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"I am the captain of my pain"

Class C

Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Punk/Grunge, Avantgarde, Mope Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Nick Cave fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Nick Cave fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Nick Cave is Australian. He is also quite smart and intelligent. (And no, for the record, I don't want to say that all the other Australians are thick as a brick. Didn't Australia give us Bon Scott?) He is also sort of... dark. A little schizophrenic, too. Actually, quite a bit schizophrenic, at least as far as his art goes. He likes to sing about God, suffering, death, and pain. He likes that good ol' timey music - blues, folk, you name it, the darker the better. And he's a rock artist.

Seriously, you'd think that whenever a guy like that crawls out of the wilderness - a whole decade after the passing of Jim Morrison, and with everybody from Bob Dylan to Tom Waits to Nick Drake to Ian Curtis in between - the adequate reaction would be "oh no, not another spiritual guru, and a prince of darkness at that". But Nick Cave has a few special things going for him - a few important special things. First, he's talented. That ain't no objective consideration, palooka, but it ain't just my opinion, either. Listen to the guy and you'll know what I mean. You don't get the feeling that he's just a stupid pretentious wanker; there definitely is something more-than-usual emanating from most of his performances, even those that are boring as hell. Second, he's literate, and he knows well how and to what extent to use that literacy. He's one of those rare guys who can actually use Bible quotations to good effect without looking like the only book he's ever read is the Bible (which certainly isn't true), and even if he doesn't exactly have a lot of new things to say, he can usually find new ways to say them.

Third, and maybe even more important than the first, is that he's got a knack for teaming up with the right people. He may normally compose the "backbone" of his songs himself, but it's always up to his musical partners to flesh them into finished entities, and the partners rarely fail. In the early days, when Nick was still young and ravenous and fronted a band called The Birthday Party, these partners were Rowland S. Howard, a near-virtuoso "jazz-punk" guitarist who, continuing and actually improving upon the works of Lou Reed and John Cale, molded "simple" and "complex" in his work in a way that few people could even begin to imagine; and Mick Harvey, a more 'conventional' keyboard player who thus provided a firm "grounding" for the maniac sounds of the vocalist and the guitarist. Later on, when The Birthday Party dissolved and Nick found himself now fronting his own band, The Bad Seeds, he somehow managed to 'tame' the grim psycho Blixa Bargeld, of Einsturzende Neubauten fame, into becoming his trusty sidekick for a period of nearly twenty years - easily one of the most productive and praiseworthy collaborations of these two decades.

When all of this comes together, it turns out that Nick actually has a rich, productive catalogue, numbering at least two or three records of supreme quality and, essentially, not a single true stinker in sight. All the more amazing considering that his creative evolution has been rather... ummm... predictable. If I were to summarize all of it in two words, these would probably be "Gradual Pacification". As a Birthday Party member, he started out as the wild beast of avantgarde rock, sort of like Stooges' era Iggy Pop taken two steps further. The peak of this approach lands on the years 1981-82; since then, he had been steadily going in the direction of 'quieting down' his wild unrestrained approach, of substituting the aggressive vibe with the quiet pensive vibe. The evolution of "substance" is closely accompanied by the evolution of "form": the closer we get to the Nineties, the more Nick is moving into the field of 'conventional' melodicity and the less directly avantgarde his music becomes. The perfect balance between whacky, experimental aggression and quiet, traditional meditation was found sometime during the late Eighties/early Nineties, with records that I consider to be Nick's absolute masterpieces - the trilogy of Tender Prey, The Good Son, and Henry's Dream.

Since then, Nick has mellowed out even more. The sarcastic, postmodernism-drenched approach has pretty much evaporated since The Boatman's Call in 1997, and that was arguably the point when Mr Cave joined the non-club of "grumpy old men" in their fourties and fifties - singer-songwriters who used to be daring and bold in the days of their youth but who had eventually gotten tired of "being on the edge". This is where listeners get divided, of course: the more cynical ones believe this final stage of the evolution to be nothing but a sign that the artist in question has simply run out of steam and is now coasting upon former glories, while the more optimistic ones believe that the artist has actually "outgrown" his early days and call this "spiritual maturation". In the end, this nearly always comes down to the half-empty, half-full bottle problem, and Nick's post-1996 musical career is no exception. That said, there is no denying that, even if he no longer goes forward, he is still willing to go deep (although some believe that his latest album up to date, Nocturama, refuses to do even that).

The one obvious drawback to Nick Cave and his music is that Nick is essentially a one-trick pony. Granted, that trick can be done in many ways, and that pony's the size of a middle-aged elephant, but the fact remains that if you are not a very, very serious lover of the "dark and dreary" approach, chances are you won't stand Mr Cave's music much at all. He's even more limited than Tom Waits in that respect - at least Tom Waits can be playful and funny, whereas in Nick's case, there's usually very little humour and playfulness involved. He's the absolute master of his art, but he never really ventures beyond the limits of that art, and he probably wouldn't be able to. On the positive side, I will reiterate what I already said: Nick Cave has, almost singlehandedly, breathed new life and meaning into the idea of a "gloomy singer of death and destruction", taking it one step beyond Jim Morrison in seriousness (though not in entertainment value) and one step beyond the Velvet Underground in entertainment value (though not in seriousness). And this is a marvelous feat.

As far as "getting into Nick Cave" is concerned, I could suggest two different approaches. If you got guts and patience, you might wanna start with the Birthday Party's Junkyard. It will have the effect of a cold shower but after that one "getting into" the rest of his work will cause no problems at all. If you ain't got guts but got patience, well, you could start with The Boatman's Call. It's lax, loose, smooth, soft, cool, and only mildly boring. And if you ain't got neither guts nor patience, then just get The Good Son and forget about the rest. (I really hate giving out these advices, you know).

Lineups: The Birthday Party were: Nick Cave - vocals; Rowland S. Howard - guitars; Mick Harvey - guitar, organ, drums; Tracy Pew - bass guitar; Phil Calvert - drums. Tracy Pew fell out due to being arrested for drunk driving in 1982, replaced temporarily by Barry Adamson. Calvert replaced by Des Heffner, 1983. The group disbanded shortly after moving to Germany.

The Bad Seeds were: Nick Cave - vocals, keyboards; Blixa Bargeld - guitars; Mick Harvey - keyboards, drums; Barry Adamson - bass guitar. Kid Congo Powers (guitars) added in 1988. Barry Adamson quit, 1987.Martin P. Casey added on bass, 1992. Blixa seemingly quit the Bad Seeds right after the recording of Nocturama, 2003.



(released by: THE BIRTHDAY PARTY)

Year Of Release: 1988

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Hee-haw indeed and welcome to our lovely mental hospital where every moment of your life is fun and happiness.


Track listing: 1) Mr Clarinet; 2) Happy Birthday; 3) Hats On Wrong; 4) Guilt Parade; 5) The Friend Catcher; 6) Waving My Arms; 7) Catman; 8) Riddle House; 9) A Catholic Skin; 10) The Red Clock; 11) Faint Heart; 12) Death By Drowning; 13) The Hair Shirt.

Strictly speaking, it's a compilation, but it's the good kind of compilation, intended for ravenous completists rather than as a usual money extraction scheme. What it consists of is The Birthday Party's first couple of singles, released in 1979 when they were still called The Boys Next Door, a timid EP released in 1980 called Hee-Haw indeed, and a couple bonus tracks from nowhere in particular. This way, you get a complete and pretty meaningful overview of the band's earliest days, when they were still raising their youthful Australian hell.

Hee-Haw was nothing particularly unexpected, of course. A lot of the elements on here can be recognized from concurrent, and even earlier, records by British "Goth punk" acts like The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees; none of the two were as reckless and dissonant as the Birthday Party, though, so perhaps a better comparison would be to Pere Ubu. In certain respects, though, Nick Cave and Rowland Howard go even further than the Ubus. The guitar fury on here is, like, totally out of control. On occasion, Howard drowns you in a sea of distorted feedback-choked licks more than your average Stooges; there seems to be no "quality control" whatsoever, and it makes all the more admirable the fact that they actually have all these grooves well-synchronized. Every now and then, it feels like the band is going to fall apart completely, yet it never does, even if some of the time signatures are more tricky than King Crimson.

It's one thing, though, to master the friggin' seven-eleven time signature, and another thing to show the listener whether that time signature is actually worth something or not. And from the beginning, The Birthday Party are ready to show you that the old as the world subject of "musically reflected insanity" isn't as exhausted as you would expect, not yet, not quite. You have only to take a listen to what I find to be the absolutely best, and most nightmarish track on here - 'Happy Birthday' (which apparently owned the band its actual name). The lyrical subject seems to be perfectly normal, just a tune about a kid who's turning eleven and who's having a party and gets a lot of nice presents and all. But the way the lyrics are delivered, and the hellish musical background, are really something else. Howard cranks out his post-modernistic riffs as if his cholesterol level depended on it, and Cave sings in his best madman voice, with exaggerated intonations, ten tons of paranoia within each note, and culminating in the infamous "dog chair" refrain: 'But the best thing there, was the wonderful dog chair that could count right up to ten... it went WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF...!'... when the WOOFings arrive, you know you're standing inside a clinic, it just can't be anything else. You can almost imagine poor Nick running on all fours, woofing all over the studio.

It's this juxtaposition of the ordinary with the paranoid that forms the centerpiece of the Birthday Party's mystery. Take the average and show it's absolutely insane. Maybe that's not an entirely new concept in its own, but it's hardly been done in a more convincing way before. In this way, I don't even mind that the whole album sounds the same on pretty much every track: same musically retarded, over-distorted, flashy riffs, same yells, howls and growls from Mr Cave (admittedly, he doesn't yell as much as on later albums on here, but give the kid enough space to grow), same unexpected, questionable sax grooves, same frenetic tempos, same mental chaos everywhere. BOO!

Only a few songs, as the listening process advances, turn out to be seriously structured compositions with memorable potential. 'Waving My Arms', for instance, really stands out from among the others with significantly less (if any) dissonance, even if, granted, it is also the least idiosyncratic thingie - I can easily imagine Siouxsie & The Banshees perform something like that. Still, the 'and we won't get to sleep a fifty thousand years' chorus is really scary, with the deep Gothic vocals set to a fast steady post-punk beat. The very last track, 'The Hair Shirt', also stands out as something much more disciplined than is the usual norm, with a great riff that resolves itself into a series of immaculate trills each time, and magnificent uses of "empty space" in between, er, verses. You gotta love the Howard solo, too, to understand how much of an underappreciated guitarist the guy really is. Some of the best uses of noise on a rock'n'roll record: so "clumsy", yet so controlled. There were probably a few overdubs on 'Hair Shirt', but I wouldn't be surprised if that ding-ding-dingin' shrill racket that keeps on increasing and increasing right to the very last triumphant note turned out to have been recorded in one take. Hoo boy.

Seriously now, I think I'll stop right here - describing the other tracks would just have me repeat the same generalizations over and over. Let me just say that the chokin' organ riff on the opening 'Mr Clarinet' is one of the best organ riffs ever, and leave you with this meaningless remark. But beware - it's pretty hard to sit through this record in one sitting, but then again, that's The Birthday Party. There'd be "worse" to come.



(released by: THE BIRTHDAY PARTY)

Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Looks like our little asylum is ready to expand. These guys mean business.

Best song: CRY

Track listing: 1) Zoo Music Girl; 2) Cry; 3) Capers; 4) Nick The Stripper; 5) Ho-ho; 6) Figure Of Fun; 7) King Ink; 8) A Dead Song; 9) Yard; 10) Dull Day; 11) Just You And Me; 12) Blundertown; 13) Kathy's Kisses.

You know what? The Birthday Party sure could choose terrific album names. If that first initial EP certainly sounded like your typical Hee-Haw, then this one, their first full-fledged LP, sounds like a typical Prayer On Fire if there ever was one. The band refines their songwriting and performing craft - they might have sounded a little bit insecure and unsure of themselves before, but by the time they had to record a whole bunch of songs, their sound was totally worked out and Nick Cave's lyrical philosophy totally materialized.

I must, however, confess that for me, the appeal of POF lies for the most part in the music and not in Cave's uncontrolled wailings, as integral a part of the whole as they might be. The music is wonderful. It is the natural brainchild of Trout Mask Replica, and one needs to only play the two records back to back to understand how highly The Birthday Party must have revered the Cap'n. But it's also better, because its main purpose is not to present itself as an obscure enigma or befuddling mystification. The band makes the final product slightly more listenable - the rhythms are generally not as tricky, and the melodies usually stay within the same pattern. There's also generally less dissonance. That doesn't mean this is "easy listening", though... put this on for your Dad and he'll come running for mercy within seconds of 'Zoo Music Girl'. It's just much more suitable for "middle ground" lovers like me, showing that The Birthday Party could tread this fine line between major experimentation and traditionally grounded melodies.

Thus, once the weirdness has "sunk in" by the second or third listen, you suddenly find out that Rowland Howard has managed to create a whole TON of super duper splendid riffs on this record! Some of them jangly Byrdsey riffs, some of them prickly jazzy TMR-like riffs, some of them aggressive punkish riffs, some of them paranoid David Byrne-style riffs, they're all over the place, and they're wonderful. Take 'Cry', for instance. Not only does the song begin with a classy thick bassline, it soon transforms into an entire musical avalanche as Howard accompanies each 'Cry! Cry! Cry!' chorus with a whole barrage of wild double-tracked descending trills, occasionally going into schizoid Adrian Belew-style chuggings in the solo. Or what about 'Capers'? There's a whole symphony of multi-tracked guitars echoing in the background... they actually sound more countryish than punkish or avantgarde, with a weird spaced-out waltz feeling to them, but the multi-tracking and echoing transforms them from an ordinary sound into something mystical, almost majestic. Or the guitars in 'Ho-ho' - where Howard borrows the classic lick from Bo Diddley's 'Crackin' Up' and proceeds to incorporate it into a musical structure akin to 'Venus In Furs': same Velvet Underground-ish incessant guitar drone which, in turn, used to sound like a mish-mash of the same Byrdsey jangle and Indian motives.

Then there's the "heavier" stuff, driven by the band's grinding bass patterns - 'King Ink' in particular stands out like a real monster, where the main simplistic six note bass riff is given a twenty feet deep fuzzy sound, and it never ceases to grind its way through while the guitars make all kinds of occasionally cacophonous, but also occasionally surprisingly harmonic noise around it. Or 'Dull Day', which is introduced by a glammy piano pattern but later descends into all-out chaos with scraping 'Thela Hun Ginjeet'-like guitars all around. Yeah, this album sure has a lot of influences, and I'd never recommend you to enjoy it before you get all your Velvet Underground, King Crimson, and Talking Heads (not to mention the Cap'n) training, but even after you've had all these, it's still innovative.

And that due in a large part to the ingredient I have yet said nothing about, that is, Nick Cave's performance. Just as wild and in places even wilder than on Hee Haw, it ranges from insane odes to sadomasochism ('Zoo Music Girl') to surprisingly pompous 'personal apocalypse' declarations ('Blundertown') to quiet chillin' relaxed proto-Tom Waits sonic nightmares ('Yard'). On 'A Dead Song', Nick sounds, with all of his whiny 'okay okay', just like one of those poor innocent or half-innocent victims with a bloody nose and a gun at their temple in a gangster movie. That's kinda scary. Similar pictures can be thought of for more than half of the other performances. As for the lyrics, they certainly show maturation and serious flirtation with absurdism and Joycian wordplay, but in a good, creative way. Check out 'Capers' for a typical example, I'm afraid to give quotes because I might misspell something and whoops, the magic is gone. Ah well, it's only present there when accompanied by the music anyway.

