Latter shades of Cave
- By Nick Hagan -
- Aug 23, 2012
Maintaining a reputation as a hellraiser into your 40s can’t be easy. For high prince of gothic psychosis Nick Cave, it’s often noted his latter day releases have become increasingly mellow, and while this clumsy assertion ignores the subtler moments in his earlier records, there’s undeniably some truth to it. Cave himself has even acknowledged the change, attributing it, intriguingly, to a shift in focus from the Old to the New Testament in his writing. Or from the smack to the green tea, perhaps.
His noughties triptych, comprised of ‘Nocturama’, double album ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus’ and ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!’, is certainly a far cry from the feral junkie snarl of earlier years. But look closely and the Rorschach prints that define Cave’s lyrical obsessions are still clearly visible, in the lurid dioramas of sex and death and the twisted vignettes he does so well.
Of the last three records, ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre…’ (2004) is hands down the best. Gutsy stomper ‘Get Ready For Love’ is a fabulously manic opener, complete with warbling guitars and hysterical gospel backing. The Seeds repeat the trick on the sublime ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’, before veering into surreal storytelling with the unsettling 'Fable Of The Brown Ape'. Side two takes a (slightly) softer turn, the milk-rich melancholy of 'Oh Children' ending things in immense style. God, nature, violence and Cave's erection loom overhead throughout.
If we're looking for common threads, there’s an absurdist streak characterising Nick Cave's recent output as much as the penchant for smoother, lounge jazz-inflected arrangements. Grandiose coverage of ‘deepening socio-economic divisions’ (‘We Call Upon The Author’) trades blows with the domesticity of waking up with a frappucino in hand (‘Abattoir Blues’), and at times his conflicted mindset over the state of the world rears up and hits you like a lightning bolt. ‘It’s difficult, it's very tough/I said to the man who'd been sleeping rough’ he intones on 'Easy Money'.
This way with a self-deprecating, tragi-comic lyric is particularly prevalent across these albums, creating a tone that's facetious and forceful in equal measures, sometimes deliberately flippant, sometimes ablaze with thought and feeling.
Then of course there are the twisted tales Bad Seeds regulars will recognise from a mile off. The title track on ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!’ (2008) follows ‘The Lyre Of Orpheus’s lead to warp the age old story of resurrection into something deliciously trippy. While it lacks any stone-cold classics, there’s still a lot to entice on this latest album, notably Mick Harvey’s gargantuan, leftfield guitar work.
Finally, 'Nocturama's (2003) ruling passion swings between grown-up piano ballads ('He Wants You', 'Right Out Of Your Hand') and mentalist rock freakouts ('Dead Man In My Bed', 'Babe, I'm On Fire'). At times it's a slightly duller experience, but the brooding, looping bassline of 'Wonderful Life' and middle finger defiance of 'Bring It On' provide stand out moments.
It may seem a bit pointless that these three records have received the ‘digitally remastered’ treatment a mere four years since the last one came out, but here we are anyway. Melodramatic and mellow, complex and crudely dripping in black humour, this triptych confirms Cave's mature status hasn't made his music any less vital.
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