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Music / Murder Ballads

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Murder Ballads is the ninth studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Released in 1996 through Mute Records (in conjunction with Reprise Records in North America), it is the biggest commercial success in the band's career. Cave's duet with Kylie Minogue, "Where The Wild Roses Grow", became an international hit, though a Black Sheep Hit at the same time as Cave felt its soothing performance, despite the Lyrical Dissonance of the topic, was not representative of the rest of the album. When the song won an MTV Music Award the singer politely declined accepting the prize as he felt: "I don't believe art should be rated."


  1. "Song of Joy" (6:47)
  2. "Stagger Lee" (5:15)
  3. "Henry Lee" (3:58)
  4. "Lovely Creature" (4:13)
  5. "Where the Wild Roses Grow" (3:57)
  6. "The Curse of Millhaven" (6:55)
  7. "The Kindness of Strangers" (4:39)
  8. "Crow Jane" (4:14)
  9. "O'Malley's Bar" (14:28)
  10. "Death Is Not the End" (4:26)

Where The Wild Tropes Grow

  • Affectionate Nickname: "Where The Wild Roses Grow"
    They call me the Wild Rose, but my name was Elisa Day
    Why they call me that I don't know
    For my name was Elisa Day
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Nellie Brown in "Stagger Lee" flirts with Stagger Lee, despite the fact that he just killed a man in cold blood.
  • Alliterative Name: The three children in "Song Of Joy" are named Hilda, Hattie and Holly.
  • Alliterative Title: "Where the Wild Rose Grow". The bar in "Stagger Lee" is called "The Bucket Of Blood".
  • Ambiguously Gay: The music video of "Stagger Lee" is just as badass cool as it has homosexual undertones. We see Cave and his band members dancing and prancing around to the beat. The lyrics themselves also fall into this trope as Stagger commits adultery with a woman called Nellie Brown and boasts that if her husband, Billy Dilly, would enter: "I'll fuck Billy in his motherfucking ass!" When her man does indeed walk in on them Stagger tells him to get down on his knees and suck his dick, "because if you don't you're gonna be dead." After Billy does so, Stagger murders him anyway.
  • As the Good Book Says...: "O'Malley's Bar"
    And I turned my gun on the bird-like Mr. Brookes
    I thought of Saint Francis and his sparrows
    And as I shot down the youthful Richardson
    It was St. Sebastian I thought of, and his arrows
  • At Least I Admit It: Lottie.
    I'm a wicked young lady, but I've been trying hard lately...
    Aw, FUCK IT! I'm a monster! I admit it!
  • Ax-Crazy: Lottie from "The Curse Of Milhaven" is literally rabid with psychopathic murderous rage, as well as the protagonist of "Stagger Lee", who is not only a murderous psychopath, but also a sadistic rapist who doesn't discriminate based on gender.
  • Badass Boast: "Stagger Lee", just all these lines:
    Stagger Lee
    He said "Mr Motherfucker, you know who I am?"
    The barkeeper said, "No, and I don't give a good goddamn"
    To Stagger Lee
    He said, "Well bartender, it's plain to see
    I'm that bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee"
    Mr. Stagger Lee
    Barkeep said, "Yeah, I've heard your name down the way
    And I kick motherfucking asses like you every day"
    Mr Stagger Lee
    Well those were the last words that the barkeep said
    'Cause Stag put four holes in his motherfucking head
    Just then in came a broad called Nellie Brown
    Was known to make more money than any bitch in town
    She struts across the bar, hitching up her skirt
    Over to Stagger Lee, she starts to flirt
    With Stagger Lee
    She saw the barkeep, said, "O God, he can't be dead!"
    Stag said, "Well, just count the holes in the motherfucker's head"
  • Bar Brawl: The bartender in "Stagger Lee" makes the fatal mistake of offending Stagger Lee and gets four bullets in his head as a result.
  • Black Comedy:
    • "Stagger Lee", "The Curse Of Millhaven" and "O' Malley's Bar" describe murder in a blatant comedic fashion.
    • "O' Malley's Bar"
    Well I spun to the left, I spun to the right, and I spun to the left again
    "Fear me! Fear me! Fear me!"
    But no one did, cause they were dead
  • Call-Back: "Song Of Joy", (About a man telling the story of how his wife and daughters were murdered by a serial killer) has two back to the previous album. The first is the speaker using the phrase "All things move towards their end", which is a phrase used similarly in the song "Do You Love Me?". Another during his description of the murder scene, where the killer has used blood to write the words "His Red Right Hand" on the wall. This is cited as a reference to John Milton's Paradise Lost, but is also a reference to the song "Red Right Hand".
  • Careful with That Axe: The screaming near the end of "Stagger Lee". "The Curse Of Millhaven" starts off with very loud screaming and noise.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Stagger Lee", with the man himself and the bartender calling each other and themselves "motherfucker" multiple times.
  • Concept Album: All the lyrics deal with murder ballads.