I must shamefully confess that on some occasions, I'd be happy just to hear the music and wish for Mr Cave to just clam up for a couple moments, if only because maniacal yelling is nothing new in my book (by 1981 at least) and the actual notes that I hear really are something else. But there's no denying Nick does his part well if you're into screaming and hollering at all, so who am I to judge. These are Prayers On Fire indeed.



(released by: THE BIRTHDAY PARTY)

Year Of Release: 1982

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

We are louder now and taking even more chances. Yes, we sound exactly like the album cover supposes.

Best song: DEAD JOE

Track listing: 1) Blast Off; 2) She's Hit; 3) Dead Joe; 4) The Dim Locator; 5) Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow); 6) Several Sins; 7) Big Jesus Trash Can; 8) Kiss Me Black; 9) Gold Blade; 10) Kewpie Doll; 11) Junkyard; [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) Dead Joe; 13) Release The Bats.

And this is indeed a Junkyard. The Birthday Party's second album, for all it's worth, sounds like a cross between Trout Mask Replica and Funhouse by the Stooges this time... meaning that the absurdism and the schizophrenia are still there, but they are now accompanied with full-fledged aggression and violence. I guess there can be certain hardcore albums where the music sounds even more insane and rabid, but most of that should probably lie in the field of self-parody... this album hits such tremendous highs in the aggressive insanity department I seriously doubt anyone could top it. It's one of the few albums in my collection I'm truly afraid of playing before an unitiated person, because I can certainly see how it could raise questions about the listener's mental health.

To tell the truth, I kinda hated Junkyard the first time I put it on. For one main reason - and to some extent, that reason bugs me still: the music, taken as such, is far less interesting than on Prayers. Dissonance now often becomes the norm, and whatever melodic lines Howard can be playing out there are regularly concealed beneath Cave's hysteria and the rabid-behemoth rhythm section. But even when you do get used to everything, it's still obvious that there's far less of the previous album's guitar paradise; for some reason, Howard regularly eschews those stunning arpeggios and trills in favour of simplistic power chords or generic muddy-tone psychedelic wailings a la Grateful Dead (when in quieter mood). It's mostly power chords and harsh undistinguishable unmemorable rhythms, though, as the record rarely passes into quieter mood. It's just one rage o' thunder after the other.

In that respect, Junkyard is clearly more 'punk' than Prayers On Fire. However, all odds considered, it is still one of the most uncompromising, most scary punk influenced albums out there... just consider a track like 'The Dim Locator', for instance. The two guitars spit fire and blood all over the place, and Nick has by now developed a caveman roar that could easily rival and even surpass Iggy Pop. The lyrics don't even matter any more, it's the atmosphere that does it... the rage of the Apocalypse, the total and complete mental breakdown. Somehow the idea of a guy roaring like a lion in heat and two madly strummed distorted guitars, although not wholly unprecedented, has rarely been carried out that well before. At one point I was, like, 'wow! That's sort of the perfect loud aggressive and yet sense-making noise a bunch of human beings can make!'. And maybe it isn't, but you try denying it after you've sat out there in the dark with your headphones on and these guys pushing it on you in prime Nazi fashion.

Even the tracks that totally put you off at first, like 'Dead Joe', turn out to be masterpieces eventually. It's not just cacophony, in fact, it's not cacophony at all, it's just that the drum track is so completely messy and confusing that you don't really notice the guitar is actually playing a melody... oh yeah, of course, that's just a basic three-chord or maybe even one-chord melody repeated over and over, but there is a rhythm here and it's a good rhythm, and the fact that the song is about a car wreck that left several people dead ('welcome to the car smash!' Cave grunts over and over) only adds further nightmarish notes to the proceedings. Another highlight is 'Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)', a song whose message, if it actually exists, can be decoded in a million ways - I personally view it as stating that the modern day Hamlet will resolve his problems by pulling out his gun rather than by subtler diplomatic measures. The bass pumps out a funny James Bond-ish line, but the guitars are more like "Goth on speed", and Nick alternates between strange Morrison-like intonations and these wild screams of 'POW! POW! POW!' that seem to tear out his larynx and smash it into his pharynx, if you can imagine such a violent picture.

The "slower" tunes are no slouch either. On a couple occasions, Cave and Co. venture into Goth territory, with 'Several Sins' as the best track in that direction; I guess both Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure would have been happy to have originated the song themselves, what with the actually catchy vocal melody (for once!) and all. But usually, it's just the same "slowly-dying-with-fists-clenched-and-foam-at-the-mouth" attitude - your psychics gotta be pretty strong if you want to endure 'She's Hit' for all of its six minutes, or the "epic" title track which just grinds you into the ground. Some of this actually presages Nick's solo career already, but most of these songs are still way too punkish and "sharp" to really capture that subtlety of Nick's solo affairs.

Of course, with the melodies less distinctive and all, it's pretty hard to sit through the entire album even if you are an aficionado. There's very little diversity here - basically just slower aggressive insanity vs. faster aggressive insanity, with 'Several Sins' as possibly the only lonely 'distraction', and even then it's not much of one. But hey, I never expected much diversity from the guys anyway, and after all, insanity has never sounded that convincing before... I guess we'll have to close our sceptic eyes on that one. Besides, there's bonus tracks on the CD! Including the rare rock'n'roll classic 'Release The Bats', only available otherwise as an obscure, but important, single! Buy it today and get a pair of straightjackets for free if you order it within the next 24 hours!

And they were smart enough to begin the album with 'Blast Off!', which is so much cooler than hitting it off with 'She's Hit'! BLAST OFF!!! (Although for the life of me I can't understand the significance of the alternate take of 'Dead Joe').



(released by: THE BIRTHDAY PARTY)

Year Of Release: 1983

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Is this the start of the cure process or what? Doesn't sound much like the classic madhouse period.

Best song: SWAMPLAND

Track listing: 1) Sunny's Burning; 2) Wildworld; 3) Fears Of Gun; 4) Deep In The Woods; 5) Jennifer's Veil; 6) Six Strings That Drew Blood; 7) Say A Spell; 8) Swampland; 9) Pleasure Avalanche; 10) Mutiny In Heaven.

Actually, the year of release of the album in question is 1989, I believe; essentially, it's an LP/CD that collects the band's last two EPs, Mutiny and The Bad Seed respectably (the latter, of course, served as the inspiration for the name of Nick's next band), and throws on a couple bonus tracks. But since both were recorded in 1983, it's only fair that I review them at this juncture.

Oddly enough, these two EPs probably present the band at their most diverse. By that time, the Birthday Party were spending lots of time in Germany, where they were studying the contemporary industrial scene (such as Einstürzende Neubauten, whose leader, Blixa Bargeld, Nick actually befriended), and their wild unbridled act subsequently started incorporating some "sterile subtlety", as I'd call it, with the music slowly shifting to cold, moody, and, well, subtle, as opposed to the primal fury of their classic releases; in fact, some of it moves seriously close to Nick Cave's solo work, reminding of the early work of the Bad Seeds rather than the Party themselves. But all in due time.

In any case, subtle or not, a couple tracks on here still gotta rank as the band's wildest work ever. I'm speaking particularly of 'Swampland', of course, compared to which even 'Dead Joe' sounds like Billy Joel. The Birthday Party have often been said to draw their inspiration in the hardship and toil of Australian outlaws and convicts, and 'Swampland' is the perfect illustration, a tale of an outlaw hiding from the officials in the marshes. 'So cum mah executioners! Cum mah bounty huntahs! Cum mah county killers - ya know ah cannot run no more', Cave keeps on yelling, ending every verse with a grinding 'swaaaaampla-a-aa-a-a-and', and if there's an image to be gotten out of here, it's certainly that of a dirty, ragged, bruised and battered filthy convict tearing off bits of balls and chains, stuck in the middle of those rotten swamps with flies and mosquitoes and leeches and malaria and no food and whatever. There's also 'Sonny's Burning', starting with a wild (but certainly tongue-in-cheek) 'HANDS UP WHO WANTS TO DIE?', and even if the exact nature of Sonny's burning is unclear - is it supposed to be 'erotic' burning or 'mental' burning? - the song rips anyway, with a wild mess of guitar overdubs through all of which Howard's main riff somehow manages to steadily get by. This, however, still seems more like controlled chaos to me already.

Yet the other songs are, for the most part, more restrained. 'Wildworld', for instance, almost could be mistaken for something taken directly of the Sixties. Howard's guitar has the same tone and echo as the San Francisco psychedelic guitars (compare, for instance, Big Brother's guitar parts on Janis Joplin's 'Summertime', eh?), while Cave, when he's not actually yelling and throwing a fit, sounds suspiciously like Jim Morrison. And so a lot of these songs seem like updated versions of some of the Doors' more "freakout" moments: I'd bet you anything you could cut out that 'gun wears his alcoholism well...' part out of 'Fears Of Gun' and trick people into taking it for a previously undiscovered Jim song.

Likewise, 'Deep In The Woods', with its minimalistic chilly guitar work and deep primal growl, just makes us further suppose that Cave was possessed by Jim's spirit at the time. Of course, the Eighties allowed for more "technical freedom" than the Sixties did, and so everything is more ragged, distorted, jagged, and in the end "destructive" than in the Doors' catalog. However, in spots Cave and Co. actually seem to be taking their lesson from contemporary bands like Siouxsie & The Banshees and the Cure instead, putting on "contemporary Goth" guitar tones and echo effects, like in 'Jennifer's Veil', for instance. I can't say I'm all too pleased with this; the Birthday Party don't seem to be doing anything particularly new or idiosyncratic here. Perhaps Cave's vocal delivery on these gloomy tunes might seem more at ease with you than the one of Siouxsie Sioux or Robert Smith, and I can understand that. But personally, I'm more excited when it comes to stuff like 'Pleasure Avalanche' or 'Mutiny In Heaven', when the band drops the minimalistic approach and starts hammering you on the head with their typical "overdub twenty two guitar parts and make every one of them sound like a Tyrannosaurus Rex while ripping the entrails out of his victim" schtick.

I guess they must have realized they were at a creative dead end, though - it's one thing if you're, say, Motorhead and don't pretend to be bothered with all that 'artsy' crap, in which case it's perfectly easy for you to remake the exact same album for twenty times in a row, but it's certainly different if you're an aspiring post-modernist outfit like the Birthday Party and you got a great sound going for you but it's pretty hard to improve on that. I mean, this pair of EPs certainly "improves" on it - in the sense that they start totally losing the primordial aggressive vibe. But alas, that eventually led to their splitting up. I guess today we might think of the Birthday Party stage as some kind of 'musical childhood' for Nick - in the same way that so many New Wave bands started out like "generic" punk outfits and then "grew out" of the uncontrolled aggression state, or in the same way the wild uncontrolled fury of the Stooges acted as the "musical childhood" for Iggy Pop. But that doesn't mean we should disregard either the Stooges or the Birthday Party: both bands were great in their prime, and very much indicative of their respectable epochs.



Year Of Release: 1984

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Too much of a "post-birthday party-hangover" syndrome here.


Track listing: 1) Avalanche; 2) Cabin Fever; 3) Well Of Misery; 4) From Her To Eternity; 5) In The Ghetto; 6) The Moon Is In The Gutter; 7) Saint Huck; 8) Wings Of Flies; 9) A Box For Black Paul.

A somewhat poor start for a solo career. You can actually make a formal transgression from the Birthday Party to this record in three easy steps: (a) throw out the guitar; (b) throw out the melodies; (c) make everything very quiet instead of very loud. Now if you remember how much I praised the Birthday Party for Roland Howard's inventive, breathtaking way of playing his instrument, for the wild sonic waves of paranoia, and for actual musical structure beyond all the chaos, you can understand why From Her To Eternity seems like such a serious disappointment to me.

The only reason it gets its actual rating is the very essence of Nick Cave, who doesn't really deserve a lower rating. That is, his vocal delivery is always sincere and passionate, his lyrics are usually intelligent, and he's, like, actually trying to do something on this album - something uncompromised and radical. However, I cannot vouch that for all of this album's radicalism, I haven't already heard something like this before. I could point out to Peter Hammill, for instance, who had already been exploring the "paranoid singer-songwriter's sonic texture" medium for a decade and a half. Tom Waits had already entered his "weird" state; and then, of course, there was all the avantgarde/industrial scene of the early Eighties, which actually influenced Nick so much he invited Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld to back him up instrumentally on this album - Blixa has been a regular contributor to The Bad Seeds ever since. Okay, so nobody sounds a hundred percent like Nick Cave, but nobody sounds a hundred percent like Molly Hatchet, either.

In all, there's little truly groundbreaking stuff about this record. It's... well, a teeny-weeny bit "melodicized" industrial music with lyrics (very little true singing on the record), rough, unrehearsed, and not tremendously interesting. A major - and totally stupefying - exclusion is Nick's recording of the Elvis tune 'In The Ghetto', of all things. It's so normal (and actually so close to the original recording) among all the chaos of the surrounding songs I can't help but wonder if this was a kitsch act of some sort. Mind that I do not really find it out of place: apparently, it's sort of a "shocking addendum" to Nick's artistic statement, meant either to befuddle his fans or to just boldly state that the guy does not want to see any crucial difference between the avantgarde and the mainstream... I mean, he truly could not have chosen a more mainstream tune, right? Unless he'd chosen to cover 'New York New York' or something. To make matters even more confused, he made it into a live show staple of all things, or so I've heard.

But that's where normality ends - the second cover of this record is Leonard Cohen's 'Avalanche', deconstructed by Nick to the level of total unrecognizability (except for the unforgettable lyrics). Supposedly it should soud ominous and threatening, but excuse me if I do not perceive a tune based on minimalistic picking of the bass guitar and occasional percussion booming as ominous and threatening; in fact, I perceive it as extremely boring, more or less like about a good third of the other songs on the album.

Now when there are actual traces of melody to be found, i.e. the song doesn't fall apart every third second, the results can be quite flattering - the title track, for instance, where Nick wails about his incessant, maddening yearning about a girl who lives in an apartment right above his head, is entertaining and memorable. It's actually being driven by a steady piano/bass rhythm, over which Blixa and Co. overdub a chaotic, but thoroughly unpredictable mess of percussion and screeching (or, rather, scraping) industrial guitar - the results are nowhere near as loud as on Birthday Party records, because the guitars don't give out much feedback and only come in at selected points, but overall it's still an impressive sound.

But for every song like this, you'll get something like the excruciating nearly-ten-minute-long 'A Box For Black Paul', another "moody" send-up of nothing but a disordered, disstructured bunch of piano chords, a little bit of bass scraping, and a lot of pretentious almost-screaming vocals. I might as well be listening to the Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic jams of the Sixties, which were at least better arranged rather than this useless mess. Even more excruciating is to know that Nick can do it when he tries - 'Saint Huck', for instance, is just a little bit shorter, but it's actually got some dynamics (alternations of loud parts with slow parts), several monstruous industrial guitar riffs that you meet over the course of its seven minutes and an actual "marching" rhythm which makes it easier to sit through the entire thing. There are also the first signs of Nick's "mellowing out", like the loungey, but very sinister 'The Moon Is In The Gutter', and curious half-hearted experiments like the "industrial shanty" 'Well Of Misery' which should be shorter, but at least should stay - if only for its magnificent bassline which becomes even more magnificent when backed with the monotonous, gloomy chunk! chunk! chunk! of hammers and picks.

