One wouldn't suspect that a group with as innocuous a name as Boys Next Door were fated to become the legendary psycho rock outfit The Birthday Party, yet despite this misleading nomenclature Nick Cave's first ensemble were a far cry from the wholesome act suggested by their moniker.
Composed of a cadre of youths who voluntarily shed the trappings of their relatively patrician lifestyles in favor of immersing themselves in the minutia of the slums of Australia, Boys Next Door were a post-punk band (an admittedly nebulous term that doesn't really mean anything) who made a name for themselves thanks to their manic live performances and edgy personas. However, their idiosyncratic identity isn't fully reflected in their first and only album, Door, Door, much to the chagrin of the band members themselves.
Door, Door is comprised of cuts from two separate recording sessions, and unsurprisingly given that it was the record company that was in charge of the track selection process the album emphasizes the group's more immediately accessible, poppy side. The band were vocally dissatisfied with the final product, feeling that a large part of their identity had been excised from the recording, and indeed the album lacks the inspired dementia and delightfully atonal onslaught that would characterize their later work as The Birthday Party.
This isn't to say that Door, Door is bereft of the more tenebrous side of the band; while it may not evoke the ever-present sense of danger that was infused into their less mainstream fare, the band's debut is a far cry from a harmless pop album. Whether it be the ominous, unnerving tone of Dive Position or the inherent darkness of I Mistake Myself, the group could never be mistaken for a sanitized, fangless pop act, far too steeped in their defiantly unconventional style, watered down as it may be.
Whether or not the band's identity was diluted for public consumption, what's most important is the fact that Door, Door is a highly entertaining product. The songwriting is strong throughout, primarily manifesting itself in the form of a procession of catchy, inventive riffs. Tracks like Friends Of My World are stellar rockers with enough personality and intelligence to differentiate themselves from the veritable armada of interchangeable rock anthems that oversaturate the modern music scene.
The album has a very raw, unpolished feel that augments the charmingly chaotic character of the LP, and while it may be more restrained than on the band's later output the entire record has a fresh, spontaneous nature that makes the music all the more compelling.
Not every track succeeds; the band's most commercially successful, well known song and album closer Shivers is actually rather bland when contrasted again the eccentric parade that precedes it, something that can largely be attributed to the fact that Cave doesn't have a hand in writing that one, delegating the responsibility to other members. For the most part, though, each song has something to recommend it, be it the already mentioned superb riffs or Cave's swift development as a vocalist.
Thus Door, Door is a highly accomplished album that paved the way for the group's transformation into The Birthday Party. While it may seem tame when compared to the group's subsequent fare, the material on Door, Door is still sufficiently distinctive to distinguish Boys Next Door from lesser bands, while the caliber of the songwriting is already strong enough to provide a solid foundation for the band's future endeavors. Whether or not it's Birthday Party lite the album is still immensely entertaining, and thus it's a pity that Door, Door has been consigned to nearly total obscurity even amongst fans of Cave's other projects.
Nick Cave wasn't always the dark singer-songwriter with an unhealthy Bergmanesque fixation with death; the prologue of his career was a gig as frontman for the Australian psycho-rock outfit the Birthday Party.
By psycho-rock I don't mean the whimsical or playful variety pioneered by Syd Barrett and Gong; I'm referring to psycho-rock of a much more menacing, unsettling nature.
Cave fully enmeshes himself in his role as the orator for this psychosis, alternately shouting, screeching and barking his vocals when called upon to do so. He fully matches the uncontrolled wildness of the music, and his performance provides a fascinating contrast to his subsequent comparative restraint in his solo career.
The Birthday Party's strength was to cultivate a chaotic cacophony, a veritable musical tempest, and manage to fashion it into something coherent and catchy, while remaining perpetually on the brink of a collapse into utter entropy.
This catchiness primarily manifests itself in the form of an armada of exceptional riffs, and a constant juxtaposition of various musical ideas and fragments. The album is extremely energetic, with the group tossing every idea they had into one melting pot. This frenzied approach works well for a group of this nature, and more often than not their ideas work.
Hee-Haw itself isn't really an album per se; rather, it's a collection of the band's early output, containing various singles, rarities, and the group's first EP from which the album derives its name. Despite its cobbled together nature the album feels like a cohesive whole, as the group abstained from any notable diversity at this point lending the album a rather uniform sound. Each song is good, but none really stand out; individual moments of inspiration stand out more than the tracks they're contained in, such as Cave's dog impression in Happy Birthday.
The formula remains static; one or more riffs, some chaotic jamming and Cave's psychotic vocal delivery. The formula works for the band, however, and in the end they'd never evolve much beyond it. But the album is extremely enjoyable; by no means should the group be dismissed as an immature project before the true Cave emerged.
The Birthday Party's peak and most legitimate claim to artistic relevance. The formula is the same, naturally, but with several key signs of progression and expansion over their previous work.
Firstly, some much needed diversity is injected into the proceedings. There are no major deviations, but there are fluxuations in speed, structure, style and tone, and that's more than could be said of Hee-Haw.
More importantly, the songs themselves are more fleshed out and developed, sounding less like a collection of raw ideas grafted to one another and more like well thought out, coherent songs.
The album is still deeply dependent on riffs for structure and memorability, but the songs have more substance to them, with better vocal melodies, more structure and superior instrumentation.
The band have also learned how to better exploit their psychotic persona, with more wonderful, striking moments depicting their distinctive brand of madness, like the 'well fish can swim' refrain of Cry and the disturbing 'insect/incest' intro to Nick The Stripper. The group's psychotic identity was an important aspect of what made them engaging, and it's good to see that they learned to better use that image as the quality of their songwriting improved.
Every track is good, and more importantly each track has its own identity; the demon of interchangeability has been exorcised, as the band finds something unique to include in each song.
As I said, the formula is still largely the same, but this time the band's taken their innate strengths and added some extra depth to them. Their sound has been tightened and refined without compromising its chaotic nature and the band is still at a high in the riff generating department.
On the whole, this album portrays everything the group has to offer, and at their very best at that. It packs more hooks, memorability, personality and diversity into it than any other Birthday Party album while retaining the signature sound they started off with. Any flaws inherent to the Birthday Party formula are corrected here.
This is the album to buy if you only plan on getting one Birthday Party album (not that you should limit yourself to one), to permanently dispel the myth that they're a mere novelty group. This album displays a group with a unique, compelling sound, accomplished songwriting, tremendous personality and abundant hooks; in no way is it something to be dismissed or diminished.
Prayers On Fire represented the pinnacle of the Birthday Party sound, and whenever a group reaches such a milestone they're faced with a difficult dilemma: do they continue to milk this goldmine with a procession of thinly veiled rehashes, thus chancing early stagnation, or do they attempt to develop their sound in new and interesting ways, running the gambit of marring an already perfect sound?
The Birthday Party chose the latter and all of the myriad potential benefits and likely repercussions inherent to that decision. First of all, the band decided that they should rock more; not a bad choice, but it came with a price. Ironically the 'development' that transpires on this album sounds more like regression, as the music becomes increasingly raw and primitive, with fewer ideas and more repetition. The creativity that was ubiquitous on its predecessor is slowly evaporating, and much of the music is eclipsed by a threatening, violent tone that looms over the album, to both good and bad effect.
The band's specialty had been precariously dangling on the edge of dissonance; on this album they all too often take that plunge. Headache inducing dissonance arises on many of the tracks, and while its purpose is clear the band never needed to rely on that kind of amelodic noise production before. Dissonance is never welcome, and it often gets in the way of the real melodies of the songs.
The darker, more aggressive tone that I alluded to before can be quite effective and is one of the greatest strengths of the album; however, it's often used as an excuse to engage in dissonant jamming and grow lax on the songwriting front.
That's not to say that the album's devoid of melodies; had that been the case it would never have received such a high grade. There are, as always, a plethora of cool, catchy riffs, often enhanced by the more intense, angry, violent feel. Every song has at least something going on musically, even if it's overshadowed by dissonant interludes or diluted by repetition. Moreover, when the melodies are strong, as they often are, they're far more rocking than before, which compounds their enjoyability.
This is a case of a great new sound advancing while the songwriting remains dormant. The psychosis of old has acquired an even darker, more frightening edge, the material rocks with a monstrous intensity not found in their previous output and a raw, viscerally penetrating production accentuates the disturbing atmosphere.
But all this comes at the expense of the melodies. Pairing their psychosis with strong melodies was always the band's strength, and their neglect of the latter duty in favor of embracing their new sound causes this album to suffer. There're still more than enough riffs and melodies to make for a highly enjoyable listen, and it's admirable that they didn't churn out a PoF clone; plus, the new sound really works. Still, this is a step backwards, albeit a deeply entertaining one.
The unthinkable happened; the Birthday Party toned down their flamboyant style. And where some groups will attain greater success through the adaptation of their style to a more mainstream approach, the Birthday Party couldn't have made a greater mistake.
