Highlights: October Boy, The Ballad Of Jay Givens, Rhymeless, Frankie T And Frankie C, The Bells Never Rang, How Would I Leave You,
I guess if you’d worked with Nick Cave for more than 30 years, you’ll know a thing or two about death. Sketches From The Book Of The Dead is Mick Harvey’s take on Murder Ballads, and it ends up being not simply Harvey’s strongest set of tunes so far, but one of the best, most thoughtful and artistic statements of the year.
When writing about death, there’s a danger one would get carried away with atmosphere and vibe. And while that is certainly something Harvey is good at, the level of songwriting is unprecedentedly high. Plus, you’d have to consider the fact that unlike some of his previous records when Harvey was interpreting the music of Cave, Gainsbourg and others, Sketches… is all original material. The downbeat melodies are understated yet uniformly poignant, edgy, thrilling. The mood is obviously quite grim and pessimistic, but that’s a given. There’s lots of acoustic guitar and elegant piano, and it’s all sung in that low, soft voice of his. Highlights are numerous, but “Rhymeless” has to be my personal favourite. He does borrow a lot from Cave here (mood of “Sorrow’s Child”, verses of “O Children”), but I wouldn’t take it against him. With a tune so startling.
A dark, beautiful collection of death ballads that is bound to fill your head with imagery and sadness. But that’s a work of art, and Mick Harvey is not here to cure any souls.