So basically, this isn't so much horrible (unless you're a plain normal guy who doesn't care much about experimentation, in which case it will be horrible beyond all words) as it is just plain inconsistent - and I guess it shouldn't be a big surprise, because, after all, this is a cross between a singer-songwriter album and an industrial album, and these two genres are among the most inconsistent in the world (because singer-songwriters often think that as long as the lyrics are good, the whole thing is good, and industrial guys often think that as long as the composition is based on one repetitive clanging pattern, the whole thing is good). But it goes without saying that Nick would later go on to better things, so let's just call it a transitional album and close the subject.



Year Of Release: 1985

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Wow! This is actually accessible to the general listener now. It's also bluesy and really dark. Surprise!

Best song: TUPELO, I guess

Track listing: 1) Tupelo; 2) Say Goodbye To The Little Girl Tree; 3) Train Long Suffering; 4) Black Crow King; 5) Knockin' On Joe; 6) Wanted Man; 7) Blind Lemon Jefferson; 8) The Six Strings That Drew Blood.

This... thing is normally called the "Nick Cave Singing The Blues Album". But really, it's more like "Nick Cave Filtering The Blues Album". It's bluesy, for sure, yet it certainly deviates from the usual perception of the blues in many ways. First of all, it's certainly not the classic Chicago or Delta blues that Nick is aping here. He draws his inspiration more from the formative days of the blues, I'd say... days where emotion, pain, and darkness were everything in the blues and the 12-bar structure was nothing. And, of course, this is also much more closer to the chaotic bleeding mess of Nick Cave and his first band.

Again, don't try to track down the melodies. There's none. To be more correct, there's even no guitar. Oh, well, it's there all right, but it's mixed so damn deep you don't really pay attention to it. Blixa plays a lot of cunning chord progressions down there, but it's all down there... it's all hidden. Drums and bass are high up, tho', and so is Nick himself. The album rests upon three pillars - The Rhythm, The Blues, and The Voice.

One thing's for sure: it's a definite improvement over the previous album, mainly because it has more energy and conviction, while at the same time preserving all the darkness and pessimism of the former. The rhythms are stronger, the tempos are generally faster (i.e. slow instead of ultra-slow), and... well, I dunno, but on here Nick sounds less detached to me, and somewhat more convincing. Maybe it's just that this archaic blues foundation gave him additional strength: I mean, you can do your avantgarde schtick for any period of time you want, but mark my words, once in a while you just gotta look aroud and ask yourself what the fuck you're really trying to do with this shit. But if you're in the blues market, baby, even if it's your own interpretation of a corner, you just can't go wrong (that is, if you happen to have at least some kind of individuality, which Mr Cave certainly had).

In short, every single track on here is impressive in some kinda way. Maybe they're underreahearsed and there's a lot of chaff strewn around and many of the songs are extended to ridiculous lengths, but there's a grain of genius in every song anyway. 'Tupelo', for instance, has Nick narrating a Biblical-style narrative about the birth of a 'King' - usually interpreted as a "tribute" to Elvis, which is a pretty neat take on creating a special kind of "rock mythology" in the most literal sense of the word. Is it memorable? You must be joking. Is it interesting? You bet your ass it is. Sounding like a cross between a ravaging Birthday Party rocker and one of those early scraggly blues shuffles that no recording machine ever captured in their primal glory, and with "epic" background vocals chanting 'Tupelo-o-o-o-o!' all through the song, it certainly attracts my attention. If it doesn't attract yours, buddy, you ain't a-curious nohow.

That 'Tupelo' stuff seems to be the most well-known song off the album (guess why? because it was a single, cropped down to five minutes from the original seven) but is it the best one? Can't really give any answer to that question cuz the record is so uniform. How is it better than 'Say Goodbye To The Little Girl Tree'? Jim Morrison meets The Birthday Party? Seriously now, that one's a very Jim-like song (especially when it comes to the 'oh you know that I must die' refrain), except that the melody is a paranoid scuffle of slide and electric guitars that all seem to be playing perfectly normal bluesy/rocky licks but never seem to take the pains to bring them into harmony with each other. Anyway, the song's coda is classic, with Nick getting that 'I must diiie' quote in his most "ragged" tone.

Other highlights include, uhm, lessee, well, 'Knockin' On Joe' is desperate to the point of suicide, again, a mix of influences from the Doors, Ray Charles, and God knows who else, as gruesome bass and doomy piano chords carry forward Nick's story of a desperate prisoner who's apparently living the last hours of his utterly miserable life. Boy, that one is really scary. If you let your emotional defenses down while listening to the song, it'll turn you inside out - believe me, if there is this little deal of a perfect melody/vocal sequence able to devastate one's spirit if the spirit in question is prone to occasional devastation in the first place, then yes, Nick Cave has certifiably found that little deal on this song.

There's also Nick's take on the Bob Dylan rarity 'Wanted Man', one of the most rocking songs on the album, and also one of the most accessible, like 'In The Ghetto' on the previous album - only this time it really fits in with the record instead of sticking out unproperly like the Elvis song; the schizophrenic reinterpretation of country-blues on 'Train Long Suffering' (and the schizophrenic nature of the song will become obvious to you from the very first second, as Nick gives his own version of the proverbial "train whistle" that initiates many a blues song dealing with trains); 'Black Crow King', kind of a conscious parody on all the Lizard King and Crawling King Snake imagery of old, I guess; and even a tribute to 'Blind Lemon Jefferson', even if that song draws on for a bit too long.

Don't be surprised if upon first listen you'll be nothing but deadly bored with this stuff. It's not an album that you'll be wanting to listen to much at all anyway. It's so slow and dirty and depressing and mean and lean (and hookless) you probably just won't be able to. Reserve it for special occasions in your life. Don't forget to lock yourself in your bedroom, though, with all the razor blades and your trusty Colt removed.



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Some grand kickin' out there, Nick! Are the "pricks" the ones who actually wrote the tunes?

Best song: No favourites. No minions. Everything rules.

Track listing: 1) Muddy Water; 2) I'm Gonna Kill That Woman; 3) Sleeping Annaleah; 4) Long Black Veil; 5) Hey Joe; 6)The Singer; 7) Black Betty; 8) Running Scared; 9) All Tommorow's Parties; 10) By The Time I Get To Phoenix; 11) The Hammer Song; 12) Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart; 13) Jesus Met The Woman At The Well; 14) The Carnival Is Over.

This is the best ever all-cover album recorded by anybody on this planet (disclaimer for all the boring people: until I hear a better one). Only its somewhat limited (relatively limited, mind you - one of the actual aims of the album is to show you exactly how many different rootsy genres Nick can tackle) scope of ambition and the fact that, well, this is a cover album, after all, prevent me from giving it a higher rating, but you get the drift. What happens when you take a bunch of very good old songs, live them out in your dreams until you are able to firmly grasp the essence of each and every one, grab that essence, discard everything that is not the essence, and come up with a creative, inventive, original arrangement of your own which, on occasion, matches that essence even better than the initial arrangement did? You get Kicking Against The Pricks.

This is Nick's most accessible album so far; in fact, it is so accessible I wouldn't mind recommending it to anybody but the fiercest Cave-haters who can't stand a little bit of darkness in their lives. Fourteen songs (a couple of them only found as later-added bonus tracks to the CD edition, but they fit in amazingly well), all more or less short, all to the point. The choice of source material differs greatly: it may be an old, rusty, archival blues tune, or it might be an old Sixties R'n'B hit, or it may be a Johnny Cash-style country song, or it may be a tribute to Cave's spiritual parents, them Velvet Undergrounders. Whatever the source material was, though, you may be sure it will undergo some radical transformations in Nick's hands.

And every song is a winner. Every song is emotionally resonant, touching, and features at least a couple "extra memorable" moves to hold your attention. I wouldn't dare to say "well recorded", because what exactly is a 'good recording' for the Bad Seeds is a yet-to-be-solved mystery, but I, for one, don't find any problems with the overall sound. In fact, the murkier the sound is, the better it suits the atmosphere. What I do marvel at is that I keep listening to the songs whose original versions (or cover versions by other artists) I've heard previously and I keep saying: 'Whoah, cool! How come nobody else thought to do it like that?"

I mean, I actually like Nick's arrangement of 'Long Black Veil' more than The Band's: the gloomy acoustic guitars, the even gloomier oh-so-psychedelic-Sixties minimalistic electric pricking guitar, and especially the choral vocals on the refrain, they all combine to give the song a special "rustiness" and harshness that, due to their "fragile, handle with care" policy with rootsy material, The Band could never deliver. The perennial 'Hey Joe' is a song that's been run into the ground fifteen years earlier, but for Nick Cave not to do 'Hey Joe' at some point in his career is equal to the Ramones not doing 'Anyway You Want It' or to the Rolling Stones not doing 'Like A Rolling Stone' at some point, meaning it simply couldn't not happen. And when it happened, it turned out that 'Hey Joe' can be set to a terrorizing post-VU drone, for some reason propped with screeching, but not really dissonant, strings - with the mix captured just right, the impression remains unforgettable. The drone returns later on the Velvets' own 'All Tomorrow Parties', which will be a very welcome version to everybody who hates Nico's vocals. It's probably the most original-trusty version on here, for reasons everybody who knows anything about the Velvets and about Nick will certainly understand, although the Seeds pack their sonic textures much more densely here, with several guitars droning incessantly all through the night.

I was also extremely happy to find 'Hammer And The Anvil' here: too bad so few reviewers mention the song, which is a major highlight on the by then fourteen-year old debut of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Kudos to you, Mr Cave, for remembering what a great guy Alex Harvey was in his prime, and offering your own excellent interpretation of the song - it loses a bit in the "irony" department here (I've always taken it as the quintessential parody on the "wise folk ballad" genre), but it conveys the effect of loneliness, isolation, and especially "dragging on for eternity" just as well.

And I haven't even arrived at the particularly good material. John Lee Hooker's 'I'm Gonna Kill That Woman'? Redefines blues as a genre, cutting across your basic senses as a chainsaw with even more power, anguish, and hatred than the ol' black guys classics. (Sort of scary, now that I think of it, but hey, at least Nick Cave never killed that woman, as far as I know, despite the look in his eyes on every album cover of his). When that 'yyyeeeeeeaaaAAAAAHH!' scream comes rolling across the speakers, it sure ain't no party time no more. Johnny Cash's 'The Singer'? I haven't heard the original, and, although judging by what I have heard of Johnny's, he was easily capable of this atmosphere, it still remains to be seen if the original employed that little three-note acoustic bass "reply" to each of Nick's vocal lines so masterfully. Gotta love the subtle orchestral "crescendo" in the background as well.

He even has the "guts" to grab on to a Tom Jones song ('Sleeping Annaleah') and turn it into a creepy waltz of premonition. Which sort of begs the question... would Tom Jones be more respectable in critical circles had he the presence of a Nick Cave? Leaving you with that burning question, I'll just mention the near-accappella (actually, vocals-and-percussion-only) 'Black Betty' - isn't that the only proper way to cover Leadbelly anyway? and the devastating drama of 'Muddy Water', with every verse puffed up to immense proportions with the minimal means; and the weird quasi-Russification of the Seekers' hit 'The Carnival Is Over' that ends the record on the obligatory pompous note.

Actually, I think I know why I can't really rate this any higher than I did... just because it's sort of a "below the belt" kind of blow. I mean, a guy as talented as Nick, with a bunch of guys as talented as the Bad Seeds, with their well-defined, pretty much unique atmosphere and all, could have hacked out another couple dozen albums like these in a wink - all it takes is to put some new meat on the same old bones. Sure enough, the new meat allows us to forget that these songs aren't at all Cave-penned, but the fact remains a fact: I can't rate an album with no Nick Cave originals on it as the best (or one of the best) Nick Cave albums. Yet this does not mean I am not recommending it, because I am. In fact, if you don't buy it in two days time at max, I'm sending Nick himself to your house to convince you, and that'll be a bit like meeting an actual ghoul.



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Sure sounds like a funeral all the way through indeed.


Track listing: 1) Your Funeral My Trial; 2) Stranger Than Kindness; 3) Jacks Shadow; 4) The Carney; 5) She Fell Away; 6) Hard On For Love; 7) Sad Waters; 8) Long Time Man; [BONUS TRACK]: 9) Scum.

I personally find this to be a tiny letdown in quality after the "Cave Goes Bluesy" and the "Cave Goes Un-Cave" albums. For reasons prosaic, predictable, and primitive: the songs are too long and some of them are boring at that. This is, in a way, quintessential Nick Cave: every song is a drone, engineered by Blixa and Co., built upon a single, maddeningly simple (but often addictive) groove, and usually dealing with death, loss, and other amusing things that are Mr Cave's favourite pastime - it wouldn't surprise me were I to learn Nick Cave is a vampire and puts out all this gloomy crap to somehow atone for his numerous sins. Well, he is (was) a heroin addict anyway, and that's pretty much the same thing, metaphorically speaking, only geared towards oneself.

Anyway, there are two songs on this album I would recommend for every "Greatest Hits That Never Were" collection of the man. The eight-minute 'The Carney' is the lengthiest "saga" on here, but somehow feels shorter than some of the inferior numbers. Its funeral waltzy tempo (well, everything on here has a "funeral tempo", more or less) somehow lulls you into following it, more so than songs where there's just a lot of crash-boom-banging, and Harvey's extra-loud pounding on the electric piano returns us to those old glory days when John Cale would knock and knock and knock upon one piano note until the instrument bled and withered and the studio people got themselves a masterpiece such as 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'. Of course, the stupid studio people never realized it was a masterpiece in 1969, but seventeen years later, with both tempora and mores changed, you could expect Mr Cave would have gotten a warmer welcome for this shit... relatively so. There's also lotsa xylophone and some unnerving howling from Blixa's guitar in the background and lyrics about a circus horse who was, of course, dying. Hey, whaddaya expect from Mr Cave? This is no la-la-land "I wanna hold your hand" bullshit! This is the reality of life! The hard, brutal reality of life, which is full of death. In fact, life is death. If you're Mr Cave, you regard the entire process of life as one long gulp of death. Accept it or die.

And then Mr Cave will dedicate the title track to you. It's got a gorgeous, majestic, and, as usual, minimalistic piano/organ arrangement from Nick himself, proving to the world that the pool of "simple, yet cathartic" melodies to be played at your grave hasn't yet been exhausted, and that it's still possible to set this melody to an array of cryptical lyrics ending with a particularly sinister "Let all the bells in whoredom ring/All the crooked bitches that she was". Hoo. 'Stranger Than Kindness' has a tricksy, almost flamenco-styled drone that the likes of the Velvet Underground never used, and the double-tracked guitar arrangement is pretty impressive. What's that friggin' drummer playing in the background? Slow down, dude, this is no Motorhead you're playing for! Then again - no, dude, keep going, let's keep it that way. A slow drone with a maniac-fast jazzy beat will go down in legend.

If there's a direct complaint I can voice here, it's that in some spots Nick seems to be pulling a Jim Morrison way too hard. The way he howls 'she fells away, left me holding everything' ('She Fell Away') directly reminds me of Jim's rambling half-spoken epics, and although, fortunately, Nick had already carved himself a distinct personality and could never be dismissed as a cheap Morrison clone, I don't really like it when these ties do come out in the open. Probably because the Doors, in my reckoning, were thrice the band The Bad Seeds could never aspire to be, even if the Seeds were no slouch either. Speaking of which, do Nick's lyrics make more sense in the general than Jim's? Don't think so. Who cares anyway? Both of them aren't worth Lou Gramm's left pinkie. Now there's a great lyricist for you!