  • Continuity Nod: "Song Of Joy" was originally called "Red Right Hand II", after the song from Let Love In. The line "in my house he wrote his red right hand, which I'm told is from Paradise Lost" still reminds us of that.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: The Serial Killer in "Song of Joy" writes quotes from John Milton on the walls in the blood of his victims.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: "Death Is Not The End" is supposed to comfort the listener with the thought of an afterlife. Cave's version seems to hint that even death won't set you free from suffering.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • The album cover shows a house in a snowy forest at night. If the title "Murder Ballads" wasn't present you'd probably never guess its violent lyrical content.
    • Only one song is not a murder ballad: "Death Is Not The End".
  • Cover Version: "Stagger Lee" and "Henry Lee" are traditionals. "Death Is Not The End" is a cover from Bob Dylan's album Down In The Groove (1988). Conspicuously, both "Stagger Lee", "Henry Lee" and the single b-side "King Kong Kitchee Kitchee Ki-Mi-O" (AKA "Froggie Went A-Courtin'") had all been recorded by Dylan just a few years earlier on the folk albums Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong.
  • Cradle of Loneliness: "The Kindess Of Strangers", where a woman called Mary Bellows meets a man called Richard Slade, but tells him to leave once she has a room. She finds herself lonely and unlocks her door and gets shot, presumably by him.
  • Creepy Child: Lottie in "The Curse Of Milhaven" is a 14-year old girl who murders people for fun and has no remorse.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Happens to Professor O'Rye in "The Curse of Millhaven". This is the one crime that Serial Killer Villain Protagonist who describes herself as 'a monster' denies responsibility for.
    Then Professor O'Rye from Millhaven High
    Found nailed to his door his prize-winning terrier
    Then next day the old fool brought little Biko to school
    And we all had to watch as he buried her
  • Death Song: All songs deal with murders and "Death Is Not The End" deals with death.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Stagger Lee in "Stagger Lee", who forces the husband of the woman he commits adultery with to give him a blowjob, then shoots him.
  • Dissimile: One of the murder weapons used in "O'Malley's Bar" is "an ashtray as big as a fucking really big brick
  • Downer Ending:
    • "The Curse Of Millhaven", about a serial killer who murders for fun and concludes: "All God's children they all gotta die!"
    • The woman in "Where The Wild Roses Grow" is murdered in the end by her partner, who believes "all beauty must die".
    • Mary Bellows in "The Kindness of Strangers" decides to trust the friendly man who helps her out. Tough luck there, Mary.
  • Duet Bonding: PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, who were partners at the time, sing a duet during "Henry Lee"'. The music video shows them cuddling and dancing with one another as they sing their song, closing off with a kiss.
  • Enfant Terrible: The Curse of Millhaven is about a fourteen-year-old Serial Killer. Of the numerous horrible things in the song, the only thing she doesn't admit to doing is killing her teacher's dog, and she is happy to tell the cops who did.
  • Epic Rocking: The 14:28 "O'Malley's Bar".
  • The Evils of Free Will: "O' Malley's Bar" is about a murderer who justifies his crimes by the fact that he has no free will.
    I blew a hole in Mrs. Richard Holmes
    And her husband stupidly stood up
    As he screamed, "You are an evil man"
    And I paused a while to wonder
    "If I have no free will then how can I
    Be morally culpable, I wonder"
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The album indeed contains murder ballads.
  • The Great Depression: "Stagger Lee"
    It was back in '32 when times were hard
  • Guttural Growler: Cave's singing in "Lovely Creature".
  • If I Can't Have You…:
    Lie there, lie there, little Henry Lee
    'Til the flesh drops from your bones
    For the girl you have in that merry green land
    Can wait forever for you to come home
  • Love at First Sight: "Where The Wild Roses Grow"
    When he knocked on my door and entered the room
    My trembling subsided in his sure embrace
    He would be my first man, and with a careful hand
    He wiped at the tears that ran down my face
  • Karma Houdini: The narrator of "O'Malley's Bar", who after slaughtering an entire bar full of people finds himself surrounded by cops with only one bullet left, puts the gun to his head... And then throws the gun away, surrenders, and gets to live.
    "Don't shoot!", I cried, "I'm a man unarmed!"
  • Love Hurts: In "Where The Wild Roses Grow" the woman is murdered by the man whom she thought was her true loved one. In "Henry Lee" a woman kills a man because he didn't love her or wanted to make love to her.
  • Meaningful Name: The bar in "Stagger Lee" is called "The Bucket Of Blood" and, wouldn't you guess it, soon Lee shoots down the barkeeper.
  • Murder Ballad: All songs deal with the topic of murder.
  • Non-Appearing Title: No song is actually called or mentions "murder ballads".
  • Not Me This Time: Loretta, the fourteen-year-old psychopathic serial killer in "The Curse of Millhaven", gleefully slaughters her fellow villagers no questions asked but plainly states that she didn't kill her teacher's dog mentioned earlier in the song, and even tells the police when they come to arrest her who actually did it.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Lottie from "The Curse Of Millhaven" has shades of this: "All God's children, they all got to die." She does draw the line at killing dogs, though.
