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87. Lambchop – The Butcher Boy



The modern master of the murder ballad is surely Nick Cave – but perhaps more of him in coming entries. In the meantime, The Butcher Boy is as sharp and direct as Cave, and the blistering pace with which the song unfolds removes any danger of tenderness, rendering the story as pure reportage: here are the facts – if this shocks you, it’s because it’s shocking. In under three minutes the story is done: a lovestruck daughter arrives home and pours her heart out to her mother about a philandering boyfriend who prefers to talk dirty to a London lapdancer than to her. Heartbroken, the young girl hangs herself, only to be cut down by her father, who finds in her bra a suicide note giving instructions for a romantically macabre funeral. The song’s arrangement heightens the tension: it begins without drawing breath – as the tape starts rolling, Kurt Wagner is already setting the scene while the guitars echo out of view – leaving no chance for the listener to become comfortable. Even the brass, usually so peaceful in Lambchop records, is urgent and twitching, reacting to every dreadful truth. The entire song – melody, lyrics, composition – shares the same unhinged but super-controlling qualities of the girl whose story it tells, and the sudden ending makes for a massively affecting payoff.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29/09/2009 10:20 am

    I guess the obscurity of the vocal line is deliberate, but I can only make out every third word and find that rather frustrating. Musically, those little brass, glock and guitar stabs are fab, but there’s a big slab of repetitive, dirty (in a good way) sound which then, instead of going to a middle 8, just ends. Weird.

    I’m having a listen to the last couple of tracks on Nixon via Spotify to work out if it makes more sense to me in context.

  2. Sam permalink*
    29/09/2009 10:32 am

    The ending is weird, isn’t it? But that’s why I like it – it doesn’t do what you want it do. Re the muffled lyrics – I’ve never had that problem myself, oddly – I’ve always heard them pretty clearly. Then again, I’ve had a lot of practice at listening to Kurt Wagner…

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