Besides, what kind of lyrics is that? 'Hard on for love, I got a hard on for love?' Aaaargh! Frankly speaking, I don't like that song at all. It disrupts the cool calm tombstone flow (can a tombstone flow? please ask your Zen master this question for me) of the record, and that wouldn't be a big problem by itself if the song were deserving, but it essentially seems like a tamer version of all the chaos and the messy glory of the Birthday Party. I'll take the real thing like 'Dead Joe' over this any time of day. Likewise, I'm not a huge admirer of the other fan favourite on here, 'Sad Waters'. Sounds pretty disconnected to me, and pretty 'normal' for Nick at this stage. There's the usual sense of majesty and detached graveyard calm on here, but without a well-pointable (is that a word? ah, whatever, it's allowed by the basic rules of English derivation anyway) melodic or vocal hook, and if you say Nick Cave can get along without hooks, then let it be known to you mistah that, er, by saying "hook" I don't mean "having a chorus like the one in 'Last Train To Clarksville'" - well I do mean that too, of course, but I also say that three loud guitar notes as played in Nick's version of 'The Singer', or the harrowing cry of "Swaaaaaamp... [pause] laaaaaand!", also constitute hooks, and I count no such hooks in 'Sad Waters'.

Well I guess I'll just leave it here before this review beats the overall suckiness record. Your funeral is over, now begins my trial. But remember - any potential flames about this review will be treated as outcoming from zombies and ghouls, because normal living people don't listen to this stuff, much less mail any ideas about it. Be warned!



Year Of Release: 1988

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Now this is more like it. A real thunderstorm of an album - straightforward, pretentious, and still a work of genius.


Track listing: 1) The Mercy Seat; 2) Up Jumped The Devil; 3) Deanna; 4) Watching Alice; 5) Mercy; 6) City Of Refuge; 7) Slowly Goes The Night; 8) Sunday's Slave/Sugar Sugar Sugar; 9) New Morning.

You know what sucks? Nick Cave's album covers. I don't have anything in particular against his looks (although I sometimes wonder if he's saving his maddest facial expressions for his sleeves or if he really always looks like that in real life), but it's doggone hard to sort of tell these records one from another. All you get is a different mug of Nick Cave against a zero background - even Dylan, who was also quite fond of sharing his traits with the listener/viewer, would always care to diversify the setting. I'd prefer to settle for a plain-looking sleeve with nothing on it, as long as they're all painted in different colours. Then Your Funeral could be Nick's Black Album, and From Her To Eternity could be his Green Album (as in, you know, that green tinge you sometimes get from a particularly nasty hangover). And Tender Prey would be his bloody bloody bloody red album, maybe with little lightning bolts of flashy yellow all over the place.

Because it sure is a rousing experience, and, in a way, Nick's finest hour. Some of his best ever "rowdy" and "soft" numbers are captured on here, and all of his influences, innovations, personality twists, and just pure charisma (can the word 'charisma' be applied to somebody like Nick Cave? well, I sure would apply it to Nick, which should tell you something) are visible here better than on any other album. This period was sort of like the culmination of Nick's drugs period - you know these guys always have one of these peaks - and it probably shows in that almost all of the songs are sharpened to perfection. The rowdy tunes are aggressive and uncompromising, and the ballads are depressive as hell. On past records, there have always been tunes that seemed kinda half-assed - solidly crafted, maybe, but relatively passion-less and not too powerful, or maybe not getting the point across too well. Here, everything works.

And I haven't yet mentioned the melodies. Repetitiveness is everywhere, but if you know anything about Nick Cave, you should expect repetitiveness from the guy as you should expect it out of everybody who uses genuine folk music influences as one of his primary driving forces. Does it even matter that 'The Mercy Seat' runs for seven minutes if I only noticed it once I actually gazed at the track listing? It rolls along so furiously, so relentlessly, never letting go for one tiny second, that length is not even a potential issue here. It's often been called the quintessential Nick Cave song, and I couldn't really disagree. It's definitely Nick at his most overblown, with references to both the Old and New Testament permeating this last monologue of the protagonist - a convict ready to plunge into the depths of the electric chair ("the mercy seat" - at one point the chair is almost directly equated with God's throne in heaven). But there's not even a tiny whiff of moralizing to spoil the act: this is definitely a monologue, not a lecture or a sermon, and there's no denying the acute, heartfelt, and hard-hitting poetic message, which ends in an enigma anyway: while most of the time the refrain goes 'and anyway I told the truth, and I am not afraid to die', the very last lines of the song are 'and anyway I told the truth, but I'm afraid I told a lie'. Make your guesses. The best kind of straightforward message is the one that ends in a bizarre twist, and that's what 'The Mercy Seat' unequivocally is.

There are few albums in this world where the music so perfectly matches the lyrics. 'The Mercy Seat' is pounding and grinding, reflecting the 'burning head' of the main character. 'Up Jumped The Devil' is sort of a depressing bare-bones sea shanty where the music would probably pass unnoticed were it not for the bizarre gloomy piano chords that have a strong whiff of death upon them. 'Deanna' is structured essentially like a - maybe even somewhat retroish - pop-rocker, but insanity is injected in the lyrics ('I ain't down here for your love, I'm down here for your soul') as well as in the music (watch out for that schizophrenically pumping organ!). And I'm still not quite sure where that infernal grind comes from in the no-holds-barred 'City Of Refuge' - probably some kind of weird harmonica-and-guitar hybridization or something like that. And 'Sugar Sugar Sugar' capitalizes on the same grind to an even better effect: there's simply no escape when that wild bull of a bassline comes by.

Yet the wildness, aggressiveness, and paranoia of the rockier numbers get perfectly compensated with the softer sides of Nick's personality. Of course, these softer sides are also kinda blackish: after all, 'Watching Alice' is about being spiritually isolated from one's partner (at least, that's one of the possible readings), while 'Slowly Goes The Night' is about being physically isolated from one's partner because the partner in question happens to be deceased (that's sort of the only possible reading, I think). Funny, I think the last song would even be suitable for Mick Jagger - at times, Nick sounds suspiciously like Mick, although there's a wee bit of doo-wop influence (not direct influence, of course) in the song which would never suit Jagger, I guess. But still, in this kind of context these numbers do sound like breathers in between the "hot stuff".

On the other hand, I guess even Nick kind of felt this concentrated load of negative energy was a bit too much for the listener, and he ends the record on a Tom Waits-y note; you know, of course, how a Tom Waits album can be all black and sneery and sarcastic and depressing and apocalyptic and then the last song is a rousing optimistic anthem like 'Come On Up To The House'? Well, Tender Prey operates according to the same principle: the last song is tellingly titled 'New Morning' and ends with the verse 'Thank you for giving/This bright new morning/So steeped seemed the evening/In darkness and blood... there'll be a new day/And it's today/For us'. Frankly speaking, this kind of vibe - for Nick - doesn't seem nearly as convincing as the usual stuff, and it seems like just, you know, an obligatory bit of "compensation", a final cheer-it-up for that small percentage of the listeners who haven't yet pushed away the chair, pulled the trigger, or ingested the respective chemical substance, but are on the threshold of doing it. So it's easily the worst song on the album, and yet it's still pretty damn good and maybe a necessary, and at least, very understandable gesture. I mean, without this kind of gesture, the artist is bound to become no more than a cultist underground figure, and however good his legacy is, it will always be questionable from a moral/ethical stance - but if you do let in just a little bit of light into your darkness, it's always easier to get people to understand your dark sides as well. (Did that sound like a sermon? Oops, wrong place.)

In any case, there's nary a single stinker on here. You could write long philosophical treaties on the meaning of the lyrics, too, but it's much more useful just to read them and enjoy them, and now is not the time to go into these kind of details anyway. Suffice it to say that this is easily the best synthesis of dark blues, dark folk, and dark avantgarde I've ever heard (up to this moment, at least).



Year Of Release: 1989

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Study this record hard before transgressing the law in Australia. It will make you think twice!

Best song: nah nah nah

If you're not a major Nick Cave nutcase, don't be surprised by a record title you've probably never heard of. It's not an actual "album" per se - it's a soundtrack to a movie Nick Cave actually starred in, and is only included here because all the music happens to be credited to the Bad Seeds (Harvey + Blixa, actually, which is pretty much the same thing). Three guesses what the movie was about? Harsh brutal life in a harsh brutal Australian prison. Sort of like The Shawshank Redemption without the redemption factor, although, of course, I always smirk at Western "prison movies" a bit because no matter how brutal the overall scenery is, it still feels like paradise next to the average Soviet institution. (That doesn't mean I don't consider The Shawshank Redemption a cool movie, though - I just don't see the "bad guys" in there as, well, convincingly "bad", if you get my drift. That's cultural dialogue for ya).

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Fact is, I've never seen the movie, and probably never will, as it's more or less a cult favourite, very hard to come by and all - when will I see that day when a movie with a rock star in it, even an alternative/underground one, will be sitting comfortably in the IMDB Top 250? - but I think I can positively state that the music suits it fine and dandy. Not that there's a lot of music here. First, it's pretty short: slightly over half an hour. Second, about half of the time is occupied by monologues from some of the characters, at best set to a minimalistic atmospheric background, and at worst unaccompanied by nothing: obviously, neither Harvey nor Bargeld could be bothered to come up with a boatload of fresh musical ideas for a movie that they probably felt no-one would be itching to see anyway. Who gives a fuck about Australia, as long as it's not coalas and echidnas we're talking about? [Note: if you're Australian, don't take that question too literally.]

However, when there is music, or something which could be theoretically called music, it's definitely some of the most "jail-style" music I've ever heard. And why is that? Bloody simple. Industrial "music", especially that type of it that is preferred by Herr Bargeld, works best when you close your eyes and imagine yourself in one of two places: a large smelly hustle-bustling industrial plant or a large gruesome concentration camp. In the latter case, the dim murky noises transform into the whirring of the cheap electric lights, the high-pitched ear-destructive whine of the synthesizer transforms into a prison cell door being opened, and the wild clang-banging of one rusty metal object against another transforms into the inmates wildly beating on the cell door during a riot. Suddenly, hoopla, the thing that just a minute ago was nothing but a bunch of incomprehensible artsy-fartsy noise becomes meaningful and makes total sense. Here's some practical use for you.

The funny thing is - or, maybe, the predictable thing is - that in parts, this soundtrack seems amazingly pinkfloydian to my ears. The very first track, with its steady rhythm that sounds like it's been made of grinding wheels, strongly reminds me of 'Empty Spaces' from The Wall: and why shouldn't it, when the subject matter involves "prison" in both cases - metaphorically in The Wall, literally in this here soundtrack? Same thing, buddy, and I'm pretty sure the Bad Seeds realized the connection. The same theme later gets repeated, with minor variations (or various vocal "overdubs", either a bit of wordless female singing or voiceovers from the movie itself), at least several times throughout the album.

In fact, the only other real "melody" on the entire album is the so-called 'Lily's Theme', aptly subtitled 'A Touch Of Warmth', because it is indeed the only nice and gentle piece of music on here. Too nice and gentle, even: sounds like something you'd hear in a really stinky, really campy Seventies musical, like a throwaway romantic interlude in Saturday Night Fever or something like that. Perhaps that was the goal, and I do appreciate the 'touch of warmth' idea, but I don't quite understand the campiness thing. What, the Bad Seeds couldn't compose a less cliched melody? You want me to believe that? I definitely do not get the idea, but maybe the movie should actually be seen before pronouncing judgement on it (the idea, I mean, not the movie).

Now I guess there are a couple more different themes on here (there's one concealed in the modestly titled 'Pop Mix', and another one in the equally modestly called 'Maynard Mix'), but describing them would be an affair more suitable for those who can actually come up with rational reasons for liking Trout Mask Replica, which is to say, no one I know. So essentially, if the idea of getting thirty-four minutes worth of material with two musical themes and two "approximately musical" themes and a bunch of dialogue gets you excited, you're welcome to try and locate this. Me, I'll just say that for some reason I was not bored with it. Maybe it's because it was so short. Or maybe I fell asleep in the middle of the first track, only to wake up every ten minutes or so. Or maybe it just sort of works as a mood piece - and it does. But essentially, it's more of an Einstuerzende Neubauten album than a Nick Cave album - and indeed, it has little to do with Nick apart from accompanying a movie in which he played the main part. He doesn't sing in it, mind you. There's only this female chick that goes 'La la... la la' from time to time, as if she were on heavy, heavy drugs and about to give birth to Beth Gibbons. Still, I've already written the review, and I'm not taking it off. Blame this record on Mr Cave anyway!



Year Of Release: 1990

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

You'd never think you could actually relax to a Nick Cave album, but this one does the trick and more.

Best song: FOI NA CRUZ or, maybe, THE WEEPING SONG

Track listing: 1) Foi Na Cruz; 2) The Good Son; 3) Sorrow's Child; 4) The Weeping Song; 5) The Ship Song; 6) The Hammer Song; 7) Lament; 8) The Witness Song; 9) Lucy.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds settle down for the Nineties. It took a long time, but it finally happened because it was inevitable: the only alternative to "fading away" was to "burn out" completely, and almost everything recorded by Nick in the Eighties, starting from the rabidness of The Birthday Party and ending with the apocalyptica of 'The Mercy Seat', seemed to point out that the overload wasn't far away. However, instead of overloading and finally passing out from addiction, Nick preferred to kick it. And he kicked it hard in all directions. He put an end to his heroin habit; significantly toned down the energy level of his art; and even allowed himself to have - for once - a really nice, homely-looking album cover.

The question was: would he manage to survive the transition? And the answer was: of course he would. After all, it's not like The Good Son is so goddamn revolutionary. Most of the vibes you encounter on here had already been explored in various cavernous spots on previous albums. It's the concentration of these vibes in one place that is different. The biggest change, actually, is technical and concerns the production: no Nick Cave album had ever sounded so clean before, so meticulously, spotlessly clean, with no true jagged edges and sharp broken champagne bottles - for all I know, it could be effectively used for family entertainment purposes. Why not? If he's willing to perform to an audience of little girls on the cover, surely the PMRC wouldn't mind. Heh heh.

But that's not why I tip my hat off to the man. No, the main reason is that this is a rare case of a "perfect" album. Out of the nine songs on here, there's not one stinker: nope, there's not one song that would fail to draw me in with some well-defined hook, message, or, more frequently, a combination of both. Even Tender Prey had songs that were sorta nice, but not very memorable ('Watching Alice'), or songs that were sorta nice, but obviously fulfilling a conceptual role rather than standing on their own ('New Morning' really works well as an optimistic conclusion to the overall bleakness of the album, but wouldn't fare so well in an isolated position). With The Good Son, every song is an independent, significant, emotionally satisfying entity, which doesn't mean the album is nothing but a sum of its parts - as expected, the overall feeling of gloom, doom, and whatever else ends in -oom is right there on the spot. So the only reason they both get the same rating is that I consider the high spots on Tender Prey somewhat higher than the high spots on Good Son, but really, these two albums deserve and nicely complement each other.

When it comes to the first four songs, I'm not even sure where to start. Okay, how about from the very beginning: 'Foi Na Cruz' not only features the Seeds harmonizing in Portuguese (Nick was actually spending some time in Brazil around that time, and the song is an adaptation of a Brazilian hymn), it is also one of the most breathtaking, stately and simply beautiful tunes in Nick's catalog. If anything, it just shows us how a true hymn should sound. No fake, sugary orchestration - only a slight touch of strings (which might be a Mellotron for all I know, they're so quiet out there) deep in the background. No corny synthesizers - just a few layers of organic acoustic guitars and a bunch of chimes to accentuate all the necessary moments. And no pompous operatic singer who doesn't understand that operatic singing should be reserved for opera where it truly belongs - just this gravelley-voiced hoarse little guy who seems to take pains to stay in tune most of the time yet manages to be fully convincible. Well, here's a good stimulus for you to improve on your Portuguese.

