stone     [13]

Murder Ballads received almost unanimous critical praise. Bill van Parys of Rolling Stone wrote that "never before have manic elements elevated Cave's shtick to art as on Murder Ballads", describing the album as "literate, sultry and tortured" and "the performance of Nick Cave's life."[13] Tony Scherman of Entertainment Weekly warned that Murder Ballads was "not for the squeamish," calling it "the rare pop record that resonates with the weight of the ages".[7] In The New York Times, Neil Strauss felt that the album "is about more than storytelling", adding that 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".[16] In a mixed review, Spin's Chris Norris complimented the album's "sordid epics and dark confessionals", but felt that Cave's "rheumy Poe-ish romance" songs were less effective.[15]

In the English music press, Select's Clark Collis remarked that Murder Ballads "weaves itself together into a meditation on death that is both beautiful and genuinely unnerving."[14] Dave Henderson of Q observed that "musically, the Bad Seeds touch on tinkling cabaret jazz, country-paced morbidity and every morose station between."[12] Murder Ballads ranked number 16 on Melody Maker's list of 1996's Albums of the Year and number 7 in the NME's 1996 critics' poll.[17][18]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Nick Cave, except where noted.

1."Song of Joy" 6:47
2."Stagger Lee"Traditional, Cave5:15
3."Henry Lee" (featuring PJ Harvey)Traditional, Cave3:58
4."Lovely Creature"Blixa Bargeld, Martyn P. Casey, Cave, Mick Harvey, Thomas Wydler4:13
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"Martyn P. Casey, Cave4:14
9."O'Malley's Bar" 14:28
10."Death Is Not the End" (featuring Anita Lane, Shane MacGowan, PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue)Bob Dylan4:26
Total length:58:43


Nick Cave and 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)

Guest musicians

  • 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"


Weekly chartsEdit

As of 2001 the album has sold close to a million copies worldwide.[34]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Nick Cave letter to MTV". 21 October 1996. Archived from the original on 8 September 2003. Retrieved 28 August 2010.
  3. ^ Dwyer, Michael (July 1998). "Album by Album with Nick Cave". Rolling Stone Australia. No. 550. Sydney, NSW: Tilmond Pty Ltd. p. 41.
  4. ^ a b c Walker, Clinton (Summer 1995). "Nick Cave Evil's Elder Statesman". Triple J Magazine. No. 1. Sydney, NSW: Gore and Osment. pp. 12–17.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Murder Ballads – Nick Cave / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  7. ^ a b Scherman, Tony (8 March 1996). "Murder Ballads". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Caroline (26 January 1996). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads (Mute)". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Ali, Lorraine (17 February 1996). "Bone-Chilling 'Murder Ballads' From Cave". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  10. ^ Fadele, Dele (3 February 1996). "Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". NME. Archived from the original on 17 August 2000. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  11. ^ Berman, Stuart (25 May 2011). "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Let Love In / Murder Ballads / The Boatman's Call / No More Shall We Part". Pitchfork. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  12. ^ a b Henderson, Dave (March 1996). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads". Q. No. 114. p. 93.
  13. ^ a b Van Parys, Bill (21 March 1996). "Nick Cave: Murder Ballads". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  14. ^ a b Collis, Clark (March 1996). "The executioner's songs". Select. No. 69. p. 88.
  15. ^ a b Norris, Chris (March 1996). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads". Spin. Vol. 11 no. 12. pp. 111–12. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  16. ^ Strauss, Neil (2 November 1996). "Rapper and Rocker: Meditations on Death". The New York Times. Section 2, p. 30. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  17. ^ NME, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
  18. ^ Melody Maker, December 21–28, 1996, pg. 66-67
  19. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  20. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  21. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  22. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in French). Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  23. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  24. ^ "Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  25. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  26. ^ "Album Top 40 slágerlista – 1996. 10. hét" (in Hungarian). MAHASZ. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  27. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  28. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  29. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  30. ^ " – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". Hung Medien. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  31. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  32. ^ "Top 100 Album-Jahrescharts" (in German). GfK Entertainment. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  33. ^ "British album certifications – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads". British Phonographic Industry.Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Murder Ballads in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  34. ^ "Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Return With New Look At Old Themes". Retrieved 20 September 2018.


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