I think my Facebook friends are already tired of me going on and on (and on and on) about just how good this song and video are, and about the perfection of the duet by Cave and Minogue, from subject matter to its final execution, but dammit, I just can’t get enough. This song is something like a religious experience - best experienced by yourself and then shared with others continuously throughout the rest of your life.
In the mid-90s, Cave came up with the idea of doing a full album of murder ballads, which had been a staple on every Bad Seeds album since From Her To Eternity in 1983. Originally conceived as a joke - a sort of over-the-top “obvious” record, meant to be taken ironically - the resulting release is nonetheless a treasure trove of material. In addition to this haunting and oddly romantic song, there’s also the rambunctious barnburner “The Curse of Millhaven” and the devastating, violent and explicit reinterpretation of the essential murder ballad, “Stagger Lee”. But I digress.
“Where the Wild Roses Grow” is the song that makes the album, linking all of the songs together with Cave’s usual semi-crooner persona from this era in his career, the romantic who only sees heartbreak and loss around every corner. Telling the story of a courtship that ends with the man killing his beloved by the riverside after determining she was too beautiful to ever grow old (and also from the point of view of the confused spirit of the deceased, Elisa Day), the song treads some truly disturbing ground, mostly because it’s such a damned gorgeous composition.
As a fan of both Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, the sheer logic of them recording together has never quite made sense (I could do a whole other bit on Kylie album “Fever”, but that’s another beast altogether). But apparently, they had a thing for one another. There’s a rather amazing little short edited together over on YouTube that tells the story of this pairing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFezNxypDK4), and it’s fascinating just to hear the pair of them discuss the song and its legacy. I highly recommend it.
But back to the task at hand. Cave and Minogue’s vocal delivery, surely some of the most amazing to exist in all pop music, is perfection; lightning in a bottle. It’s awful and beautiful and romantic and ugly in only the way a Nick Cave song can be. That this album of songs about ugliness, greed, lust and, yes, murder is a prelude to the heartbreaking and tender follow-up The Boatman’s Call is evident in this very song.
And then there’s the video, which is based on painter John Everett Millais’s “Ophelia”, depicting the scene in Hamlet when Ophelia drowns herself in a river. In the video, of course, Cave is constantly kneeling over his deceased love while she lay in the spot where the wild roses grow. Visually, it’s all soft-focus photography on the gorgeous Minogue, and harsh shadow for the murdering Cave. It sends shivers down my spine constantly.