The title track, with its ominous martial rhythms, is more reminiscent of the Cave of old, but that wouldn't explain the constant intermingling with the folksy 'one more man gone, one more man gone' melody, nor would it explain the slow orchestrated refrain. It is Cave the Biblical Prophet again, for sure, but a wisened up and a somewhat more subtle Nick Cave, you understand. The song may be a bit overlong, but it seems that it was very important, for some reason, to interpolate the 'one more man gone' with the 'the good son! the good son!' chorus and to drive that into the ground. Maybe there's some kind of deeply hidden symbolism here. The opposition of the impersonal, collective treatment of the subject matter vs. the personal, heartfelt one? You guess.

Let's not forget the impressive keyboard work - the organ is pretty much what makes 'The Good Song', and Harvey's piano rolls are pretty much what makes 'Sorrow's Child', a song the deepness of which might pass you by on first listen as it's subtler and less immediately noticeable than the tracks surrounding it, but that's what repeated listenings are there for. What I like most about these tunes is that Nick is way above the "Goth" way of depicting desperation and sorrow - these tunes do not hammer it inside of you, they are much lighter than he could have made them, and that is not a compromise, nope, on the other hand, it is much more difficult to picture negative emotion without resorting to 'extreme' measures than it is to be like Slayer. That's one thing that really brings Nick Cave close to the Doors, and I could easily picture 'The Weeping Song' as sung by the ghost of Jim Morrison.

God it's hard to describe how cool 'The Weeping Song' is. First of all, it's insanely catchy. It doesn't have one easily recognizable hook, but it just flows so smoothly, so incredibly well, that you think you know how it will go from the tenth second or so, even if the melody is by no means trivial. Second, the lyrics of the song is just one big quote. 'Father, why are all the women weeping? / They are weeping for their men. / Then why are all the man there weeping? / They are weeping back at them.' Third, like I already said, there's nothing extra here. No Gregorian chanting. No grinding feedback. No wailing and howling. Just a bass, a percussion track, some chimes, some piano, and some vocal harmonies. Just that. It's not even slow - it moves along at a fairly good, even toe-tapping, pace. It's just a weeping song, 'a song in which to weep'. And it doesn't try your patience: 'this is a weeping song, but I won't be weeping long', Nick and Blixa say, and they keep their promise.

'The Ship Song' returns us to the "personal hymn" atmosphere - well, when there's the word 'ship' in the title, you should expect something like that - and, while it's not as immaculate as the Portuguese song, there's not one bad thing I can say about it, either, except that maybe it's not truly "outstanding". It's just a good, uplifting spiritual chant with more of that soothing winterish organ. But it's 'The Hammer Song' that easily seizes the prize for The Most Attention-Grabbing Piece on side 2. You know how it goes - one little trick may transform a potentially good song into a masterpiece, and here it is that little creepy guitar phrase that Blixa inserts in between every line in the verses. If you want to give a good example of how you can add "an extra layer of depth" to something, 'The Hammer Song' will easily do the trick. Take away that echoey guitar that sounds as if it were coming from your very subconscious and bang, the song loses half of its impact...

I don't exactly have the strength left to describe the remaining three songs, so just take it from me that 'Lament' is beautiful, 'The Witness Song' is cooky, and 'Lucy' boasts a bear-like clumsiness typical for most of Nick's best ballads. But that's not important. The important thing is, four of the album's nine tunes have the word 'song' in them, which could mean it's actually a concept album along the lines of the Talking Heads' Fear Of Music, but then again, might be just something that Nick considered "cool" at the very last moment and put in so that us reviewers could write something important. As for buyers, well, just as I'd consider Tender Prey a good starting point to move backwards in time, in the same way I'd consider Good Son a good starting point to move forward, if you know what I mean.



Year Of Release: 1992

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Less pomp, more croon - not as high on the tension, but just as high on the imagery.


Track listing: 1) Papa Won't Leave You Henry; 2) I Had A Dream, Joe; 3) Straight To You; 4) Brother My Cup Is Empty; 5) Christina The Astonishing; 6) When I First Came To Town; 7) John Finn's Wife; 8) Loom Of The Land; 9) Jack The Ripper.

Another all-time winner from Mr Cave and the Butt Seats. But this time around they're going with a slightly more spare sound, cutting down on the orchestration and overdubbing and concentrating more on the actual, you know, band playing and all. Lots of acoustic guitar here, too, which is somewhat unusual considering that Blixa Bargeld was by no means master of the acoustic (how many butt-ugly sounds can you get out of an acoustic guitar unless you're running a chainsaw through it, I mean?) and that earlier on, when it came to quiet and restrained, Nick much preferred the piano. Not that there ain't any piano on here, of course (not too much, though). But that's not the point - the point is, they're heavy on acoustic instruments even when they're rocking out, and whether this is age-related or just a "diversity trick", I can't really say. Fortunately, they're pretty good at rocking out with acoustic instruments.

If there are any bad news, it's that I smell a wee bit of loss of quality control: some of the songs seem to lose control of themselves, or never actually find it in the first place. Yes, definitely, the lyrics of 'Christina The Astonishing' are a total hoot, and it's always nice to hear Nick Cave tell a story unless it is as long as one of his novels, but the song itself reminds me of his mid-Eighties days when he used to give out these rants that were pure atmosphere and had to be taken for exactly that. Meaning, no discernible melody here - the vocal harmonies in the chorus are pretty much the only short straw you can grasp to stick to the song and not let it go. I'm not saying it's a bad song, but it's a telling sign that Nick is indeed in danger of abandoning the Seeds' main strength - amazing, ultra-memorable, emotionally pulling melodies - and going off into the "black crooner" direction.

Thank God, though, these are only minor signs. On a song-by-song basis as well as taken together, Henry's Dream is still peak period Cave. The title is telling: it is indeed a "quasi-conceptual" album that revolves around dreams, visions, and hallucinations, mostly about Nick's best friend of all time, Mr Death, of course, but with a few romantic excourses along the way. Indeed, it might even feel "tighter" than its two predecessors, with the songs closer related to each other both musically and lyrically - whether that is an asset or no is up to anybody to tell, but the fact is, it is important. It's a good thing no good Christian ever really took the time to bother about those lyrics, because a closer examination could easily show that Henry's Dream is actually the album where Nick's 'Messiah complex' comes to fruition. Lots of the songs aren't just about pain and death, but about Godlike suffering, about martyrdom if you will.

I mean, look at this: '...a society of whores stuck needles in an image of me...' ('I Had A Dream, Joe'); '...I try to see why the people of this town have washed their hands of me...' ('When I First Came To Town'); 'I am the captain of my pain... the pickled eye, the shrinking brain...' ('O Brother My Cup Is Empty' - cup? Cup? Hmm, now why would he be talking about a cup?). And isn't 'papa won't leave you Henry, papa won't leave you boy' a metaphor for the Heavenly Father keeping an eye on his only Son? Or at least that's one of several possible interpretations. The New Testament is pouring out of every pore on here - well, Nick has always had a knack for Biblical imagery, but I think Henry's Dream beats 'em all.

Of course, the correct answer is not that Nick Cave equals himself with Jesus Christ - the correct answer is that Nick Cave thinks Jesus Christ is within us all, and what he's doing is telling us of the one Jesus Christ that's within himself, or at least, the one he channels when he's actually writing these songs. And whether you're a good Christian or were raised Sintoist, you can't deny it's a good thing - would these songs sound half as good if they hadn't all this "microcosmic spirituality" imbued in them? No sir, they wouldn't. I doubt Nick's snarl would sound so snarlish on 'Papa Won't Leave You Henry', or his croon would seem so croonish on 'Straight To You', had all these songs been recorded in a more cynical or ironic state.

Now as for the music, like I said, it's still good. Almost every song has something to draw you in, and amazingly, these acoustic guitars do indeed sound fresh, invigorating, and actually memorable in parts. Sometimes, like on 'Papa' or 'I Had A Dream, Joe', they're just frantically strummed to create a suitable background, but from time to time, like on 'When I First Came To Town', they're actually playing real folksy melodies - real good folksy melodies, quite in the good old 'Merican folk rock tradition. And while the strings are used sparingly, they can still carry the melody, like on the album's one truly "epic" track (as in 'pertaining to epos', not just 'big and pompous'), 'John Finn's Wife'. But arguably the best sound on the record is on those songs that blend the guitars with Harvey's organ - making the potentially boring love ballad 'Straight To You' a really haunting experience, and turning a potentially ordinary lullaby ('Loom Of The Land') in a subtle masterpiece of nearly impenetrable depth. 'Lullaby' I say, because every chorus ends in 'now go to sleep', although, of course, there's no child involved here - it's a love story through and through, and, well, a pretty creepy one when it comes to atmosphere. If I were a woman, I'd be dead scared to end up in Nick Cave's bed, I tell you. I just hope that when he actually makes love, he doesn't do it with tears for the universe in his eyes.

Weirdly enough, the album ends on an unpredictable note - a song that could almost hearken back to his Birthday Party days. Not only is 'Jack The Ripper' a title fit for any of those early albums (I mean, 'Nick The Stripper', 'Jack The Ripper', etc., etc.), it's also vicious, jerky, and very, um, mental, even if the basic rhythm of the song is more or less stable. No optimistic anthem like 'New Morning' or love ballad like 'Lucy': we are left with a very cruel song indeed. Accidental misfire or intentional shock? Feel free to ruminate on the issue.



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

I guess actually seeing Nick would be a better experience, but this is as close to seeing him as one can get without actually seeing him.


Track listing: 1) The Mercy Seat; 2) Deanna; 3) The Ship Song; 4) Papa Won't Leave You Henry; 5) Plain Gold Ring; 6) John Finn's Wife; 7) Tupelo; 8) Brother My Cup Is Empty; 9) The Weeping Song; 10) Jack The Ripper; 11) The Good Son; 12) From Her To Eternity; 13) New Morning.

The Bad Seeds weren't merely a studio outfit - on the contrary, Nick Cave had very much built up his early reputation on notorious "avant-shock" concert peformances, and the Bad Seeds inherited that from the Birthday Party as well. That said, Nick never really belonged to that batch of artists who were saving their 'wildness' for live performances while restraining themselves in the studio, which was only natural for somebody who'd taken his biggest inspirational clues from bands like the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. Thus the band's first and arguably best live album probably won't surprise you in terms of 'rawness': if you expect Nick to sound even more mad in a live setting, don't. It's virtually impossible.

Which doesn't mean the recording is dispensable. It's not; it is still different from the studio albums, but perhaps the differences are somewhat more subtle than this here dumb reviewer would be able to explain. The simplest thing to say would be that Live Seeds can serve as a great introduction to Nick: it pretty much touches upon every period of his solo (well, I mean, his Bad Seeds) career, although the most emphasis is understandably placed on his latest offerings: four songs from Henry's Dream, three from The Good Son, three from Tender Prey, nothing from Funeral, and only one each from his first two albums. This still allows for a lot of diversity: you get the ballads, the folksy stuff, and the rocking stuff, as well as 'Plain Gold Ring', a song that is not very easy to get in any other way.

Some of the songs are mildly rearranged - most notably, 'The Mercy Seat', no longer chaotic and thunderstorm-like, but more restrained, with more emphasis on the basic acoustic melody and thus more audible vocals from Nick (in fact, some people seriously prefer the live version to the studio one; I personally don't know about that - I think if you haven't been able to "get into" the studio version but did fall for the live one, you should eventually go back to the studio version with renewed appreciation for it, but hey, that's just me talking). However, since most of the material is relatively recent, they didn't have that much time to rearrange it in the first place, so that's not the point.

The point is, I guess, is in the atmosphere of spontaneity. Why do people love live albums? One of the main reasons is that live albums may sound more sincere and 'immediate' - they're produced here on the spot, with the aim of bowling over a real audience, which beats hours and hours of recording, mixing, overdubbing, and endless takes and re-takes. And for no live performer is this more important than for Nick, whose rants and raves sound quite natural in the studio but really were made for live declaration. Result? Not all of these live versions actually improve on the studio ones, but not a single one is worse than the studio one, and some are indeed better. Listen to 'Papa Won't Leave You Henry'. Listen to the magnificent drive of the song, to how Nick literally drives the audience wild every time he makes the transition into the chorus. The culmination - when Nick goes 'WHOAH-WHOAH!!' and the Seeds go 'WHOAH-WHOAH!!" and Nick goes "WOW-WOOW!" and the Seeds go likewise - are guaranteed to blow your head off, even if they didn't in the context of Henry's Dream.

'Tupelo' is also a major highlight: I sort of love it when some particularly ecstatic fan in the audience yells 'Tupelo-o-o-o-o-o!' and it's like a signal as a mighty thunderflash is heard and Nick goes into his favourite Bible-style parable. I'd say that both 'Tupelo' and 'From Her To Eternity' are both definitely improvements over the studio versions (even if the originals were no slouches either). There's just so much confidence and so much strength in these performances - and, funny enough, no sign that Nick or the band might actually have been bored with these songs after having been forced to perform them for nearly a decade. Well, hell, I guess this goes for pretty much every good live album ever recorded.

Blixa shares the vocal spotlight several times, most notably dueting with Nick on 'The Weeping Song' (I think in the studio Blixa sang most of the lyrics in the verses himself, but here it's sort of a call and answer session), and, if I'm not mistaken, on the closing 'New Morning' - their voices are so similar anyway, despite one being of Australian and the other one of German origin, that it's easy to confuse the two. Actually, the ballads aren't the album's highest points, because they're easily the most "ramble-proof" songs in Nick's catalog, and the live interpretation can't do them much good. But when the ballad in question is "dark" and unpredictable, like the aforementioned 'Plain Gold Ring', it's quite a different story. Even I was caught unprepared when the roaring chaotic midsection rolled in and made me jump in my chair - and I've taken my fair share of the Nick Cave Dynamics already. Considering the song was a 'novelty' (a cover version, I think) and most probably unknown to the audiences, I can only imagine their reaction when this happened to happen right under their very noses.

Perhaps some of the sonic depth of the latter day releases gets lost in the transition - I think that stuff like the "crypt-romantic coda" to 'John Finn's Wife' or the chorus to 'The Good Son' lose a big part of their charm without the subtle orchestration - but that should be taken for granted as well. Overall, it's said to be a rather adequate representation of the Seeds at their live best, back when they were still raw and energetic and had a good balance between the "raving" and the "crooning" part before Nick started doing too much "crooning" at the expense of "raving", and it does sound like it. I give it my thumbs up and say: "Essential". But I like good live albums in general, so count this as one more example of my boring predictability.



Year Of Release: 1994

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

No new territory here, but even the old one still has a few ripe chestnuts to pick.

Best song: DO YOU LOVE ME

Track listing: 1) Do You Love Me; 2) Nobody's Baby Now; 3) Loverman; 4) Jangling Jack; 5) Red Right Hand; 6) I Let Love In; 7) Thirsty Dog; 8) Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore; 9) Lay Me Low; 10) Do You Love Me Part 2.

The previous three studio albums were all similar, yet they managed to somehow each concentrate on one particular aspect of Nick and milk it to perfection. Tender Prey is his rough 'n' rowdy perfection. The Good Son is his keyboardish and stately perfection. And Henry's Dream is his acoustic and folksy perfection. Well, roughly speaking, of course. They all have their interlocking moments. Points of intersection. Elements of assonance. Snippets of similarity. You know what I mean.

