In his long and storied career, Nick Cave has been almost every type of villain known to man: the pensive yet destructive rapscallion, the sexually deviant predator, the merciless devil's handmaiden wrapped in a cloak of deceit and mystery. Perhaps if he weren't such a brilliant lyricist, of if his live performance didn't err on the side of legitimate theatre, we'd be able to separate Cave the man from Cave the artist -- but such is not the case. It's intriguing, even amazing, to sit back and watch one of the greatest scoundrels in music history be reborn into a new life of villainous virtue.
A glorious return to form after a couple of sub-par outings, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus exposes for the first time the full breadth of Nick Cave's existence as man, saint and sinner. The double album plays out like a single symbiotic composition, and the sense of nuance and interplay between the pair is impressive; they establish a curious balance between love and hate, darkness and light, treachery and integrity. That said, this is a simpler affair than we've come to expect from Cave. Skeletal instrumentation provides a backdrop for lyrics as demented and historically relevant as any he has unleashed, and he's joined by a group of players who know how to ebb and flow with every temperamental fluctuation of his timbre.
Abattoir/Orpheus is not as immediate as some of Cave's previous triumphs, but you'll take pleasure in unearthing new sentiments and innuendo within its walls. Cave is a chameleon-like figure, both in terms of songwriting and performance; he's adept at conjuring fire and brimstone dirges like "Cannibal's Hymn" or lilting, piano-led lullabies like "Babe, You Turn Me On", but always able to deliver a crushing line like "I wanted to be your Superman, but I turned out to be such a jerk." Moments of classic Cave wit ("Nature Boy" and "The Lyre of Orpheus") mingle with glorious paeans to eternal love ("Supernaturally") and teeth-grinding tales of the awesomely absurd ("Fable of the Brown Ape").
There are plenty of curves in a road this long, but you're in capable hands; Cave traverses the depths of his soul, only to find that his salvation has been sitting next to him the entire time. If villainy truly is a virtue, then Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus crowns Nick Cave as its patron saint.