The Birthday Party's strength was their chaotic excess, and stripped of this far too often they sound like a generic Goth group, an allegation that could never have been made before. Tracks like Jennifer's Veil evoke images of a nightclub where a young poet clad in black recites pretentious verses to a finger-snapping crowd; Nick Cave's entire solo career was centered around elevating him far above that fashionably morbid scene, and it's depressing to see him reduced to this.
The song naturally drags, which leads to another central problem; the album (well, it's really two EP's and a few bonus tracks) is completely enervated, devoid of either the chaotic energy of PoF or the violent adrenaline of Junkyard. This is a critical flaw, as in the past the group was always sustained by their unique energy, and without it everything just melts together into one never ending dirge.
This is exacerbated by a serious diminishment in the quality of the songwriting. Far too often they rely on atmosphere alone with some generic minimalist instrumentation as accompaniment; worse, sometimes they pull the music completely into the background and allow Cave to embark on one of his desultory, melodramatic, tenebrous narratives that seem to continue endlessly until they lull the listener into a stupor while they long for his solo albums by which point he's actually become a good lyricist who only occasionally relies on shock value (see Murder Ballads, where he goes so far with it that it's actually not a problem).
If this was the direction the Birthday Party was heading in then it's probably for the best that they disbanded after this. The Birthday Party minus the energy, minus the unrestrained chaos and minus the array of catchy riffs simply doesn't amount to much but a pale shadow of their former selves. No one needed yet another stereotypical Goth group in the 80's, and groups like Siouxxsie And The Banshees already had that niche covered with a far better approach to the genre. The Birthday Party were of no use to anyone in this form, and had they continued in this rut then perhaps Cave's blossoming career would have ended up stillborn, with no room for the progression that was necessary.
If you're a Cave fan curious about his infamous 'other' group, then head directly to PoF. While this album indeed contains some of the roots of his early Bad Seeds material, they have yet to be refined to a form where they're truly worth anything. The Birthday Party were at their best when they were more like themselves and less like solo Nick Cave; they were never really equipped for the latter, which is why their breakup was inevitable, but they had more than enough of their own strengths to compensate for it.
The Birthday Party had provided an excellent, unrestricted forum in which Cave could hone his skills and progress as a songwriter, but eventually his maturation exceeded its limitations, and when he attempted to redirect the group in accordance with his newly discovered strengths it ended in disaster, compromising the band's image and yielding material that was trapped in some nebulous limbo between the Birthday Party's output and what Cave had envisioned.
Ergo Cave set out on his own, recruited a new backing group, christened them the Bad Seeds after his erstwhile band's final EP and began recording new material, material that would in many respects succeed in the areas in which his final Birthday Party contributions had failed.
FHTE is a minimalist minor masterpiece, coupling a spare, haunting sound with Cave's increasingly intelligent lyrical prowess. The darkness feels genuine and sincere, unlike the artificial manufactured variety that marred M/tBS. The pared down approach lends the album an intimate feel, and it's indeed far more emotionally penetrating than the Birthday Party ever were.
There're two covers, Leonard Cohen's Avalanche and Elvis's In The Ghetto, the former sincere and the other presumably ironic. Both work, though, and in the case of the latter it serves as a respite from the disturbing landscape of Cave's musical vision.
Highlights include the infamous title track and the haunting classic Well Of Misery, though the material is very consistent, each track relying on a minimalist percussive backing over which Cave intones a happy medium between his Birthday Party psychosis and conventional singing. This formula works well, save in the case of the album's worst track, A Box For Black Paul, a song with no discernible melody that drags on through a seemingly endless running time.
The album is certainly a successful debut, though, establishing Cave's independent strengths, thus severing his ties with his previous group, and laying down a solid foundation for future progression. Aside from the aforementioned instance of criminal self-indulgence the album is a dark, compelling listen, achieving much through very little.
Cave's second outing with the Bad Seeds is already a huge progression over the first; this isn't to say that there're any drastic alterations to the formula, it's merely a dramatic refinement to the somewhat raw style employed in the debut.
Nearly every aspect of the sound is improved upon. The rhythms are tighter and more focused, the lyrics continue to improve by leaps and bounds, more attention is paid to melody and structure and the atmosphere is more concentrated and potent.
Blues overtones are heavily assimilated into the sound, a natural choice given the already minimalist nature of Cave's work. These blues connotations help ground the music, giving them more structure and inhibiting Cave from embarking upon any of his usual dissonant, psychotic tangents. This makes the album feel more normal, but not in a bad way; if anything it makes for a more serious, mature and artistically valid listen.
The sound is rather uniform, but that's a given at this stage in Cave's career, and it lends cohesiveness to the album. The relative normalcy makes it easier to relate to, resulting in a more emotional, intimate listen.
Tupelo is a deserved classic, with its striking sparse arrangement, intriguing lyrics and haunting calls of 'Tupelo' that are guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. That Cave is able to take a song of such stark minimalism and turn it into a powerful epic is a true sentiment to his genius, even this early in his career.
By no means does Tupelo overshadow the other material, however. Every song has something to offer, and more importantly each track justifies its elongated running time (not that a few more tracks on the album would've hurt).
The Birthday Party's The Six Strings That Drew Blood works far better in this context, showing Cave's mastery of a style that was simply incompatible with his former group. Knockin' On Joe is devastating, and Wanted Man uses blues lyrical clichés to strong effect, making them his own.
Every song is good, with no misfires like A Box For Black Paul to mar the overall effect. This is a very self-assured album, with Cave developing a voice that he's truly comfortable with. He's fully bifurcated himself from the Birthday Party, perceiving the differences between their style and his, and deciding what he wants for himself. This album is his first to be completely devoid of their influence, and that makes for an album with a more whole, undistracted identity.
Certainly an enigmatic decision. Cave finally establishes his own musical identity so he releases an album solely composed of covers. A mystifying direction for his career, and one that could've proven disastrous. An homage to one's influences is certainly understandable, but what singer-songwriter releases a third solo album that's wholly devoid of originals?
Fortunately, the album works, and works brilliantly. These aren't just covers; they're covers that only Nick Cave could do. He adapts every song to the Bad Seeds style without ever compromising or distorting the song's essence. He always respects the artist's intention but never fails to infuse his own identity into the material. You will never forget that this is a Nick Cave album; he is never lost in the proceedings.
The exceptional track selection certainly helps as well. There's everything from Muddy Waters to Velvet Underground to John Lee Hooker to the covered-to-death-but-another-one-never-hurts Hey Joe. Every song is highly conducive to the Bad Seed treatment, and it's fascinating to hear Cave explore his greatest influences.
These are the definition of what covers should be. They're not so faithful that they're ultimately superfluous, and they're not bastardizations that pervert the essence of the originals. They faithfully present the substance of the songs while putting their own stamp on them, interpreting the material in a new and interesting way that's not at the expense of the originals.
Every song is extremely enjoyable, and it's fascinating hearing these classics be transfigured into the Bad Seeds style. There are no bad choices for covers, and there are no bad performances; as a cover album this is as flawless as they come. Cave obviously understands the material fully, and really seems to be in his element filtering them through his unique style.
This is truly a Nick Cave album, and could only be a Nick Cave album. These are covers that have a reason to exist, and perhaps even a need to exist. It's by no means a disappointment or bad career move, and makes for an intriguing entry in the Cave catalogue.
A further progression; not necessarily from a qualitative standpoint, but rather in that Cave continues to establish a unique voice and sound for himself, further fleshing out his ideas and giving the music a fuller sound. He takes more chances here, and by and large succeeds, even if there are a few moments of dubious merit (the somewhat overblown erotic nightmare Hard On For Love, which disrupts the flow of the album).
There are some classic Cave moments on here, such as the haunting The Carney, in which Cave icily relates a tenebrous tale over chilling, ominous carnivalesque instrumental backings.
This is only one example of Cave trying something different. While tFiD was exceptionally strong, it was also somewhat conservative, with each song sounding alike and creating a similar mood. On YF…MT Cave begins to diversify his sound while remaining squarely in the realm of his established personality, injecting moments of catharsis inducing majestic beauty (the title track and Sad Waters), experimenting with eerie unconventional instrumentation (the aforementioned The Carney) and even veering dangerously close to performing a genuine rock song (Long Time Man).
These deviations from his traditional course make for a more diverse, satisfying listen. The atmosphere is by and large as static and funereal as ever, but Cave approaches this bleakness in different ways, finding more filters to convey it through and adding more dimensions to it.
By adding moments of beauty to contrast the darkness with Cave adds a whole other spectrum of emotions to his work, hitting harder emotionally than when he relied on his relentless onslaught of bleakness. By adding more sides to his sound Cave is able to better develop each, and the darkness of The Carney is rendered all the more potent by the inclusion of moments of transcendent majesty like Sad Waters.