This one's not so perfect. It's still very good, but it's even. Looks like, for this period at least, Nick's creative development had stopped. Let Love In has it all: roughness, keyboards, folkish stuff, and yet one thing it doesn't have: surprise. It doesn't have surprise. Maybe that's not vital for Nick (he ain't no Frank Zappa), but stagnation ain't good for a man of Nick Cave's amplitude. God forbid he start falling upon all the cliches of his genre - that's when conviction and passion turns to pretention and humiliation. Fortunately, this is not the case, as most of the songs on here are still pretty good.

Like 'Do You Love Me', for instance. The album's epic and one truly unforgettable experience, it doesn't come in two parts for nothing. That way, I can't help being reminded of George Harrison's two versions of 'Isn't It A Pity'. Remember that one? One version that is bombastic and powerful and overwhelming, another version that is (relatively) quiet and personal and subtle, both conveying the same theme but approaching it from two different musical angles. Same thing happens here. The bombastic version is grim, brooding, apocalyptic, and just plain maddening. It opens the album. The quiet version is soft, meditative, and hypnotizing. It closes the album. The bombastic version has a roaring chorus that threatens to rip you to shreds - if somebody ever asked me or you the question 'Do you love me like I love you?' exactly the way Nick asks that question in this version, the questioner would have to be standing behind bars in a straightjacket and you'd be the nurse giving him a morphine injection. The peaceful version omits the 'like I love you' part and just, sort of, asks the question. There's no answer expected. That's... bizarre.

The song's definitely a classic either way, although I prefer - by far - the bombastic version; I'm not sure the quiet version would have worked well on its own. Unfortunately, next to this monster pretty much everything pales in contrast. And it's not just the really mediocre songs (by Nick's own standards) I'm talking about, although both 'Nobody's Baby Now' and 'Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore' are definitely that: in 1994 a murky end-of-the-world attitude wasn't gonna be enough to make a song qualify. I mean, they are cool in a way, but musically they seem kind of half-assed to me: even the inventive guitar trills in the background of 'Ain't Gonna Rain' fail to bring true excitement.

The really good songs are overwhelmed by the genius of 'Do You Love Me' as well, but at least they're - how d'ya say it? - fully realized entities. The fast-'n'-angry stuff is what really registers on my block: the near-thrash roar of 'Thirsty Dog' is ugly, but it's beautifully ugly. There's something really intriguing about how these lyrics, fit for a sea shanty or something (the protagonist is sitting in a pub thinking about all the things that have gone wrong in his life) join with this frantic melody that seemingly wants to outrun itself. 'Jangling Jack' isn't nearly as thrilling, but at least it rocks, and it's always nice to hear Blixa Bargeld's take on rock'n'roll. Here's the Velvet Underground the way you've never had the chance to hear them!

Wait a minute, though, there is one song on here that's nearly the equal of 'Do You Love Me'. That's 'Loverman'. The dynamics is nothing new - just the same "now I'm quiet/AND NOW I'M LOUD" kind of trick - but it's done in a special way. If I had to pick the best two or three seconds from the album, I'd definitely pick the eerie "how much longer?" response vocals in between the verses. It's one of those moments that completely captures your soul but is pretty much impossible to reproduce on paper. If you haven't heard the song, just try to go ahead and pronounce the phrase 'how much longer?' until it starts sounding really creepy to you. And then put on the song and realize that however you pronounced it, it just wasn't that creepy! Yes, that moment is even better than the wild wild chorus where Nick and Blixa both go totally mad, almost rivalling Ministry in their madness. (Remember Ministry? The quintessential Evil Industrial band? If you haven't heard Ministry, you haven't died).

Out of the 'quieter' sounds, I think 'Lay Me Low' is the one that stands out the most. Superficially it seems like almost the same thing as 'Ain't Gonna Rain' etc. etc., but there's a subtle difference between "slow and unremarkable", on one hand, and "slow and death-like-majestic". And since Nick is so good at anthems, this means the louder and more expressive he is, the better chances of success he has. Certainly it's better than the somewhat generic folkish number 'Red Right Hand', which I really don't need to hear at this moment. (Don't take my word for it, though - the song is quite popular, I just sort of think it's made expendable by at least half a dozen earlier numbers. 'Up Jumped The Devil', for one).

Overall, this is an album made by a man who's said it all. I am not sure how this is related to the fact that it almost hit the Top 10 in the UK - it's not really that more 'commercial' than the two preceding albums, so I'll have to chalk that one up to the "catching up" factor. Or maybe people just love it when a formerly innovative artist finally stops innovating and delivers exclusively for the sake of making music. This, however, reeks of delivering for the sake of keeping busy to me rather than anything else. Still, let's not forget that any artist of lesser stature would have simply fallen flat on his face, whereas Nick simply turned up with another good record. Not breathtaking, but good.



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Where's the PMRC when you really need them? They wanna tell me Twisted Sister is nastier than this?


Track listing: 1) Song Of Joy; 2) Stagger Lee; 3) Henry Lee; 4) Lovely Creature; 5) Where The Wild Roses Grow; 6) The Curse Of Millhaven; 7) The Kindness Of Strangers; 8) Crow Jane; 9) O'Malley's Bar; 10) Death Is Not The End.

There was an interview with Nick somewhere where he, when directly asked what exactly is so attractive about murder ballads, said something like "well, I've always been intrigued by the morality aspect of murder ballads in the sense that there isn't any". Which is goddamn true, and that is what makes the murder ballad one of the most intriguing (lyrics-wise, of course) type of song there ever was. Are we supposed to feel pity for the victim? Or for the murderer, if the song is sung from his point of view? Compassion? Disgust? Accepting the "truth of life"? Or maybe just learning that such things, in fact, do exist? Is there any ethical conclusion one can draw for oneself from listening to a murder ballad? Maybe it's just plain wrong to listen to murder ballads?

Nick Cave doesn't provide any answers for these questions. Instead, he just takes the ages-old conundrum and embellishes it with his own equally mysterious approach. Some people might be offended by this album - and they'd have every right to be, because it does glorify murder. Other people might be a-sittin' and a-thinkin' about it, and a-objectin' that there's no real glorification since Nick the person clearly separates himself from Nick the impersonator. After all, he's been doing similar stuff for a decade and a half now. What's so different about Murder Ballads? Nothing, except that it's like a super concentration of everything dark, gruesome, and obscene he'd ever dabbled with. It's like a, well, it's like a massive big self-purging: getting all the evil and all the disease out of one's system before moving on to "better" things.

Word on the street is that Murder Ballads has often been called Nick's "joke album", even by the fans - but I would hardly agree with such a definition, because I shiver to think of the possibility of dividing Nick's output into "joke" and "serious" categories: if Murder Ballads is a "joke" album, does that mean I have to take everything else as "serious"? Including 'Jack The Ripper' and 'The Weeping Song'? Reality and absurdism have always been seriously mingled in Nick's work, and sticking labels like these on his songs/albums simply reduces the immense possibilities of interpretation. No, this is not a "joke" album, but it shouldn't be taken as a serious artistic statement either. It's like a Jim Jarmusch movie: you're merely given a set of images which you're molding according to your own standards.

One thing I think most people will want to agree with me upon: there are some nifty beautiful tunes on here that kick the shit out of the so-so filler on Let Love In. The female duets on the traditional 'Henry Lee' and 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' (I know one of the gals is Kylie Minogue and the other one is PJ Harvey, but I keep forgettin' which is which - I mean, these aren't their solo careers for Chrissake, so I'm allowed not to know the difference!) are particularly harrowing: 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' is a moody masterpiece, with the 'they call me the Wild Rose, but my name was Elisa Day' chorus sending chills down my spine every time I hear it. Subject matter? Guy meets girl, starts a romance, then brings her to the river and bashes her head in with a rock. Now will this song inspire millions of depressed, society-spoiled young people to liquidate their beloved ones in likewise ways, under the slogan 'All beauty must die'? Especially if they know that there's a possibility of someone making a very, very, very beautiful song of it? With violins and romantic choruses and heartbreaking vocal melodies? I have no answer to that question, but it's definitely one strong argument in favour of admitting that true post-modern art, the one for which the opposition "good/evil" is completely irrelevant, is... well, not for everyone.

As is usual for Nick, the album is excellently paced, with slower and "tenderer" songs alternating with rougher and "dirtier" pieces so that the album, which is actually quite uniform and compact, gives a basic impression of diversity. Speaking of 'dirty', special note must be given to Nick's rendition of 'Stagger Lee' - totally and completely uncensored, with more instances of the word 'motherfucker' than in the entire first ten minutes of Pulp Fiction, and easily the most obscene number ever done by the man. (Now why exactly didn't he do that song at the Royal Albert Hall?). And then, of course, there is the infamous 'O'Malley's Bar', which is like the ultimate exercise in bad taste. A fifteen-minute repetitive epic during which nothing particular happens apart from the protagonist walking into a bar and starting to methodically shoot the customers one by one, with lots of anatomical details at that.

In short, judging by this album, one might swear there's nothing left in the world except for maniacal serial killers. Yup, that's right - Nick only sings about psychos and wackos, it's not like you're gonna hear about Robin Hood shooting the Sheriff of Nottingham on here. Offense here and offense there, all faint-hearted ladies and gentlemen please leave the audience before proceeding. But essentially, it's more like a test rather than an offense, and one of the harsher tests out there. It's one thing when you hear Frank Zappa telling dirty jokes about Catholic girls because, after all, it's just a dirty joke, and another thing when you hear lines like 'all God's children they all gotta die' ('The Curse Of Millhaven' - fast'n'furious!) sung in such a way that one of the possible implications is "well, everybody's gotta die anyway, so what's wrong with bashing a girl on the head with a rock every now and then?"

Of course, there should be no such implications. This, like I already said, is a show that should get you a-thinkin', not a-doin'. It can get you a-feelin', too: after all, much of this music is beautiful, and that which is not beautiful is at least perfectly singalong-able: Mr Cave knows his folksy duties well. And while overall, from a strictly musical point of view, Murder Ballads is hardly an "improvement" over Let Love In (I don't think 'O'Malley's Bar' really deserves its fifteen minutes, not the second time around anyway), the 'gimmick' definitely helps you pick up attention and, overall, makes things really interesting. Oh, and, in case you start feeling really desperate, the album ends with a cover of 'Death Is Not The End' which is like a final word of reassurance to all the murdered people: 'For the tree of life is growing/ Where the spirit never dies', see? One hell of an optimistic conclusion to such a record!



Year Of Release: 1997

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Maybe the rating is a tad low, but I like it more that way. Makes me better realize I haven't lost my entire family to bubonic plague yet.

Best song: INTO MY ARMS

Track listing: 1) Into My Arms; 2) Lime Tree Arbour; 3) People Ain't No Good; 4) Brompton Oratory; 5) There Is A Kingdom; 6) (Are You) The One I've Been Waiting For; 7) Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere; 8) West Country Girl; 9) Black Hair; 10) Idiot Prayer; 11) Far From Me; 12) Green Eyes.

Thus opens the third, and mildest, period of Nick Cave's solo career. In fact, The Boatman's Call is nothing less than an ice cold shower after the extravaganza of Murder Ballads. Never yet had the man released such a compact, conceptual, slow, and calm collection of tunes. And that's only part of the shock. The lesser part. The biggest part is that the postmodernistic sarcasm is all but gone. Whee. Nada. Evaporated. Blown all the way to hell. The Boatman's Call is as deadly honest, and as deadly serious as they come and more so.

Granted, you can't always be sarcastic. One of these days even Quentin Tarantino is going to grow old and start releasing something like Schindler's List, provided he's got enough "vision". But this here is hardly a question of "getting too old". It's more a question of a consciously thought out, and a carefully carried out, "one man revolution". One year before, Nick Cave was recklessly singing about the pleasures of splattering the brains of innocent people over the walls, and now, all of a sudden, he switches gears and starts singing deeply moving love odes and achingly confessional, er, uhm, personal confessions. Maybe he got sick of the brain-splattering routine. Or maybe he thought such a radical change could get him more press. Why do we have to suppose grand artistic motives for everything we like (and something we don't like)? The honest answer is, there's no telling. There's just the difference in style which is plain to see.

And - in my case at least - a bit hard to take. It's a good album, but, try as I might, I can't bring myself to recognize this as a "masterpiece" on the same level with Nick's 1989-92 albums. Maybe for a guy of lesser stature it could have been a masterpiece. But really, I listen to these songs and I don't feel like Nick actually made any tremendous efforts to write them. Again, there's nothing on here that he hadn't done just as well, or even better, earlier: the only change is that as of yet, he'd never delivered such a coherent set of such songs. But is that a plus? I will be frank and say that I get really bored with the album around the second half.

It's not a surprise. It is written firmly in the "Grumpy Old Man Grumps About Grumpy Things In A Very Serious Way" tradition. Lou Reed has albums like these (Magic And Loss), Tom Waits has albums like these (Alice), and I don't even wanna mention Leonard Cohen and Co. And they are all good people, and these are all good albums, but the only album like that I really feel like playing from time to time is Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind, and even that one is mainly due to the total weirdness and unrealness of this Grumpy World that Bob puts us inside. Apart from that, these records don't qualify as "masterpieces" to me: too much raw feeling, too little, or too poorly-fleshed out musical background.

I don't even know where to start with these songs. Maybe I should just begin by complimenting Nick on the fact of his refusal to use cliches. After all, isn't it clever to begin an album with the line 'I don't believe in an interventionist God'? Not that the main goal of 'Into My Arms' is to woo the listener over with not-universally-understood theological babble. No, the main goal is to convey the protagonist's feelings towards his beloved one. Simple as that. Simple, but with subtly complex means. Wonderful song, nicely done, played with only 1 piano and 1 bass guitar, with a great sense of development (watch for Nick's voice unexpectedly rising in the middle-eight and then falling back - classic emotional trick).

I do actually think I'm a sucker for the piano on this album, or, to be exact, for the songs where the piano melodies actually stand out. 'Lime Tree Arbour', for instance, converts me with its tasty intro, and it's only later that I start to realize the nice and moving structure of the song and how tear-jerking the 'I do love her so' chorus actually is. Almost the same thing happens with 'Idiot Prayer', although that song is definitely more tragic in essence and so conveys a slightly different mood.

But this is the moment where I will commit the ultimate crime and say: these songs are overlong. Well, not these particular ones, but in general. I like the basic idea of 'People Ain't No Good', but I simply cannot take five and a half minutes of it. Maybe I didn't have the luck to be a garden snail in one of my previous incarnations. But I honestly do not believe a song that simple, that basic, and, to be perfectly frank, that predictable from a lyrical point of view (not to be confusing predictable with bad, mind you) has a right to drag on for five and a half minutes. It doesn't. Pretty much the same goes for 'Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere', although I might even emphasize that feeling. I am definitely moved by the 'wake up, oh my lover wake up' chorus, I honestly am, but look, I can put it on a second time if I'm really moved by it. I can't stand too much of this gloating.

"Overkill" is the word. Here is my perfect Boatman's Call, then. 'Into My Arms' and 'Lime Tree Arbour', definitely. 'People Ain't No Good', shortened by one verse (which would make it a reasonable four minutes or so, hey, I'm not nitpicking, it's important. Didn't your mama tell you good pacing is everything?). 'Brompton Oratory' - definitely; the song may not have a well-defined hook, but that mournful organ in the background is minimalistic perfection. '(Are You) The One I've Been Waiting For', also definitely a highlight; in fact, the "romantic highlight" of the album. 'West Country Girl' - short and nice, with a very moody violin to boot. 'Idiot Prayer', for sure. The "mystic bass" song, 'Far From Me', but also shortened by one and a half minutes or so. And, as the enfant terrible of the album, the final number, Green Eyes', that is supposedly dedicated to Tori Amos but don't quote me on that. Yeah, it's the one where Nick refers to himself as 'this useless old fucker with his twinkling cunt'. Maybe you remember. And that makes a perfect thirty-three minute album. The rest I have no use for, although there's nothing offensive anywhere in sight.

