Originally released in 1980 and credited to the Boys Next Door, that early incarnation of Nick Cave's Birthday Party had existed in the Australian punk scene from as early as 1973, and their debut album marks one of the most significant diversions in punk rock music of the era. The Birthday Party only lasted three years and produced an album trilogy that is surely one of the most influential catalogs in the genre, besides that of the Sex Pistols or the Clash (whose recorded works incidentally frail next to "Nick the Stripper"). By the turn of the millennium, Nick Cave had metamorphosed into one of the greatest balladeers of the era, not to mention his deranged beginnings as one of the most ferocious rock performers since Iggy Pop, with a voice as harrowing as Howlin' Wolf. The Birthday Party also sported one of the most extraordinary set of musicians, who seemed intent on redefining rock by poisoning its very essence. Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew, Phillip Calvert, and Rowland S. Howard made up the group which -- by chance or virtue -- could sound simultaneously inept and agile -- a razor edge in which they crept with both skepticism and skill; the approach resulted in some of the most tense and threatening music put to record during the '80s. Their jaundiced cabaret sound as a band has similarities to Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band in the way that they seem to be swinging in and out of tempo, lurching from one twanging blues passage to another with blinding, furious noise squalls. "Mr. Clarinet," "Hats on Wrong," "The Hair Shirt," and "Guilt Parade" display some of Nick Cave's darkest lyrical content, attesting to the gothic tag later (unfittingly) thrown at the group. "The Friend Catcher" is an utterly horrifying track, an album highlight. The following albums -- Prayers on Fire, released in 1981, and Junkyard in 1982 -- didn't let up from the original formula displayed to brutally harsh degrees here. Only the last EP, Mutiny, with the addition of Blixa Bargeld from Einstüerzende Neubauten, took things a notch higher and the rest is history. Call it the Birthday Party's first album or the Boys Next Door's sole document, The Birthday Party is an essential piece of punk history representing the beginnings of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Not to mention a seminal influence on groups such as the Jesus Lizard, Swans, Cop Shoot Cop, and more.
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AllMusic Review by Dean McFarlane