On each album Cave becomes more and more himself. Whereas tFiD featured Cave's brand of dark, striking minimalism it still exhibited only a few sides of his personality. On YF…MT more and more aspects of Cave's nightmarish vision are realized, with macabre vignettes like The Carney displaying that more and more of his morbid imagination is being translated directly into music.
Cave's masterpiece. Where YF…MT depicted Cave beginning to expand his musical horizons, Tender Prey shows him fully explore them, coupling an increased diversity with a revolution in songwriting. Cave's songwriting skills have improved immeasurably, and the term 'songwriting' itself now has new connotation, extending beyond an endlessly looping rhythmic groove repeating itself in the background for the duration of the song. Real melodies are evident, including more vocal hooks than ever, with Cave finally singing many of the lyrics rather than chanting, grunting, reciting or shrieking them as he had been apt to do.
The Mercy Seat is probably in my top ten songs of all time list; many rock songs have been written about the electric chair, usually would-be shocking heavy metal like Metallica's Ride The Lightning that try to frighten the squeamish with their sensationalistic lyrics. The Mercy Seat is nothing like that, containing true visceral and intellectual potency that the forced nihilism of Metallica could never muster. With killer vocal hooks, a constantly mutating refrain and a perpetual onslaught of driving dark energy slamming into the listener this is the ultimate Nick Cave song; it's Cave at his darkest, his most melodic and his most intellectually provocative. It's a long song, but it hits so hard and fast that it seems to only last a couple of minutes.
No other song ascends to that level, but nearly all are brilliant. Up Jumped The Devil mixes some welcome black humor with another strong, moody melody; Deanna is the Bad Seeds' version of a pop song, which is obviously nothing like an actual one and is all the better for that fact; Watching Alice is a return to haunting minimalism; Mercy is an emotionally devastating veiled account of Cave's drug addiction; City Of Refuge is an old blues number transfigured into a dark, catchy anthem; Slowly Goes The Night is softer, which is not to say lighter; Sunday's Slave is slow and brooding; Sugar Sugar Sugar is a bass driven rocker and New Morning is the moment of release from the never ending night of the album, most likely meant ironically.
This is a perfect marriage of all encompassing darkness with clever, catchy melodies. Only through this maturation as a songwriter could Cave fully convey his bleak vision; without its killer melody The Mercy Seat would only retain a fraction of its potency. Darkness alone could not suffice; Cave always needed his dark ruminations to be grounded by memorable melodies, and thus it's natural that his peak as a songwriter is his artistic peak as well.
Nick Cave enjoyed a productive relationship with Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat, resulting in such fruitful collaborations as The Proposition (which Cave wrote the screenplay to, as well as providing the soundtrack for) and To Have And To Hold (for which Cave simply composed the soundtrack); Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead was their first joint effort, however, an Australian prison film starring Cave himself. Unsurprisingly he elected to compose the soundtrack as well, flanked by fellow Bad Seeds Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld.
As one would suspect from a nihilistic, profoundly disturbing prison film, the soundtrack is largely composed of industrial music, so naturally Bargeld, more so than his collaborators, is fully in his element, translating his expertise in the genre courtesy of his own band Einsturzende Neubauten into cold, sterile haunting soundscapes that adroitly evoke the feel of a chthonic maximum security prison.
Unfortunately, while highly atmospheric and doubtlessly a major asset for the film, these nightmarish aural panoramas aren't terribly conducive toward entertaining a listener; the album only boasts a modicum of passages that can ever be called 'music,' and the few halfway melodic moments that arise are repeated ad nauseam, resulting in a terminally monotonous experience.
Worse yet, the album is largely devoted to passages of dialogue from the movie, even further diminishing the amount of space devoted to actual music. While the soundtrack doesn't lend itself toward repeat listens in the first place, these monologues dispel any chance the album had at achieving long term value.
The cold, clinical industrial music grows wearying remarkably quickly, and even the passages that don't completely rehash earlier numbers still conform to precisely the same style, rendering them poor candidates for infusing a measure of diversity into the album and thus alleviating one's chronic boredom.
The only musical track that deviates from the industrial paradigm is Lilly's Theme (A Touch Of Warmth), a wholly incongruous instrumental that, while it achieves the intended stylistic contrast, would nonetheless be far more worthwhile if it wasn't so maddeningly generic and predictable.
The only vocals present on the soundtrack are some la-la's that arrive courtesy of some anonymous females backup singer, a poor (though expected) decision given that Cave's vocals could have gone a long way toward making the music more dynamic and compelling.
Ultimately, while the album presumably works brilliantly in its intended function as a soundtrack, as an independent listening experience it's decidedly underwhelming, filled with tracks that can scarcely be called 'music' accompanied by tracks that don't even profess to be 'music' (namely the snatches of dialogue). Thus as an album Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead can be recommended to completists only, a product that never transcends its status as background music, bereft of any standout number like The Proposition's The Rider Song to snap the listener out of their vacant stupor.
The absolute right decision for Cave. In TP he took his old formula as far as it could go, and in fact it was the culmination of years of arduous progression. Having reached the peak he was forced to decide if he wanted to trivialize all those years of development by forcing out a thinly veiled regurgitation of TP or whether he was ready for a radical departure. When the Birthday Party attempted to reinvent themselves it ended in disaster; was Cave ready to succeed where his prior band had failed?
As I said at the beginning, he certainly was. This is an album of unparalleled beauty, a gorgeous soundscape with a parade of cathartic climaxes. When the Birthday Party went soft it dispelled their edge; Cave, however, was never just about volume or distortion, he was about evocative minimalism and intelligent lyrics, and those make the sonic transition intact.
The Weeping Song is the quintessential number of the album. It's a depressing song, but not in the sentimental lost-love tearjerker sense; this is genuine, undiluted sorrow, of a resonance that his erstwhile dark image would prohibit. Like nearly every other track on the album it's a song of devastating beauty, and when coupled with songs like Sorrow's Child it begins to suggested that this is a concept album centered around depression. That could be said of practically any Cave album, but in this case it's depression taken in the grief sense of the word, rather than the edgier suicidal anguish he usually depicted.
Thankfully there are some oases for the emotionally depleted listener. The Hammer Song is just as pessimistic and hopeless as every other song, but it's ultra catchy, faster, harder and edgier style makes for a nice change of pace after the procession of slow, haunting ballads.
By writing such an earnest, emotionally transparent album he's in effect provided a cleansing experience after the relentless darkness of TP. This album is just as dark, and perhaps in some respects even darker, but it deals with its darkness in a more emotional way, rather than with the cool detachment Cave's known for.
This album hits harder emotionally than nearly any other. Its variety of minimalist beauty penetrates much deeper than the usual over arranged attempts at sonic nirvana, and this is beauty with a much, much deeper meaning. It makes the perfect complement with TP, kind of as two sides of the same coin; it needn't be stated that they're both must-owns for any Cave fans, and really any rock fans at all.
Having achieved a sort of cathartic redemption through tGS, Cave reverts to exploring more familiar territory, with more tenebrous vignettes and haunting tableaus, all suffused with a pervasive dreamlike quality that's central to the album's concept and theme.
The album hardly breaks new ground for Cave; rather, it's merely an exercise in what he does best, albeit with a nod to the past (the Birthday Party-like Jack The Ripper) and a harbinger of the future (John Finn's Wife, which would fit in perfectly on Murder Ballads).
The album also elects to largely abstain from employing electric guitars, content with acoustics, even for the more rocking numbers. Reminiscent of the Who's electric neglect on Tommy, this decision actually works well, with the acoustic dominance never seeming out of place or diluting the potency of the rockers.
Highlights include the opener Papa Won't Leave You Henry, a Cave classic with a booming, catchy chorus and plentiful vocal hooks, and Brother My Cup Is Empty, with infectious verses and a chilling sense of desperation.
Every track is good, however, be it the minimalist Christina The Astonishing, the most maligned track on the album, or the moving ballad Straight To You. Cave's songwriting remains at an all-time high, and re-exploring familiar territory only serves to enhance it further.
Having by this point completely developed his image, Cave is free to do what he does best; he understands his strengths and limitations, and works accordingly. While this makes for an album with few surprises, and one that can't hope to match his peak output like TP or tGS where he took more chances, it makes for an extremely well crafted, consistent listen, a tight, focused affair, filled with haunting melodies and intelligent, enthralling lyrics.
The main draw of live albums tends to be an either real or imagined increase in freedom, as if the artist in question has been liberated from the shackles of self-restraint imposed by studio conservatism. Groups that rock hard are expected to rock harder, and intense artists are expected to be all the more intense.
Whether these are reasonable expectations is debatable, but it does put rock artists like Nick Cave in something of an awkward position. Cave has never been known to shy away from a full-force approach, in or out of the studio. Barring a total regression to the ferocious insanity of The Birthday Party, there's little that Cave can do to up the ante with regards to intensity or aggression, a reality that's apt to disappoint fans in search of an 'unchained' Nick Cave.
If one can accept this very basic fact, however, they'll find that Live Seeds is quite an impressive live album. The performances are skillful, Cave's in top form as a vocalist, and the set-list, while offering few surprises, is still beyond reproach.