I know I have just committed a terrible crime and from now on will be receiving five letters per day about how I don't get Nick Cave and how I'd better go back to my Limp Bizkit or fuck my pet sheep or something, but look, I frankly don't like albums that force you to like them. I like albums that don't much care whether you'll like them or not. Boatman's Call is superficially humble and quiet, but behind the surface is a harsh Australian gentleman that commands you to accept this as his masterpiece. Maybe if he didn't, he wouldn't have extended it to fifty minutes. That sort of irks me. Nevertheless, Boatman's Call is still a very worthy addition to the Cave catalog. Not to mention its being interesting as the "announcing a new age for Cave" record.



Year Of Release: 1998

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Royally calm performance for the Royal Hall?


Track listing: 1) Lime Tree Arbour; 2) Stranger Than Kindness; 3) Red Right Hand; 4) I Let Love In; 5) Brompton Oratory; 6) Henry Lee; 7) The Weeping Song; 8) The Ship Song; 9) Where The Wild Roses Grow.

I read somewhere that Nick doesn't like England. This probably makes him double special, in the eyes of some. It's one thing not to like America - if you're not from America, you're supposed not to like the country that has choked the very air you breathe with McDonalds fumes. If you don't, you're not cool, and will never be mistaken for a serious artist. It's a different thing not to like England, though, where all kinds of people, from Kubrick to the Mael brothers, usually flee if they don't like America. England is supposed to be cool. It made Bjork a superstar.

Well, not for Nick Cave it isn't. He'll always be a true Australian at heart. Who but a true Australian could write something as terrifying as 'Swampland'? Only a German. Germans are not Australians, though. Ah, well, forget that, I actually wrote that unexpected passage just as a little chuckle directed at the title of this here album. Actually, "this here album" doesn't even exist as an isolated entity: it was originally released as a live bonus disc to the 1998 compilation The Best Of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and, as far as I know, has not been independently issued ever since. Must be a rarity, then. But a good rarity - the only problem is that at nine songs it is way too short, and thus cannot rank as a truly worthy competitor to Live Seeds.

Which is a pity, because it illustrates the band in another epoch - the "quiet" epoch of the late Nineties as opposed to the rowdy epoch of the early Nineties. Of the nine songs on here, not a single one gives us the furious Nick Cave of old ('Red Right Hand' comes close, though). It may be so that the 'rougher' part of the show was specially omitted to accentuate Nick's new image, but fact is, it was omitted, so everything I have are these nine relatively quiet, meditative, introspective tracks. As if the transformation were complete. What you hear is a world-weary hermit, crawling out of his shell on this particular evening to share some of his recent meditations with the world if the world is interested.

That said, it was a very good performance all the same. Good quality sound, good performing, good singing; from the moment Nick comes out on stage and symbolically launches into the unpretentious, non-showy ballad 'Lime Tree Arbour', the quality never fails. A particular highlight is 'Red Right Hand' - the song sort of floated by me as a nearly fillerish track on Let Love In, but this live rendition injects extra life in it, and Nick's sharp, well-placed delivery, punctuated by all these unnerving gong hits ('hid-den-in-his-coat-is-a-red-right-hand - DONNNG!'), really made an impression on me. So you have my permission to go back to the Let Love In review and edit it some. (Heck, rewrite the entire page if you want. Heck, write a new one. Just don't forget to credit me as the author when you're signing the ten million contract with Ballantine Editions, okay?).

Many of the songs are rearranged. There's a very subtle and pretty violin line running through 'Brompton Oratory' now - was it there in the studio original? I don't seem to remember it. Violinist Warren Ellis is a new player on here, so I guess I'm right about my memories. It adds a new level of pizzazz to this sea of Zen calmness, if you pardon my very bad cliche. 'The Weeping Song' now doesn't have any piano (well, not in the verses, at least); instead, it is driven by a hoarse, jarring guitar riff, the kind of crackling "noise" you often hear in the introduction to AC/DC songs. It's different now. Not necessarily better or even as good, but different.

My biggest confusion is related to 'Where The Wild Roses Grow', though. I liked the song so much when Kylie Minogue sang those refrains that I was a bit taken aback when in this live setting her parts turned out to be sung by Blixa Bargeld. Not only does it sort of give the song a somewhat unnecessary homosexual flavour (even if Nick still sings of "her" and "woman"), but it simply annihilates the beauty of the song. You could argue that it annihilates the conventional beauty and replaces it with non-traditional beauty, but my ideas of beauty are old-fashioned. I can acknowledge the beauty of Tom Waits' voice when he sings 'Come On Up To The House', but I cannot acknowledge the beauty of the voice of an enigmatic German industrial pioneer when he sings 'they call me the wild rose, but my name was Elisa Day'. Now shoot me in the back or something. I understand Nick couldn't have dragged Kylie around the world with him, but he definitely should have reserved the song for occasions where she (or a similar-voiced female artist) would be available.

Still, a few weird decisions like that do not spoil the broth. Nick may have become slower and quieter, but he's every bit as passionate about these things as he was before; he just keeps that passion in a bridle. Listen to how sharply and meticulously he pronounces each and every syllable in all these songs, how he always stays in tune. He's obviously well in touch with his muse throughout all of the performance. Thus, I would well recommend every aficionado to go and track down the UK edition of this Best Of thing (unless you're not just an aficionado, but a seasoned aficionado and already have the entire performance on a crappy-sounding bootleg). Non-diehards will easily do without it, though; stick to Live Seeds instead.



Year Of Release: 1999

Prepare your copy-books. This IS a lecture.

Best song: mmmm... the second lecture is shorter, but doesn't have any actual SONGS in it. So what's to choose?

Track listing: 1) The Secret Life Of The Love Song; 2) The Flesh Made Word.

I honestly shouldn't have included this peculiar little oddity here, but, out of sheer curiosity, I did listen to this "album" in its entirety, and now that I have the experience behind me, I thought, well, hell, why not write about it? Obviously I can be neither as verbose nor as eloquent on the matter as Nick himself, but there's no harm in trying. At worst I can just embarrass myself, not happening to be as well-read on the subjects discussed as Mr Cave, but that won't be the first time, anyway.

To begin with, the full title of the CD is The Secret Life Of The Love Song/The Flesh Made Word; Two Lectures By Nick Cave, which those of you who have the eyes of a hawk can easily see on the album cover; obviously, that one was too long for me to reproduce it in every other part of the site. And these were indeed two public lectures that Nick recorded, one, for the Vienna Poetry Festival, the other, for a BBC-broadcast religious problem. So, apparently, the CD, if it is still sold somewhere, should come with the "Warning! Very little music inside" sticker on it. The second lecture, which lasts for sixteen minutes, does not have a single musical intermission. The first one, which lasts for almost fifty, does have a few songs there to alleviate the burden - mostly Nick sitting alone on his piano, but occasionally accompanied with some percussion and violin. The songs, by the way, are mostly oldies - 'Sad Waters', 'West Country Girl', 'People Ain't No Good', with one "preview glimpse" at 'Love Letter' from No More Shall We Part.

But, of course, it's not the song itself that matters here, but the explanation of the song. The first and biggest lecture deals with Nick trying to explain what, indeed, is a "love song", in the process of which he unfurls his entire (and rather huge) philosophy of God, aesthetics, beauty, and emotion. The primary thesis here is that a 'love song', unlike the more popular understanding of it, is essentially a 'sad song' - a manifestation of an unexpected feeling of yearning, longing for something. Which definitely sets the world of traditional values on its heels, but also accounts for a lot of things. Like, for instance, the fact that 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' turns out to be a love song in the end - a true love song, that does not shy away from the essential element of "sorrow", but openly confronts it.

Whether this is a new, previously unheard of aesthetic theory or not, I cannot say; I'm not an expert. It is obvious, to me, that this understanding of the "love song", at the very least, murderously limits the potential of the "love song", but hey, if Nick doesn't happen to think that 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' is a love song as well, or if he wishes to find sorrow and yearning and whatever that Portuguese word spells itself in it, that's his prerogative. The thing is, he's not a scientist; he's an artist. He's free to take whatever he wants and concentrate on it and discard the things that do not suit him. And he does it well. Not being a person of "severe academic background", he nevertheless strings the words in his lecture just as fine as he does the same thing in his lyrics. To listen to 'The Secret Life Of The Love Song' twice would probably mean becoming a fan of the man's aesthetic philosophy; but to listen to it once would be recommendable for anybody who's mildly interested in going 'beyond the veil'.

I mean, Nick does manage to combine just the necessary pinch of academicity with the necessary pinch of religious scholastics and the necessary pinch of prosaic poetry to make his voice compelling and his message interesting. You know that when he all but traces his lyrics for Murder Ballads to the Bible (citing 'By the rivers of Babylon...'), that he's grossly overdoing it, but he has a point - violence, often in an implicit and subtly menacing form, is an essential part of a lot of the Bible's mightiest verses, and such a tracing would definitely help us better understand the motives with which he approached its creation. Unless, of course, he's just laying a lot of bull on us, but it's still interesting and, at least, totally harmless, to see him do it.

The second lecture is somewhat more daring. It has no direct relation to Nick's music (although it does have some relation to his novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel), so it isn't accompanied by songs and is thus much shorter, but it is essentially blasphemous. As Spinosa equated God with nature (and got his ass severely kicked for that), so does Mr Cave pretty much equate God with communication, beginning with the famous Jesus replica 'wherever two are gathered together, I am in your midst'. This eventually leads him to conclude that just as Man is useless without God, so God is useless without Man - since where there is no Man, there is no Word. Doubtless, had we all happened to live some five hundred years ago, we'd now be sobbing all over the place and scraping Mr Cave's charred remains from the stake, but fortunately, the world has changed a bit (so what if Catholic priests are still screwing little kids and Orthodox priests are still selling tobacco and alcohol?), so we needn't worry about that today. This theory is, of course, hardly new, and so overall the second lecture is nowhere near as thought-provoking as the first one, but still, once again, the main point is not to hear what is being said but rather how it is being said. And it is being said well. 'Divinity must be given its freedom to flow through us'.

I certainly hope the release of this CD does not set a trend of rock stars coming out of the closets with their philosophic treatises (Neil Peart: 'The Ambivalence of Free Will in the Areal Subculture of Xanadu' and Gene Simmons: 'The Implications of Phallic Symbolism in Music' spring to mind), but as long as it doesn't, The Secret Life Of The Love Song will remain an interesting, not to mention unique, oddity in an otherwise predictable catalog. I sure wouldn't advise to spend actual money on it, though. Go see a Nick Cave show instead, or something.



Year Of Release: 2001

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

More like No More Shall We Raise Hell (But We Sure Shall Raise Some Heaven). Signed, sealed, and delivered.

Best song: OH MY LORD

Track listing: 1) As I Sat Sadly By Her Side; 2) And No More Shall We Part; 3) Hallelujah; 4) Love Letter; 5) Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow; 6) God Is In The House; 7) Oh My Lord; 8) Sweetheart Come; 9) The Sorrowful Wife; 10) We Came Along This Road; 11) Gates To The Garden; 12) Darker With The Day.

Upon first listen, it's The Boatman's Call all over again. The softness, the quiescence, the peacefulness of it all. A long long long album full of long long long songs. The man definitely takes his time to expand on any given idea, and sometimes it turns out that the expansion wasn't really worth that time. Yeah yeah yeah we've heard it all before and we wants to be entertained. Got our own hearts and souls to explore, don't need an Australian looney to lend us his.

But lo and behold, when the shit actually hits the fan, this isn't like The Boatman's Call at all. This is a struggling record. There is no real peace here, maybe on a couple songs at max. The demons are back, they simply do not wish to assume the form of jarring feedback and eye-rolling, spit-flowing, rip-roaring paranoia. They want to emanate from the lyrics and the melodies and the end-of-the-world notes in the singer's voice (which, funnily enough, over the course of this one album seriously deviates from the usual gravelley tone we all know Nick for - in fact, I was more than certain that Nick actually forced Blixa to sing on half of the songs before learning the shocking truth!).

When you do come to realize that, the Bad Seeds' shares leap up in value again. In a way, this might be the most serious and the deepest album of Mr Cave's entire career. Maybe that's not a merit all by itself, but you know Nick never insults the listener's intelligence, and the word "serious" has never been devaluated by being applied to a Bad Seeds album. There's an extremely complex emotional undercurrent, and pretty much all of the usual subjects are raised - love, grief, faith, joy, depression, anger, melancholy, redemption, consolation, death, and being reborn from death. You name it. Only a few songs can be relatively called "straightforward", and even these are necessary to somehow relieve the intellectual strain you're experiencing if you're listening to this seriously, lyrics sheet in hand and all. The rest are a mammoth's challenge.

But that's not the only good news. The other good news is that repeated listens really bring out the musical meat in the songs. With every new album starting from Let Love In, I was fearing ever more and more that Nick was losing it melodically, that the concept of 'hook' no longer interested him as long as he'd captured the obligatory vibe and written the obligatory lyric. This album puts an end, at least, a temporary one, to my fears. Every song has something going for it. Either one of these gorgeously sad piano lines, or one of these gorgeously melancholy vocal croons, or, perhaps, both. No, it's not like Nick is wasting too many ideas per song - he was always pretty economically-minded about that - but there's always something you can cling on to and safely hang upon while trying to decipher the always complicated message. And soak in the atmosphere.

'As I Sat Sadly By Her Side' is the perfect example. The song is not about sadness - it is sadness itself. Sadness about what? No matter. Universal sadness. That sadness which Nick called with that Portuguese word in the lecture. Not that we don't know it. Not that we don't know that the world is a shitty place where nothing cares for anything but itself, and that, moreover, this is the only true way to be - that there is really no such thing as caring for anything but oneself, and that that's the way God planned it. 'You are not a home for the hearts of your brothers'. Herr Kant turned on his head. But oh what a way to be reminded of it once again - with that wonderfully captivating piano riff and Nick's "new" voice crooning the words out so painfully as if he were really sitting there by the glass and really giving a damn about not being able to give a damn, if you know what I mean.

It's not always that quiet and contemplative, though. A virtual tempest is brewing on 'Oh My Lord', a song absolutely devastating in its Biblical flavour - slowly growing and expanding until it threatens to swallow everything around. The message of the song may be different, but for me it's a gradual, utterly dreadful realisation of one's isolation, of one's absolute powerlessness and weakness in the face of God-knows-what. 'How have I offended thee?' asks the protagonist before giving out the utterly useless call of 'wrap your tender arms around me!', and by the time it gets to the third chorus, these lines are belted out in all-out screaming mode, as if Nick already had that rope right around his neck and that sack over his eyes. And the musical backing? It's easily the best crescendo the Seeds have ever given out, with the electric violin in particular giving you nightmares.

Although the crescendo on 'Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow' is almost just as good. That song's a friggin' beauty, not to mention catchy as hell. 'Where is Mona? She's long gone. Where is Mary? She's taken her along. But they haven't put their mittens on, and there's fifteen feet of pure white snow'. That opening verse pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Starts out like a traditional folksy song, later on gets the "personal" treatment, and thus combines the "universal soul" with the soul of the "tormented loner". Boy, does that piano line ever rule.

