Despite being championed by John Peel, the Birthday Party found little commercial success during their career. They've been called one of "the darkest and most challenging post-punk groups to emerge in the early '80s." Though often indirect, their influence has been far-reaching.
While their early music was sometimes classified as gothic rock, the band disdained the term, and their sound was very different from most goth music, closer to No Wave at the time. However, the Birthday Party did have an influence on deathrock, a genre of music related to gothic rock.
Despite their limited success, the creative core of the Birthday Party have gone on to acclaimed careers: singer and songwriter Nick Cave, multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey and singer, songwriter and guitarist Rowland S. Howard.
HAW HEE compiles the Birthday Party's work between 1979's DOOR DOOR album (released under the band name the Boys Next Door) and their first "proper" album, 1981's PRAYERS ON FIRE. The earliest tracks were recorded in 1979 and are full of bizarre time signatures, weird herky-jerky rhythms, and obscure lyrics. By the time 1980 rolled around with the "Mr. Clarinet" single, things were much more focused--the band retained all of those earlier elements, but managed to put them together into a more controlled, but no less explosive, package. Later that year, the "Friend Catcher" single further honed this approach--Tracy Pew's thick, serpentine bass playing, Rowland Howard's alternately discordant and razor sharp guitars, and Phil Calvert's hammering drums. Over it all, Nick Cave's harrowing vocals delivered the obscure and intensely weird lyrics.
Standouts from this collection include the above-mentioned "Mr. Clarinet," a crunching track with some wicked organ riffs courtesy of Mick Harvey (the band's designated multi-instrumentalist) and "Waving My Arms," a hyperactive pop song with gang vocals, a sonically clear guitar riff, and the occasional horn blast. It's also worth mentioning that this was probably the band's last straightforward song.
Before relocating to London from Melbourne, the Birthday Party released several Australian-only records, the first two under their original name, the Boys Next Door. Door Door and the five-song Hee Haw are surprisingly normal-sounding aggressive rock with traditional song structures and musical values. Cave's vocals invest the album with an ominous undercurrent, but the overall ambiance hardly suggests the insanity that lay ahead.