The album was recorded shortly after the release of Henry's Dream, so naturally the bulk of the tracks are culled from that release and its two immediate predecessors, Tender Prey and The Good Son. There are also a few evergreens thrown in, like Tupelo and From Her To Eternity, along with one unexpected bonus in the form of Plain Gold Ring.
The tracks are uniformly strong, if not dramatic departures from their original versions. The Mercy Seat, while naturally inferior to the studio rendition, still retains much of its power, and is sufficiently different from the original that it can stand on its own as a highly impressive accomplishment. It's a pity that it was so drastically abridged, and its arrangements are far more simplified and streamlined, but this new approach has its merits as well. The song may not be as chaotic as the studio cut, but there's a certain subtle, understated power and menace in its direct, concise method that may not match the intensity and potency of the original but still preserves all of the essential elements that make The Mercy Seat not only Cave's finest hour but one of the absolute greatest songs of all time.
The strongest track, however, is Papa Won't Leave You Henry, one of the few songs to truly benefit from the addition of live energy. While the song always rocked, its ferocity reaches a fever pitch in this environment, a glorious moment when all of the clichés about the power of live albums become undisputed facts.
Plain Gold Ring is indeed a surprise, and quite a welcome one at that. The song is primarily a minimalist ballad, but is most notable for its sudden, unexpected explosion into sonic carnage around midway through, a chaotic crescendo that recalls The Birthday Party at their most destructive. The song was already quite good, but this aural eruption is one of the most memorable moments on the album.
Truly there are no weak cuts on the album. Ballads are generally considered ill-suited for a live environment, but tracks like The Ship Song and The Weeping Song manage to retain much of their innate power. As far as the rockers are concerned, it's difficult to ascertain whether tracks like Jack The Ripper are more or less intense than their studio counterparts with any degree of precision, and to even attempt to do so is a foolish waste of time, but comparisons aside they're still immensely entertaining.
Thus Live Seeds is quite a strong live album, and an effective representation of what the Bad Seeds are like in concert. Cave's material may not be the most conducive to the live approach, but nevertheless everything that truly matters has been translated into the performances fully intact, and the result is an album that can be heartily recommended to all fans of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
There's a fundamental difference between this album and its predecessor; Henry's Dream was a typical Nick Cave album done extremely well; Let Love In is a typical Nick Cave album done decently at best.
It was inevitable; the previous sequence of albums depicted the Bad Seeds at a creative peak, one that couldn't be sustained indefinitely. Let Love In suffers a marked deterioration in songwriting and inspiration.
That's not to say that it's bad; at this point in his career Cave was incapable of making a bad album, and Let Love In still contains a handful of classics.
The album's bookmarked by two renditions of the haunting classic Do You Love Me?, one epic and bombastic and the other one minimalist and brooding. Red Right Hand is by the numbers Cave but still effective, and Thirsty Dog, while unexceptional, is still a nice change of pace, with the Bad Seeds tackling more traditional rock, featuring guitar licks by Blixa that one won't find on an Einsturzende Neubauten record.
Some of the other material is problematic, however. Nobody's Baby Now, Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore and Lay Me Low are unforgivably bland; worse, after penning countless genuinely frightening numbers, Loverman comes across as extremely forced and labored, an artificial attempt to evoke emotions he used to be able to effortlessly command. The 'how much longer' hook in particular is a primitive, gimmicky and manipulative device that seems infinitely beneath Cave.
This is the weakest Cave solo album to this point, and the first that adds truly nothing to his legacy. While Do You Love Me? is essential Cave, it's the type of song that he'd already performed numerous times. There's little new to be found here, and the old simply isn't executed up to Cave's usual standards.
The structure of the album with the dual appearances of Do You Love Me? would imply that the record is some kind of cohesive entity, but that's far from the case; it feels rather patched together, recycling various old Bad Seeds idea and trying to meld them into a whole. Perhaps it suffers because, Unlike HD, it lacks a central idea to focus it; that mistake would be rectified on the subsequent album.
The concept album with the coolest concept ever, and one of the most perversely enjoyable listens of all time.
Cave had been exhibiting signs of stagnation on his previous albums, and had responded by attempting to replicate his past successes. With HD he proved successful at that endeavor; with LLI, however, his talents had started to waver and the album suffered accordingly.
Cave wasn't prepared to embark in a new direction quite yet, but another rehash could irreparably damage his credibility with his fans. Rather than vacillate between the two Cave found a simple yet ingenious solution; take a single successful facet of his past work and extend it into an entire album.
This simultaneously enables him to do something new yet familiar, release something different yet something that he's a master of. Hence this album, that darkest concept album ever.
The concept is simple: every track (save the final one, yet another ironic joke closer, a trend started with TP) is a 'murder ballad,' a song in which a, generally graphically descriptive, murder transpires, a macabre narrative delineating the final moments of the victim or chronicling the saga of the murderer.
The album certainly has its flaws. The music is often shunted to the sideline, functioning more as an under-arranged aural backdrop for the lyrics than as an important aspect of the song, a utilitarian component that rarely distinguishes itself in any interesting ways.
This isn't always the case. In Where The Wild Roses Grow, Kylie Minogue has some breathtaking melodies, while PJ Harvey's vocals accentuate the bleak Henry Lee.
Even when he isn't complemented by a female vocal partner Cave finds subtle ways to ameliorate the songs' arrangements to make them at least mildly engaging, such as the 'la la la la's in The Curse Of Millhaven. Cave doesn't wholly abstain from melodies, but his focus is certainly elsewhere, as is often the case with concept albums.
The lyrics, of course, are the heart of the album, and what make it such an enthralling listen. Sometimes he goes wildly over the top in hilarious ways (Stagger Lee, The Curse Of Millhaven, O'Malley's Bar), while sometimes the songs are icily chilling (Song Of Joy, Where The Wild Roses Grow), with the two being wisely interspersed to avoid monotony and never let the tone either get too light or too serious, as either would diminish the impact of the album. Each song is lyrically engaging, enough so to mask any musical inadequacies.
While the album is certainly a joke on many levels, it's hard to reduce it to that. The songs are far too well crafted and the narratives far too compelling to simply dismiss it all as black humor. In the end, even though the idea for the album is probably a joke, Cave likely took some of these morbid tales quite seriously, and that enhances the enjoyment quotient.
This is hardly a serious artistic statement, and not a stunt that Cave should ever repeat, but as a novelty it's incredibly entertaining, and truly a one of a kind listen.
There's this erroneous belief harbored by legions of elite music reviewers that artistic maturation is inherently a good thing. Firstly, these myriad critics are hardly equipped to ascertain what constitutes 'maturity', but even so this album resoundingly dispels that misconception, that archaic myth of the music industry. If this album represents a 'mature' Nick Cave then I'll opt for the 'immature' one who could produce brilliant dark epics like 'The Mercy Seat' and moments of gorgeous catharsis like 'The Weeping Song.'
I suppose this was an attempt to assure the public that, after the dark joke that was the previous album, he was still capable of producing artistically relevant material. In many respects the album seeks to duplicate the majestic beauty of tGS, failing to realize that said album derived its majestic beauty from well-crafted melodies and orchestration and not merely from repetitive, stripped down arrangements with predictable confessional lyrics.
The melodies, when existent, are generally banal and primitive, as are the majority of the lyrics. The unthinkable has happened; Nick Cave, in electing to graduate to the coveted level of 'serious' artist, has lost his edge. The album is almost completely devoid of any edgy material, resulting in songs that are often bland, insipid and even sappy.
The album isn't without its moments, however. Idiot Prayer, while not brilliant, is easily the strongest song on the album, recalling the Nick Cave of old, with angry lyrics and a catchy piano riff. Lime Tree Arbor also features strong piano work, though with a weaker song to accompany it.
The weakest moments, however, are the weakest in Cave's solo career to this point. In Black Hair Cave says 'black hair' so many times that one wants to throttle him to make it abundantly clear that there's no ambiguity for us as to what hue her hair is. In Green Eyes, the double tracked vocal gimmick works atrociously, while the main vocals are horrendous (even if they're that way for effect).
In trying to become a 'serious artist' Cave failed to realize that he's always been a serious artist. There's no artistic merit in forsaking his strengths; if this is what Cave believes 'serious' music sounds like then he's sorely mistaken. Without edgy material, engaging lyrics or strong melodies there's very little to Nick Cave, no matter how 'serious' the material is.
As has come to be expected, the release of another John Hillcoat film means the release of another original score by Nick Cave and company. Likewise, the correlations between the two aren't confined to the proximity of their releases, nor are they compartmentalized in such a manner that they exist as wholly separate entities; as has been proven to be the case by the soundtracks to the likes of Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead and The Proposition, in many respects, as is true of all good film scores, the final musical product is a stylistic reflection of the film itself.
With Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead this phenomenon manifested itself in the form of the film's cold, stifling and savage nature being musically translated into harsh, claustrophobic industrial soundscapes, while The Proposition's deft melding of misanthropy and pristine, magnificent landscapes was delineated into a kind of primal, vicious beauty.
In the case of To Have And To Hold, a tragic love story set in Papua, New Guinea, the elements of this central relationship are transfigured into a kind of neo-romantic yet darkly tinted series of lovely, hypnotic aural tapestries, realized through authentic regional instrumentation (and even chanting on occasion). Thus once again Cave, Bargeld and Harvey, precisely the representatives of the Bad Seeds who adroitly handled the Ghost…Of The Civil Dead soundtrack, have fashioned a perfect complement to Hillcoat's directorial vision.
Unfortunately, as was also the case with Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, this breed of success doesn't quite equate to a rewarding listen when the music is divorced from its cinematic context. In the case of To Have And To Hold, the music may be appropriate but that alone doesn't make it entertaining.
The primary problem is that the soundtrack doesn't really feel like a Bad Seeds effort, far more conventional and mundane than Cave fans are accustomed to expecting from the gothic visionary. The music is often pretty and pleasant but it's also rather bland and generic, not to mention highly repetitive. The album feels like the kind of soundtrack that could have been penned by any faceless Hollywood composer, lacking the creativity and personality of a standard Nick Cave venture.
While bland ethnic fare is decidedly more compelling than bland industrial music, accounting for the disparity between the ratings of To Have And To Hold and Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead (though obviously the lack of dialogue samples is another major factor), the album still frequently grows tedious, never becoming as cathartic and moving as it aspires to be. The beauty of the tracks is undermined by their innate familiarity and predictability, and where The Proposition's soundtrack achieved true emotional heights thanks to its distinctiveness To Have And To Hold's potency is severely diluted by its run of the mill nature.
Thus To Have And To Hold is another Cave project that works as a soundtrack but not as an album, never going the extra distance to deliver something truly special for listeners beyond an effective aural backdrop. The album can certainly be enjoyed in small doses, as the Bad Seeds were far too gifted to simply indiscriminately churn out bland filler; thus the dark beauty of the soundtrack can be appreciated and respected. Nevertheless, however, To Have And To Hold is not a sonic experience that one would want to revisit on a regular basis, more effective in the abstract than as a vehicle for casual entertainment.
Now this is how you translate Nick Cave into a more 'serious' context, not by taking maturity as a substitute for his strengths but rather interpreting them into this new dynamic. This is a beautiful album, but not because it bludgeons you with forced majesty like its predecessor; rather, it attains beauty through moving, haunting melodies, thrusting Cave's neglected songwriting back into the forefront.
Granted the melodies sometimes falter, but there's always something to keep the song involving, be it clever arrangements or engaging lyrics. The edginess has returned to the material, and Cave once more proves himself one of the best rock lyricists of his generation as he pens yet another collection of exceptional narratives.
By realizing that his previous style is hardly incompatible with his more 'mature' approach, Cave was enabled to craft yet another series of dark classics. The Sorrowful Wife opens as a stately melancholic tune before unexpectedly degenerating into a violent tempest, while As I Sat Sadly By Her Side and Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow make excellent use of Cave's piano melodies. Hallelujah is deeply haunting, while Oh My Lord grows in entropic tension with each verse.
tBC provided a suitable enough template for this epoch of Cave's career, but proved that without strong songwriting or a distinctive identity no vibe was sufficient to sustain an entire album. There's a crucial disparity between minimalism and primitivism, and that album all too often lapsed into the latter.
No More Shall We Part, then, represents the successful marriage of the signature Nick Cave style with more serious pretensions, a true maturation of his artistic identity rather than an artificial conception of what he believed maturation to entail. This is a mature Nick Cave, not a mature generic singer-songwriter; it could never be mistaken for anyone else. Progression should never come at the cost of one's identity, and it seems that Cave has realized that here.
A regression of sorts, returning to the blandness and primitive songwriting that plagued much of tBC. Nocturama, however, even lacks the pretensions to beauty and ambition to act as a sweeping universalist message that imbued that album with at least a modicum of potency and purpose.
The majority of the tracks simply have little so offer, with most suffering from a lack of a well defined melody or atmosphere, along with a dearth of any distinct personality. They merely roll along innocuously, pleasantly bland.
There are, however, a handful of Nick Cave classics or else the rating would have plunged further into the abyss of critical contempt. Wonderful Life is a moody, world weary anthem, a perfect fit for his aged voice which compounds the power of his devastating vocal hooks in the chorus. Bring It On is hard hitting, with the minimalist verses segueing brilliantly into the sweeping chorus. Dead Man In My Bed is a furious rocker, somewhat incongruous amidst this sea of softness but all the more powerful because of it.
The rest of the material is inoffensive, but wholly unremarkable and unmemorable, basic Nick Cave filler that's easily dismissible.
Save for one track, of course. Cave returns to the tradition of ending his albums with a joke, in this case a rather prolonged one. Babe I'm On Fire milks a single basic groove for fifteen minutes, and I actually find it perversely enjoyable, though I'll certainly concede that it's grotesquely overlong. Still, it's hardly the eldritch abomination against good taste it's often depicted as in the vitriolic invective of slighted fans. The melodies featured, while repeated far too often, are strong, and the lyrics are hilarious and a wonderful showcase for skillful, dexterous rhyming. The length is the main culprit, and what makes the song unlistenable in its entirety after the first few sittings, unless you just want to zone out to its hypnotic groove.
In all this makes out for a disappointing outing for Cave and the worst entry in his solo career. A few stellar tracks and a lack of any egregiously bad material make this still a fundamentally solid listen, but nonetheless it's the first album in his discography that could be called wholly superfluous.
When preparing the follow up to one's weakest effort it's generally considered a poor idea to unleash a two disc behemoth upon one's jaded audience, yet that's precisely what Cave unveiled as his newest project in the wake of the disappointment that was Nocturama. What's more surprising is that this ambitious endeavor was a total success, and Cave's best album since at least Henry's Dream.
Bifurcated into a harder section (Abattoir Blues) and a comparatively softer one (The Lyre Of Orpheus), the album dispels any worries that Cave is stagnating, containing hard hitting melodies coupled with his best lyrics in quite some time. While Cave doesn't break any new ground, he has refined his formula to near perfection, crafting dark, engaging melodies and eloquently cynical lyrics, from the sweeping anthem There She Goes My Beautiful World to the haunting minimalism and explosive crescendo of Hiding All Away, to the misanthropic and world wearied Abattoir Blues.
The hooks are plentiful, as apparently Cave is no longer satisfied with relying solely on atmosphere, enabling the listener to become completely immersed in his tenebrous vision. The two discs function as effective foils for one another, reminiscent of Tom Waits' prior stunt with Alice and Blood Money. Cave has not overextended himself, as there are no lapses in quality amongst the multitude of tracks.
AB/tLoO is a return to top form for Cave, and evidence that the bland monotony of Nocturama was little more than a brief misstep. While I prefer the harsh brilliance of the former disc, both halves are eminently worthy to be added to Cave's catalogue, and as a single unit they're a testament to the reenergized songwriting talents of a man determined to evade stagnation even this late in his career.
In a time honored tradition of milking hardcore fans for every cent they're worth, Cave has delivered this mastadonic collection of dense tuneage to exploit the loyalty of his salivating fan base.
As is often the case with box-sets of this nature, no rating can be rendered with any degree of precision. By definition the collection is consummately erratic, composed of every note ever strummed by Cave throughout his storied career. This, however, is not only to be expected but even desired by Cave fanboys who want a comprehensive view of their idol's history, from the disintegration of the Birthday Party to his masterful comeback with Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus.
And in this regard the collection certainly delivers. Proceeding chronologically through Cave's career, the listener is free to study his evolutions, style shifts and musical mutations.
While this is more than enough to educe the cash from his hardcore followers, the casual fan is likely to be intimidated by the mammoth track listing, with but a modicum of desire to experience Cave's progression more than once at the most.
Fortunately, buried beneath some of the less appetizing effluvia a set like this inherently contains are some true forgotten Cave gems that any listener would be delighted to discover. They're difficult to extricate from their cluttered surroundings, but eminently worth searching for.
They're not sufficient, however, to entice any casual listener to wade through this sonic junkyard (worthy in its tempestuous chaos of evoking memories of the Birthday Party album of the same name) in search of content strong enough to merit this aural hunt.
While it presents a great overview of Cave's career, listening to it is certainly an overly daunting task for anyone to become familiar with his work. Albums like Tender Prey make for much better material to become assimilated into the ranks of Cave fans by, and in the long run the only listeners apt to derive much pleasure from the collection are the already converted, devoted followers.
Doubling as a fascinating historical document and treasure trove for at least a handful of obscure classics, the set is highly recommended for Cave fanatics, who'll eagerly trace Cave's musical course through the years. Casual fans, however, will collapse under this mountain of dense material, overwhelmed by the set's colossal musical heft. Deeply uneven and often redundant for owners of his complete discography, only a true Cave fan would be apt to overlook its myriad flaws and imperfections, or even have the desire to do so.