Even the really slow, really "draggy" numbers have their appeal. The title track is basically just Nick and a bunch of grim, moody, minor chords. Funny enough, it reminds me of Elton John's 'Talking Old Soldiers' a bit, even if they're really different in many aspects. Neither of the two has a memorable melody, but there's so much conviction and pure spiritual power put into both that you can't help being overwhelmed by the wave of feeling. And in both songs, the hardest-hitting moment is, of course, the closing musical phrase - Nick's 'last 'and no more shall we part' is soft, but on the emotional level, crashes as heavily as a huge boulder that the guy in question has just managed to shoot down from the top of his cave to shut himself off from the world forever.

I like or love most of the songs on here. 'Hallelujah' has the sincerest, most moving chanting of the words 'hallelujah' I've ever heard, no kidding you here. 'Love Letter' is one of the "breathers" I've told about earlier, and it's a piece of pure shimmering beauty that's impossible to describe. 'The Sorrowful Wife', in a marked throwback to the old tradition, marries a soft, meditative "setting up" first half to an all-out raging, Blixa-controlled "let's rip it up" second half, which is one of the most perfect impersonations of desperation, disillusionment, and self-condemnation ever set to tape.

No, I don't think the record is perfect; at times, it is just a bit too defying in its blatantly slllllooooow attitude - 'We Came Along This Road' takes six minutes to convey two verses, and although that is the point, I sincerely disagree with that point. 'Gates To The Garden' is also a bit too quiet and 'unnoticeable' for me, even if it's obviously an important song... just like everything else on here. But that doesn't mean I'm not impressed. Usually, when people make slow contemplative records, they're just that: slow and contemplative. This one isn't merely slow and contemplative. There's a natural sturm und drang that goes on under the covers, and although I have not noticed it at once, I suppose it was its imminent presence that ended up intriguing me and forcing me to replay this stuff over and over until it just hit me like fifteen feet of pure white snow.



Year Of Release: 2003

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Same old same old on here. Time to make your choice - are you a religious Cavism convert or aren't you?


Track listing: 1) Wonderful Life; 2) He Wants You; 3) Right Out Of Your Hand; 4) Bring It On; 5) Dead Man In My Bed; 6) Still In Love; 7) There Is A Town; 8) Rock Of Gibraltar; 9) She Passed By My Window; 10) Babe I'm On Fire.

For the seventh year in a row and for his third album in a row, Nick Cave still plays that same lone actor in that same lone theatre. I can understand the guy - after all, he never swore to me on the grave of his ancestors that throughout all his life, he would be going through a different incarnation on every record. But there's a vital difference between "lack of progress" and "formulaic stagnation", and Nocturama comes dangerously close to the second rather than the first. The guy in the All-Music Guide gave the album a hard, harsh beating, and while I definitely disagree with both his tone and his statements, I just as definitely concede that out of Nick's latest "trio", Nocturama is the most 'omissible'.

Blixa Bargeld's presence is well felt on many of the tracks here, but it still remains an ominous sign that he finally quit the Bad Seeds prior to the album's tour. Fact is, most of the time, even if he is on these songs, he's not really needed. It is pretty obvious that Nick's new (or, rather, "rejuvenated") passion concerns his piano, and thus, even when Bargeld does get a chance to kick some ass, it almost looks like he's doing it an a perfunctory way - playing generic Velvet Underground-ish "dissonant trills" that could have been reproduced by just about any solid indie-oriented guitar player. This is a clear indication that Nick's musical evolution has reached a dead end; musically speaking, if by "musically" we understand "in terms of finding new sonic textures", he's kaputt.

Whether he understands that or not, the finishing touch on this record is symbolic: a fourteen-minute long tribute to the Velvets called 'Babe I'm On Fire', one of the lengthiest and, paradoxically (or maybe not paradoxically), one of the most boring "epics" he ever recorded. Maybe if you like 'Sister Ray', you'll like this one - maybe you'll actually like it more than 'Sister Ray' because it's less chaotic and has an actual structure, as well as lots and lots and lots of lyrics you can get lost in a la Bob Dylan, right to the very end. At the present time, to my tired ears it sounds like a moronic self-parody - there's nothing even vaguely stately, solemn or fearsome about it, and the trademark paranoid fit looks pretty unconvincing. It might have been a big "fuck you" to the fans of younger Nick; or it might have been a lame, unsuccessful attempt at recapturing the vibe of younger Nick; or it might be something that escapes me. Either way, it shouldn't have dragged for fourteen minutes.

Other than that, the only angry rocker on the record is 'Dead Man In My Bed' - and that's a good one, lads. Almost looks like he's fulfilling an obligation - sitting there all lonely amidst the "softies" - but it's one hell of a fulfillment. It's the classic Cavian wall of sound: like I said, Blixa's trills might be all too recognizable and predictable, but when they're paired with the roaring organ and you're standing there right in the middle of this tornado, there's hardly any time to ponder that. It's only when the storm is over and the lazyass lounge chords of 'Still In Love' wash away all the wreck that you start wondering why the hell couldn't he offer us a few more of these natural disasters. ('Babe I'm On Fire' just doesn't count for me). Such a tease, that Nick.

I don't want to say that all the slow songs on here suck. Nope. But you see, Boatman's Call could boast the novelty of introducing to us the "clean" Nick Cave, regardless of whether we were ready to accept his cleanness or not; and No More... managed to give a newly-found sharpness, desperation, and depth to this "clean" look. Nocturama is nowhere near as sharp, and doesn't have nearly as many moments of catharsis - returning us to the smoother edges of Boatman's Call, but this time, without the novelty effect. It's clearly a regress, and the only laudable thing about it is that, hey, if Nick started rolling in a backwards direction, does that mean we get Murder Ballads Vol. 2 anytime soon? Cool!

I do like 'Wonderful Life'. It's not just slow, but it is hypnotizing and has a slight tinge of sarcasm to its bitterness - 'it's a wonderful life', Nick says, and after a slight pause adds, '...if you can find it'. The trick of singing "superficially" optimistic lyrics in a morose, disillusioned sort of voice doesn't always work, but here, it certainly does. The one hook that gets me every time is how he sings 'if you can find it' twice - first, in a higher register, with a touch of hope to it, and then in a lower register, with a touch of "broken dream" to it. That's what a great vocal hook is all about: recreating a moment of intense emotional dynamics. The rest of the song may pass me by, but this moment stays, and the goal is achieved.

Other than that, there's yet another one of those haunting piano lines and those catchy choruses in 'He Wants You'; the lazy, but endearing pace of 'Right Out Of Your Hand', Nick at his most openly romantic on the entire album; and particularly 'Bring It On', the album's loudest track after 'Dead Man' and 'Babe I'm On Fire', but this time, not in a paranoid, but rather in an anthemic manner. Along with 'Dead Man...', I think it's the only tune that really deserves "classic" status on here: once again, Nick has found a winning combination, although a combination of what is hard for me to say - it looks like Blixa and violinist Warren Ellis are both battling like mad in the background when Nick shouts out his majestic chorus, but it might be just several overdubbed violin parts as well. Actually, I keep forgetting to have a special mention for Ellis, which is hardly justified: he actually plays a more important part on this album than Blixa does, and while I can't count myself happy with this change of preferences (and probably, neither could Blixa), I gotta admit the guy is good - and manages to salvage even some of the most obvious filler like 'She Passed By My Window'. Although a few of the other songs, like 'Rock Of Gibraltar', are so unbearably straightforward and uninteresting, that not even the violin improves the situation.

All in all, this isn't a bad record, but look at the rating and it turns out it's his worst one in, what, almost twenty years? Well, actually, I'd say it's not nearly as interesting as From Her To Eternity either, which simply makes it the worst Nick Cave record ever. Count this as either a warning or a compliment. It goes without saying that if you dearly dearly loved every single song on the previous two records, this one's obviously for you. And when you've got a guy of such an immense artistic magnitude, you know, I'd frankly be scared to seriously put forward the proposition that Mr Cave has finally 'jumped the shark', as they say. But I cannot exclude this either - we're just gonna have to wait. But no more fourteen-minute epics, please! This ain't no filthy 1967 NYC basement, you know!



Year Of Release: 2004

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12



Track listing: CD I: 1) Get Ready For Love; 2) Cannibal's Hymn; 3) Hiding All Away; 4) Messiah Ward; 5) There She Goes My Beautiful World; 6) Nature Boy; 7) Abattoir Blues; 8) Let The Bells Ring; 9) Fable Of The Brown Ape.

CD II: 1) The Lyre Of Orpheus; 2) Breathless; 3) Babe You Turn Me On; 4) Easy Money; 5) Supernaturally; 6) Spell; 7) Carry Me; 8) O Children.

This sure corrects Nocturama. Long, scary, lovely, and goshdarn but is it ever SOOOOO well written. Song after song of terrific Cave material. I'm in heaven.

This time, the gimmick is... well, yeah, gimmick # 1 is not plastering Nick's mug all over the album sleeve, which, you must admit, is certainly a novel approach. Gimmick # 2 is issuing the album in that special wanky format where it can't be read on your PC. (Fortunately, I managed to bypass it - don't ask me how or I might be in trouble). But the most important gimmick is going through all of the material, separating it into two somewhat distinct categories and releasing sort of a two-CD, one-package double-album thingie. Abattoir Blues is, as evidenced by the name, the "rough" part; Lyre Of Orpheus is, as equally evidenced by the name, the "sissy" part. That doesn't mean CD 1 is all gritty rockers and CD 2 is all dark piano ballads. They occasionally intersect. Wouldn't be as interesting, see, if it were that simple. And you don't look for simple solutions from somebody who uses the words "abattoir" and "gulag" in his lyrics with the same easiness that AC/DC use the expression "to ball your thing".

This is, nevertheless, a mere neutral statement of fact. Now, is there any subjectively good news for us? Well, rejoice all ye who have thought Nick was never the same after Murder Ballads - a big part of the old Nick is back. The lyrics on here are probably the best he's written in years, and when married to the music, occasionally amount to the same ironic heights he used to reach a decade ago, and occasionally sink to the same levels of despair he used to wallow in during said period.

Don't look any further than the opening and closing tracks for proof. The very first track, 'Get Ready For Love', on which (as well as on several others) Nick is backed by the London Community Gospel Choir, no less, kicks in with a blast, louder than loud and faster than fast, with Mick Harvey eager to prove that he can nicely work for himself and for that other guy as well - but the quirkiest thing about the track is that it's essentially a gospel track, and, what's more, a blasphemous gospel track. 'Praise Him till you've forgotten what you're praising Him for, then praise Him a little bit more', sings Nick in between spewing out lyrics that float somewhere in between anti-organized religion, anti-social immorality, and anti-God himself. The track gives the impression of a psychopath's reaction on being fed too much religious propaganda (which, granted, would probably be a normal reaction for anybody forced to watch one of those American revival channels for more than twenty minutes) - and, if we consider the general rise of neo-conservatism everywhere, certainly has Cave properly rising to the occasion.

And then when you get to the end of the Orpheus part, you also meet up with gospel - slow this time, slow, stately, Cave-way solemn, and overtly pessimistic, because, after all, the song seems to be about leaving our fucked-up world for the next generation in order for it to fuck it up some more. Well, that's only part of the interpretation, but the important thing is, again there's this gospel choir - 'o children, lift up your voice, children, rejoice, rejoice!' - only this time irony mixes with sorrow instead of anger and madness. However, even during the most sorrowful moments the hooks are not forgotten, and the way the gospel pleading '...childreeeen!' grows out of the disturbingly well-modulated 'ooooh, ooooh, oooooh' chanting is genius.

A massive, overwhelming affair for sure. After this album, Nick Cave can safely retire because AB/LO works well both as a "swan song" and as a major compendium of all the sides of Nick Cave. (Not that I feel he will retire - if he's still got something similar in store for us, I wouldn't want him to - but, you know, just in case there's a brick falling down on him tomorrow, this is as magnificent as it gets in the way of musical testaments). What's more, these days I rarely get so thrilled by any albums from first listen, yet the Abattoir Blues half at least got me hooked from the first moment I saw it (the Orpheus part took some getting used to, but that's the way it goes with slow moody pieces).

There's just so much cool material here. 'Hiding All Away', for instance. First it impresses you with its clanging rhythms which are all the more surprising now that you know for sure that Blixa Bargeld is no longer there. Then it transforms into a rather nonsensical Dylanesque storyline that sort of goes nowhere and threatens to bore you - but then Nick starts throwing in these massive big-boom-banging interludes that kick the song into Apocalypse gear. And then, when you've almost given up, the completely unexpected conclusion - 'THERE IS A WAR COMING!'. Presto-changeo, the song becomes actual, important, insightful, and hard-hitting. It made zilch sense two minutes ago, scared you shitless one minute ago and now it's, what, a 'Gimmie Shelter' for the year 2004?..

Or 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World'. How often did... wait a minute, I just did a brief search on this page and the word "funk" never popped up even once. Weird, actually. The jerky-scrapey funk pattern would work quite nicely with Nick's overall paranoid approach, so we'll probably just have to assume that Blixa Bargeld wasn't much of a funk fan. But maybe now that Harvey takes all the guitar reins, we'll hear more of this in the future. It's not the funky rhythm, though, that makes the song unbeatable: it's, once again, the buildup, and the contrast between Nick's nervous 'I just want to move the world, I just want to move the world' mantra, on one hand, and the stately 'there she goes, my beautiful world!' response from the gospel choir. And even if the lyrics do occasionally read like an excerpt from some "Great People for Dummies" anthology, how can you deny a line like 'St John of the Cross did his best stuff imprisoned in a box'?

On the second disc, 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' sounds like a bizarre outtake from Murder Ballads (and I wouldn't be surprised, you know). The song doesn't have any special meaning except for the obvious - demonstrating Nick's passion for breaking cliches and deconstructing tradition (no spoilers for youse, except that the song offers a very liberal reading of the Orpheus/Eurydice story, you know), all the while placing it within the format of something very traditional; this time it's the format of yer good olde prison song, I guess (don't you think that naggin' 'O Mamma' refrain would work wonders for the rock breaking process?). But when I was digging Murder Ballads, did I yearn for any special meaning? I did not. Neither do I now.

Besides, if you're looking for something non-ironic, something stuffed with prime quality melancholia without being defiled by sarcasm, two words: Help Yourself. This is a compendium - there's plenty for everyone. The Orpheus disc will suit you nicely if you're a Boatman Call-style person yourself. How about 'Carry Me', for instance, and its clever "simulation" of floating, 'struggling' water by the string section? It's rendered like a psalm, obscure, but heartfelt, with the gospel choir adding sheer extra beauty. Or just a little bit of gentle romanticism on 'Spell' - you got it, although the song's not my favourite (there's actually a little bit of a dry spell for me in the middle of Orpheus, broken up by the majesty of 'Easy Money', though). Or, going back to Abattoir Blues, "minor" highlights like the folksy complaints of 'Messiah Ward' or the straightforward pop of 'Nature Boy'. It's all yours.

I am a little bit amazed at this incredible proficiency - Nick is currently the only veteran rocker I know who can boast three albums (one of them "double" like this) in the XXIst century, and two of them at least of such high quality. This does come at an expense: no matter how many praise Cave is getting for this, he is no longer pushing forward boundaries - not in major ways, at least, because in terms of minor technical achievement, you certainly cannot disregard the Gospel Choir contributions, for instance. But neither really is Tom Waits (whose offering for the year 2004 is every bit as good as Nick's), and he, too, used to be in the front rows of the avantgarde people (oh, 'scuse me for the tautology). Well - they have every right not to be. You try pushing these rotten boundaries at least half as far as these guys without a siesta, we'll see where it takes you. Besides, Nick is one of those few people who can at the same time work within a set formula and stretch its borders as wide as is allowed... well, at least by the length of his arms. And he sure has got long arms.


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