Mick Harvey – Sketches From The Book Of The Dead (Mute)

I was as surprised as anyone when I heard the Mick Harvey had left Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in 2009. After all, Harvey had been playing with Cave ever since their days in The Birthday Party and before. Perhaps it was Warren Ellis’ increased presence in the band that forced Harvey out, or maybe he just wanted a break. Whatever…this is his first solo album since leaving the Bad Seeds, although it’s not his first-ever solo album. Harvey has released two tribute albums to Serge Gainsbourg and two others of mainly covers. This one, however, is all Harvey’s original material.

As the title indicates, death is a major player here. October Boy, which starts the album, is a tribute to the late Rowland S. Howard, the former Birthday Party guitarist who died in 2009. “If you’re wring songs for the book of the dead, well write one for me” Harvey sings, “he paid the price and then some”.

The Ballad Of Jay Givens is equally morose. This one’s about his dad’s best friend who committed suicide.  Harvey’s voice is softer and his style is less dramatic than Cave’s. While it’s good that he’s not mimicking his old bandmate, his vocal is much less engaging than Cave’s and therefore less effective.

The album settles into a sombre, reflective mode with the dark, brooding Rhymeless, the violin-driven Frankie T Frankie C and the war-torn A Place Called Passion.  How Would I Leave You seems to find Mick contemplating his own demise and Famous Last Words has him singing, “everyone dances with the grim reaper”.

Harvey plays most of the instruments himself with J.P. Shilo helping out on violin and accordion, Xanthe Waite providing occasional backing vocals and Rosie Westbrook adding double bass.

Taken separately, these songs are just fine, but they all have a similar style to them that gets a bit repetitive by the halfway mark. Hopefully, Harvey will mix things up a bit next time around.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to October Boy from Sketches From The Book Of The Dead