It's always difficult to assess a soundtrack when it's displaced from its proper context in a film, as such music is meant to work in conjunction with the movie, complementing it rather than acting as an independent attraction. Such is the case with The Proposition, the score to a film scripted by Cave himself, and obviously intended to work closely with the material on screen as opposed to functioning as a full fledged album.
In composing the score for The Proposition Cave reunited with long time Bad Seeds collaborator Warren Ellis, a partnership that predictably enough yielded very positive results. The soundtrack is a work of tenebrous atmospherics and dark beauty, precisely what one would anticipate from this particular pairing.
Despite the strength of the material, however, it often comes off as mere background music, unsurprising given its soundtrack status. The music is indeed as evocative and haunting as could be desired, yet it still retains its original function, rendering it more conducive to playing in the background than giving it an involved listen.
There's little in the way of lyrics, reinforcing its role as a soundtrack and compounding its problematic position as a true album. The music is, by and large, very strong, but there's little development or progression in most tracks so as to better serve its status as background music that's intended to highlight the action in the film as opposed to distracting the viewer from it.
Whether or not one regards it as background music, however, there's no denying the effort and craftsmanship that went into composing this music, providing an array of moody, moving and unsettling tracks. While their potency may be diluted due to their divorce from their intended roles in the film, they retain a tremendous amount of power, derived from the depth of their raw, savage tone and minimalistic precision that can be fully translated through the music alone.
Ultimately The Proposition is a great soundtrack, and while that's not the same thing as being a great album it remains a deeply moving, resonant experience that constitutes a must-buy for any Nick Cave fan. The music is superb at eliciting the proper emotional responses, and while it can't transcend its role as a soundtrack due to its innate nature it's certainly a top tier film score (not to mention the fact that its one real, though oft repeated, number, The Rider Song, is a work of cathartic beauty on par with Cave's best efforts).
Prior to the inception of the comparatively mature, restrained and sophisticated Bad Seeds Nick Cave was the frontman for the Australian psycho rock act known as The Birthday Party, a volatile and often disturbing rock outfit that balanced frequent flirtations with dissonance with ultimately catchy, rewarding melodies. The band lacked the intellectual pretensions that would characterize Cave's subsequent output, but it compensated for this cerebral deficiency with its spontaneous, unpredictable and explosive nature.
Cave essentially 'outgrew' this immature enterprise after a mere two full albums (not to mention several EPs and singles), opting instead to pursue loftier and more adult ambitions. I wouldn't question that this was the correct course for the rapidly developing Cave to take, but even so in the midst of his superb Bad Seeds efforts one might find himself missing the exhilaration and eldritch brilliance offered by the unhinged alchemists in the supposedly childish The Birthday Party.
I feel, however, that dismissing The Birthday Party as 'childish' is an egregious lapse of judgment; their lyrics may have often seemed nonsensical and sometimes even vulgar, while the sonic pyrotechnics they launch at the listener on albums like Junkyard may seem to be loud and discordant for the sake of being loud and discordant, yet this discord isn't there to mask a lack of memorable melodies, and the band had a remarkable facility for generating imaginative, entertaining music with a pronounced psychotic edge. Cave's vocals were certainly over the top and he had yet to fully master his range as a singer, but they suited the equally over the top music quite well. Ergo in spite of their shortcomings it's a pity that the group disbanded so quickly, as they certainly had more to say before their abrupt termination.
This situation seems impossible to rectify; Cave has progressed far too much over the course of his career to return to screaming incoherent vocals over a chaotic, cacophonous mass of splintered instrumentation with dangerous, unsettling overtones. The Birthday Party cannot be resurrected, as its erstwhile members are simply incompatible with that style at this stage of their careers. Thus it seems as if the untapped potential of the group will never be unveiled, their creative voice irrevocably silenced by their premature dissolution.
Fortunately there is an answer to this dilemma. Cave obviously can't return to the days of The Birthday Party for the sake of its remaining fans but he can meet this audience halfway, and that's precisely what he's accomplished in the self-titled debut of his new band, Grinderman.
Grinderman are the rightful heirs to The Birthday Party's legacy; their lyrics are more intelligent and their arrangements are comparatively timid and conservative, but they offer an experience that's far more reminiscent of the old psychotic cadre's output than The Bad Seeds' material could ever hope to be.
Like The Birthday Party, Grinderman's material often incorporates dissonance into its mix, complete with a primitive garage rock sound that perfectly matches the soundscapes on the likes of Hee-Haw and Prayers On Fire. The band rocks in a manner that's more akin to The Birthday Party's gruff tone than The Bad Seeds' harder material, and the loose, sloppy feel that so brilliantly animated albums like Junkyard is fully translated into this new context.
A Birthday Party purist may bemoan the fact that the band's psychosis has been considerably diluted, but that's only a relative statement; Grinderman still conforms to The Birthday Party's signature dementia, simply in a more restrained fashion. It still owes a fair amount to The Bad Seeds lyrically, musically and instrumentally, but that's what I alluded to when I stated that the album met Birthday Party fans halfway, as Grinderman is, ultimately, a fusion of the two groups. It resembles The Birthday Party far more in the long run, but it still derives part of its identity from Cave's comparatively recent fare.
Achieving the sound of The Birthday Party (watered down or not) in and of itself isn't sufficient to do justice to that cult favorite gang of psychotic Australians; the songwriting must also be worthy of its spiritual predecessors, as the brilliance of The Birthday Party lay in combining discordant instrumentation and insane delivery with accessible, entertaining melodies. In turn, these melodies must fit in with the ethos of the band, heavily limiting the range of these potential tunes.
Luckily Cave and company were fully prepared for this challenge, adroitly crafting an array of off-kilter garage rock tunes that marry sonic insanity, aural ugliness and axiomatic catchiness. This is no small feat, and it proves that Cave has retained this portion of his musical identity even if he's been suppressing it all these years. This is the closest Cave has ever come to this style since The Birthday Party disbanded decades ago, and he certainly seems to be enjoying himself here, reveling in his freedom from the shackles of more conventional rock music. He apparently missed this musical modality, as evidenced by his crazed delivery and manic songwriting.
The Bad Seeds were far from conventional or orthodox in their musical approach, but their songs tended to hold together, unlike on Grinderman where the band seemingly delights in unleashing utter entropy upon the unsuspecting structures of the chaotic tracks.
Thus nearly none of the songs could be mistaken for Bad Seeds tunes, while many could easily pass for Birthday Party output. Get It On starts the album on a high note, No Pussy Blues is brilliant both lyrically and musically with a hilarious account of Cave's lack of success in wooing members of the opposite sex at his current advanced age, Electric Alice is a hypnotic ballad, the title track is appealing though unnerving in the best tradition of the group, Depth Charge Ethel has an infectious, memorable melody, Go Tell The Women is compelling, (I Don't Need You To) Set Me Free is moody and absorbing, Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars) is catchy if relatively slight, When My Love Comes Down is brooding and ominous and Love Bomb ends the album on an exceptional note. This leaves only Man In The Moon unaccounted for; it's the only track on the album I'd brand as filler, as it's somewhat bland and rather impotent from an emotional perspective despite its best efforts to be moving.
This is certainly a healthy ratio between classics and filler, making the album a resounding success. By virtue of its nature Grinderman can't compete with The Bad Seeds' peak material, but for what it is it's brilliantly implemented, and a particular joy for fans who fondly recall the days of The Birthday Party.
Don't mistake the album for an invidious attempt to exploit nostalgia for The Birthday Party, however; Grinderman has much to offer even when viewed independently from musical associations, as it's simply a great album, complete with superb songwriting, impressive performances and a unique, compelling sound. Its strengths may be compounded thanks to its self-conscious resemblance to Cave's first group, but in the long run the album is more than a Birthday Party tribute; Grinderman is simply a great Nick Cave album, and in the long run that's what matters.
In a daring, unprecedented maneuver Nick Cave has composed a soundtrack for a film that wasn't made by John Hillcoat. Once one overcomes the shock of this career move they'll find that the album itself is rather reminiscent of the soundtrack of The Proposition, which shouldn't come as a huge surprise given that not only is The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford another collaboration between Cave and Warren Ellis, but also the source materials in each case aren't all that dissimilar from one another.
The inspiration for Cave's most recent outing is a cynical, revisionist Western and, while The Proposition technically can't be a Western given that it's set in Australia, it manages to cultivate an atmosphere that distinctly resembles one, drawing parallels between the lawlessness of the archetypal Western and British occupied Australia. Ergo it's natural that a soundtrack to a Western and a soundtrack to a Western transplanted into a different context would breed similarities, and thus each album shares a certain darkly beautiful feel.