  • One-Man Song: "Stagger Lee" and "Henry Lee".
  • One-Woman Song: "Crow Jane".
  • The Oner: The music video of "Henry Lee" shows Nick Cave and PJ Harvey filmed in one continuous shot.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Death Is Not The End", though after all the murders that took place in all the other songs it does come as across as a Sarcastic Title:
    When you're sad and when you're lonely
    And you haven't got a friend
    Just remember that death is not the end
    And all that you held sacred
    Falls down and does not mend
  • Precision F-Strike: "The Curse of Millhaven"
    Aw, FUCK IT! I'm a monster! I admit it!
  • Rape and Revenge: "Crow Jane" who is a victim of this and goes out on a rampage to commit revenge on her wrongdoers.
  • Recognition Failure: "Stagger Lee"
    He said "Mr Motherfucker, you know who I am?"
    The barkeeper said, "No, and I don't give a good goddamn"
    To Stagger Lee
    He said, "Well bartender, it's plain to see
    I'm that bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee"
    Mr. Stagger Lee
    Barkeep said, "Yeah, I've heard your name down the way
    And I kick motherfucking asses like you every day"
  • Record Producer: Victor van Vugt.
  • Red Right Hand: "Song Of Joy"
    In my house he wrote his red right hand
    Which I'm told is from Paradise Lost
  • Rhyming with Itself: "Henry Lee" does this three times, with "me", "thee" and "feet" (the last being a homonymous pair).
  • Serial Killer:
    • The narrator of "Song of Joy" shows up at the door of a family, claiming to have been the sole survivor of a serial killer who murdered his entire family and is still on the loose, killing "many, many more". Then again, he's also pretty clearly an Unreliable Narrator and more than a little unsettling...
    • Lottie, the 14-year-old title character and narrator of "The Curse Of Milhaven" is such a sadistic, prolific, and senseless killer that her actions are mistaken for some sort of curse upon her hometown. First, she murders a young boy by bashing in his head, and hides his body in a creek. She then decapitates a handyman and leaves his head in a fountain, and stabs her neighbor to death. After getting caught, she happily describes the rest of her crimes in detail: on top of the murders, she had taken down warning signs around a lake in late Winter, resulting in the deaths of 20 children, and committed arson around a slum, burning it and its inhabitants to the ground. She ends the song by explicitly stating that she feels no remorse, and makes it clear that she only committed these crimes for fun.
    • "Crow Jane", who is out on revenge.
    Measured .32, .44, .38
    I asked that girl which road she was taking
    Said she was walking the road of hate
    But she stopped on a coal-trolley up to New Haven
    Population: 48"
    Crow Jane Crow Jane
    Crow Jane Ah hah huh
    Your guns are drunk and smoking
    They've followed you right back to your gate
    Laughing all the way back from the new town
    Population, now, 28
  • Shout-Out:
    In my house he wrote "His Red Right Hand"
    And that, I'm told, is from Paradise Lost
  • Smoking Is Cool: In the music video of "Stagger Lee".
  • Special Guest:
    • PJ Harvey, who was Nick Cave's lover at the time, sings along on "Henry Lee" and "Death Is Not The End".
    • Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) sings along during "Death Is Not The End".
    • Kylie Minogue duets with Cave during "Where The Wild Roses Crow" and "Death Is Not The End".
  • Spree Killer:
    Measured .32, .44, .38
    I asked that girl which road she was taking
    Said she was walking the road of hate
    But she stopped on a coal-trolley up to New Haven
    Population: 48"
    Crow Jane Crow Jane
    Crow Jane Ah hah huh
    Your guns are drunk and smoking
    They've followed you right back to your gate
    Laughing all the way back from the new town
    Population, now, 28
    • "O'Malley's Bar" is a 14 minute song in which the Villain Protagonist describes in loving detail how he slaughters all of the occupants of the eponymous tavern.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Bad Seeds guitarist Blixa Bargeld provides screams during "Stagger Lee" and sings a verse of "Death Is Not The End". Drummer Thomas Wydler and recurring vocalist Anita Lane also sing a verse each of "Death Is Not The End".
  • Stock Sound Effects: Bullet shots are heard in "Stagger Lee".
  • Title Drop: "Where The Wild Roses Grow"
    I said: "Do you know where the wild roses grow, so sweet and scarlet and free?"
  • To the Tune of...: "Henry Lee" and "The Curse of Millhaven" share the same melody, albeit with different metres (three-four time and common time, respectively).
  • Unreliable Narrator: The narrator in "Song Of Joy" wants to be pitied, for his family was brutally murdered, but it is implied that he himself might have had something to do with it.
  • Villain Song: "Stagger Lee", about a brutal cold blooded murderer, adulterer, and indiscriminate rapist.
  • Woman Scorned: In "Henry Lee" the titular character runs afoul of a rather jealous one.