While Cave's more recent venture lacks a single full-fledged song of the caliber of The Proposition's stunning opus The Rider Song, it's still the superior of the two thanks to its extreme consistency and array of unspeakably gorgeous, hypnotic, darkly tinged melodies. This makes it Cave's best soundtrack to date, an intense, emotionally draining, catharsis inducing listen that will overpower the listener with its stunning beauty.
This time around Cave largely eschews the dissonant elements that he injected into The Proposition's soundtrack, and thus there's nothing to obstruct the sheer beauty of the album's myriad, well-crafted melodies. There's also decidedly less repetition; while instrumentals like Rather Lovely Thing recur later on in the album there's no analogue to The Rider Song which, in various incarnations, appeared a plethora of times on The Proposition's soundtrack.
While the total lack of vocals may be an obstacle for some, the music itself is so intricately arranged and adroitly implemented that few should be disheartened by Cave's absence as a singer on the album. Moments like Song For Bob are consummately moving, rare instances of sonic perfection that seldom appear on mere soundtracks, which emphasizes the degree of Cave's commitment toward the film's score where most rock artists customarily reserve their best moments for their more commercially lucrative fare.
It's difficult to believe that Cave's other 2007 project was Grinderman, an album that couldn't be more different from the subtle, stately majesty of The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. The soundtrack is wholly bereft of the chaotic onslaughts that typify Grinderman, instead focusing on delicate, fragile orchestration and restrained, moving passages.
Even more impressive is the fact that every instrument on the album is played by Cave and Ellis alone. Their musical versatility is impressive, and their hands-on approach ensures that the entire album is their vision and their vision alone.
Thus The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a highly impressive product, a terrific soundtrack that manages to retain its brilliancy even when divorced from its original context. While a stellar complement for the film, even when taken alone the soundtrack is profoundly enjoyable, a testament to the skill and dedication of both Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
While not quite an achievement of the magnitude of past triumphs like Tender Prey and The Good Son, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus was still a modern day masterpiece, a tour de force that boasted some of Cave's best melodies and lyrics in quite some time. No one had anticipated that Cave was capable of producing work of this startling caliber at such an advanced stage of his career, ergo the only accomplishment that seems more far-fetched is for the eloquent misanthrope to duplicate this feat with another unlikely classic.
Perhaps Cave himself was conscious of the unlikelihood of conjuring another album of such brilliance and became intimidated by his unenviable predicament, a scenario that would account for the eccentric release patterns that have characterized his late period discography.
The fact of the matter is that Cave granted himself a four year sabbatical when it came to his Bad Seeds efforts, a frustrating hiatus for fans eager to discover whether their idol was capable of matching (or even surpassing) the spectacular Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus set. This may be perceived as ducking the formidable challenge that faces him when it comes to his Bad Seeds fare, but the entire situation is confused by the fact that by no means did Cave become a recluse, nor did he succumb to unproductive idleness.
What truly transpired was that in the wake of his two disc behemoth Cave launched the most prolific period of his career, a prolonged stretch of activity that resulted in impressive efforts encompassing everything from composing soundtracks (such as the elegant score of The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) to penning screenplays (namely the darkly brilliant The Proposition, for which he unsurprisingly also wrote the soundtrack) to launching new side-projects (such as the calculated chaos and controlled psychosis that characterizes Grinderman). While Cave may have temporarily forsaken his primary band, he compensated for this brief period of negligence by tackling more projects than ever, losing himself in the plethora of eclectic labors he deemed fit to undertake during the Bad Seeds' four year retirement.
Nevertheless it was inevitable that Cave would return to the Bad Seeds fold, finally forced to confront the dilemma that he'd adroitly evaded for the past four years. I'm not implying that there was a conspiratorial nature to his interim endeavors, as if the likes of eminently worthy offerings such as the idiosyncratic Grinderman were nothing more than decoys or concessions to a record label that demanded new material. Nevertheless the Bad Seeds will always be Cave's true group, rendering his new album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, a CD that will be subjected to far more obsessive scrutiny than any soundtrack, no matter how exceptional, that he could ever compose.
And indeed Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! has attracted more attention from Cave fans than any other album in quite some time. It can finally be ascertained whether Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus was a last burst of greatness before succumbing to terminal stagnation or indicative of an artistic resurgence on the part of Cave.
Fortunately enough the answer to the question tends toward the latter phenomenon. While Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is ultimately inferior to Cave's last Bad Seeds outing it's still a brilliant work of art, perhaps not his magnum opus but a spectacular achievement nonetheless, filled with stellar lyrics and memorable melodies.
Some listeners may be deterred by certain aspects of the album; the album is indeed great, but it's a subtle, understated greatness when compared to the epic scope of Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus. There are few sweeping anthems of the nature of There She Goes My Beautiful World, and only a modicum of instantly gratifying numbers like Hiding All Away.
Furthermore, there are several slow, somber and subdued tracks like Moonland and Jesus Of The Moon that may be off-putting to some; these tracks ultimately redeem themselves through catchy vocal hooks and tenebrous atmospherics, but nevertheless they force the listener to devote some effort toward appreciating the tracks rather than immediately bowling them over like the best offerings from Abattoir Blues.
If one does take the time to aurally explore and sonically conquer these tracks they'll find a highly rewarding experience, and most of the songs don't even necessitate much in the way of energy expenditure or intense focus.
The album opens with an absolute classic, the fantastic title track, complete with its infectious melody, brilliant vocal hooks and terrific lyrics depicting how Lazarus would fare were he to be resurrected in present day America. This particular story is well suited to Cave's particular lyrical gifts, an apt forum for his cynicism, misanthropy and bile, not to mention his wonderful brand of black humor. The refrain is one of Cave's best in quite some time, featuring one of the best vocal hooks in his entire lengthy catalogue.
The second track, Today's Lesson, sustains this high level of quality with a catchy electronic beat (a rarity for Cave) and more stellar lyrics, this time revolving around the trope of a young girl being repeatedly violated by the Sandman. Boasting another great refrain the song, while not a peak Cave offering, is still immensely entertaining and well worth a listen.
As alluded to Moonland is a dour, introspective number that never, however, grows tedious or tiresome, thanks to some well placed hooks and exceptional vocals. Night Of The Lotus Eaters is menacing minimalism at its finest, while Albert Goes West is an axiomatic thrill with its crunchy riffs and intense rock and roll energy. We Call Upon The Author is lyrically intriguing with a central hook that will likely become lodged in one's head for months to come, Hold On To Yourself is another brooding, slow paced number that distinguishes itself through its emotional transparency and cathartic refrain, and Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl) is a terrific, energetic rocker that reenergizes an album that was in potential danger of being bogged down by a parade of slow tempo numbers (which isn't a criticism of them from a qualitative perspective, merely a statement of how important track sequencing can be for an album).
Elsewhere Jesus Of The Moon is slow but intelligent and moody, while Midnight Man is another classic with an incredible refrain complemented by yet another superb vocal performance from Cave.
This leaves the closer More News From Nowhere, a great song that's nevertheless an odd note to close the album on given its lyrically and musically slight character. Perhaps it's an attempt to inject a note of levity onto a pervasively dark album, much like what Cave did on Murder Ballads with Death Is Not The End and Nocturama with Babe I'm On Fire, and while by no means do I object to this I'm still not certain if it was an ideal gesture on this particular album.
Thus Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is an excellent album and a worthy follow-up to the spectacular Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus set. While not quite on the same level as its predecessor the CD is still a great effort, blending Cave's usual brand of eloquent nihilism and uproarious black humor with strong melodies, engaging atmospherics and an array of irresistible vocal hooks. While parts of the album may prove too slow-paced for some, if one perseveres they'll find a deeply rewarding experience on par with many of Cave's best offerings.
Any new John Hillcoat film is invariably accompanied by a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis penned score, as the gifted filmmaker has obviously found kindred spirits and ideal artistic complements in the form of the similarly morbidly-inclined duo. For their latest collaboration, Hillcoat, Cave and Ellis have shifted from the lawless, corrupt terrain of British-occupied Australia that framed The Proposition to the sprawling post-apocalyptic wasteland of The Road, but this change in scenery hardly poses a challenge for the trio, as both film and soundtrack are more than up to the task of deftly capturing their new environment.
As tends to be the case with Cave/Ellis scores, much of the soundtrack consists of minimalist beauty, gorgeous, spare arrangements tinged with a certain inherently mournful quality. This orchestral melancholia adroitly preserves the sense of pathos that animates the tragedy of the film, from the simple yet eloquent arrangement of the opening Home to the tender catharsis of The Beach.
As one would anticipate from Cave and Ellis, much of the score features an innate underlying sense of menace, an ever-present latent threat that's realized in the frantic chaos of The Cannibals, the savage cacophony of The House and the ominous, nightmarish The Journey. Cave and Ellis establish a perfect balance between the subtle hints of danger and the moments of overt violence, making the latter all the more potent when they ferociously explode through the stately, beautiful soundscapes that dominate the soundtrack with their eloquent minimalism.
Even when Cave and Ellis content themselves with penning more subdued passages, the music fails to escape the overarching bleakness of the soundtrack. While the more transparently dark moments of The Road are the instances of viscerally charged ecstatic savagery, the relatively 'calm' sections do little to alleviate the tenebrous atmosphere. The minimalistic beauty of the album conjures visions of blighted landscapes, macabre tableaus and an impenetrable isolation. Thus while it will be the transcendent horror of the discordant sonic assaults that many will focus on, the soundtrack's more subtle moments are no less unnerving.
While The Road is a highly effective soundtrack, and strong enough to still have merit even when divorced from its context in the film, the album is still limited by its function, and thus can't compare to 'real' Nick Cave releases. It lacks standout moments like The Proposition's The Rider Song, which is inevitable given that the album is completely devoid of vocals. Nevertheless, The Road is essential for all Cave enthusiasts, especially as it seems as if composing film scores is a lost art in this day and age, an art that Nick Cave is very, very good at.
Those who have historically neglected Nick Cave's extracurricular recording activities in favor of exclusively focusing on his primary Bad Seeds output (and perhaps a few digressions like Grinderman) may not be acquainted with his extensive soundtrack work, and with White Lunar, Cave and longtime collaborator Warren Ellis attempt to rectify this oversight on the part of their fanbase.
White Lunar collects assorted cuts from the duo's myriad soundtracks, from the Cave-scripted The Proposition to the post-apocalyptic The Road to the documentary The English Surgeon. This compilation affords Cave and Ellis the chance to showcase the minimalistic beauty that defines the bulk of their film scores, along with the dark undercurrent that intermingles with their work's spare prettiness.
It's evident throughout that Cave and Ellis want to introduce a new audience to their brilliant soundtrack content, firmly believing that releasing the material in this form will earn their output greater exposure, but there are certain inherent problems with this conceit.
One of the most egregious flaws in this line of thinking manifests itself in the form of the first disc of White Lunar, the CD that happens to be both by far the best of the two as well as the most glaringly superfluous for nearly any hardcore Nick Cave fan. Obviously Cave connoisseurs are most assuredly not the target audience for the set, but it's difficult to believe that a casual listener will purchase a double album composed solely of scattered soundtrack material.
The disc's extraneous nature stems from its dubious track selection. CD one is comprised of numbers from The Proposition, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and The Road. It seems like a safe assumption, however, that the kind of Cave completist who'd be apt to buy White Lunar would already own (or plan to buy) the soundtracks to these three films, while the kind of Cave-soundtrack-novice that the album is theoretically being marketed toward would doubtless be intimidated by the collection's two-disc status.
This doesn't change the fact that disc one contains some terrific material. From the sparse yet gorgeous arrangements featured in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford to the subtle menace of The Proposition tracks to the tension-inducing moodiness of The Road material it's clear that both Cave and Ellis invested a tremendous amount of time and care into the craftsmanship of their soundtrack work, a far cry from the cursory efforts of most faceless Hollywood composers.
Nevertheless, the full soundtracks of these three films are essential for rabid Cave-enthusiasts, and as far as newbies are concerned listening to a film score in its entirety would most likely serve them better in the long run. This renders disc one inappropriate for not only its prospective audience but likewise for its last-resort fanbase as well.
Disc two is the bait to appease the hardcore Cave fans who were embittered by the redundancies and overlap of disc one, but it's even less conducive to attracting new listeners than the previous CD. While disc one can indeed give an easily processed overview of Cave and Ellis' strengths as soundtrack composers, disc two represents them at their least accessible, with more reliance on atmospherics over catchy melodies. The fact of the matter is that the material on disc two simply isn't very compelling, and while the tracks may be tailor-made to better complement the films they were penned for this doesn't change the fact that in the context of an album they're not terribly entertaining, and would feel even less inviting for a soundtrack-virginal audience.
Thus White Lunar doesn't seem ideal for either diehard Cave fans or casual listeners, with too many concessions on both sides effectively rendering it inappropriate for any conceivable brand of audience. Disc one is strong, but I recommend the full soundtracks, while disc two doesn't really seem apt to appeal to anyone in particular. Therefore I would direct a casual listener to Assassination, which may very well be Cave and Ellis' best and most axiomatically enjoyable soundtrack. As far as hardcore Cave fans are concerned, I'd warn them about disc two but with the prospect of otherwise unavailable Cave content I doubt that they'd be apt to heed my words of caution.
When the first Grinderman album was released it felt like a total anomaly, one that would more likely than not never be repeated. As is often the case with the ever enigmatic Nick Cave, it was difficult to determine precisely what had sparked him to create an LP so at odds with anything that he'd produced in recent memory. There are countless possibilities. Cave could have felt a nostalgic yearning for his days in The Birthday Party, a group that Grinderman shares more than a passing resemblance to. He could have needed a respite from the rigorous intellectual and instrumental demands of The Bad Seeds, preferring a looser, comparatively pressure free environment. He could have wanted a forum for his more experimental, less accessible tendencies a la Robert Pollard's Circus Devils. He could simply have wanted to reconnect with his more primal, unrestrained side. Whatever the reason, the album Grinderman was released, and years later it felt like a chapter in Cave's career destined never to be revisited.
Nevertheless, after a three year sabbatical Grinderman proves to have more lasting power than one would have imagined. Obviously some aspect of the side-project holds a special appeal for Cave, and the result is an unexpected return to the macabre, unsettling world of Grinderman.
While at times Grinderman's debut felt like an anachronistic Birthday Party outing, the band was far from a mere surrogate for Cave's old stomping grounds. Grinderman 2 moves yet further away from its Birthday Party roots, in the process distancing itself from the first Grinderman project as well.
One element that Grinderman shared with The Birthday Party was the pervasive, perpetual sensation that at any moment the music could simply fall apart, losing all semblance of order and structure and degenerating into sheer savage chaos. There was a certain looseness to the arrangements, as if each note was barely connected to a greater whole, lending an almost frightening spontaneity to the proceedings.
Grinderman 2, however, is considerably tighter and more structured than its predecessor. This can be reflected in the band's continuing predilection for dissonance. Whereas on Grinderman's debut the dissonance felt like a natural, organic byproduct of the band's crazed jamming, on Grinderman 2 it feels far more calculated, a premeditated artistic flourish rather than a symptom of the group's collective psychosis.
Furthermore, while Grinderman 2 is a far cry from 'normal,' the band's psychotic edge has been dramatically toned down. Part of this is the group's more structured approach to songwriting, but this alone doesn't account for the band's relative self-restraint.
Personally I would attribute this comparatively 'normal' feel to a shift in the band's, or rather Cave's, ambitions. The first Grinderman album almost sounded like a musical exercise, something akin to a game that Cave and his collaborators were playing together. Grinderman 2, on the other hand, feels more like a real, polished album. This is neither a good nor bad thing, but it certainly seems that on this go-round Cave is far more committed to making a product that, if not conventional or normal, certainly does a good job of compartmentalizing its less accessible tendencies. This isn't to say that Grinderman 2 is mainstream or commercial, nor would Cave ever want it to be. Nevertheless, by compartmentalizing the album's traits Cave is able to produce music that is just as darkly bestial as ever, while being delivered in a far more fundamentally palatable form.
This is exemplified on tracks like Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man, wherein dissonance, morbidly cryptic lyrics and menacing atmospherics coexist with catchy, easily processed music. The pinnacle of this phenomenon, however, is Palace Of Montezuma, a seemingly normal, accessible song that features lyrics like, "The spinal cord of JFK/Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe's negligee/I give to you." Cave would never compromise his artistic vision, but by presenting it in relatively accessible package his work becomes a Trojan Horse of sorts, which at times lends it an even greater power.
What matters most, however, is that Cave's songwriting is truly brilliant. What I Know can be seen as filler (albeit inoffensive filler), but nearly every other track is a bona fide classic. Heathen Child, for example, is a darkly comical masterpiece that can hardly be faulted for having arrangements that actually hold together. The bluesy Kitchenette is another definite winner, filled with sly double entendres and superb musicianship from all involved.
It might be Bellringer Blues, however, that presents Grinderman at their finest. While the track has an undeniable dissonant streak, Cave cleverly mixes it into the background so that it never interferes with the central melody. Throughout the album Cave proves his mastery over the discordant, adroitly using it for effect but never allowing it to overwhelm the music.
Another huge asset of Grinderman 2 is the sheer visceral power of its aggression. The album may very well rock harder than anything else in Nick Cave's catalogue, and while I wouldn't ever personally condone head-banging to his music it certainly is possible here.
Thus Grinderman 2 is a superb album and a worthy successor to the band's classic debut. It's difficult to decide which album is the better of the two, as the unpredictable, volatile psycho rock of Grinderman is just as captivating as the more structured, controlled eccentricity of Grinderman 2. The truth is that both albums are brilliant; they may not be on par with The Bad Seeds' peak material, but for what they are it's difficult to imagine anything better.