Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

When was the last time you heard a band that has been around for over 25 years put an actually acceptable album out recently?

You could probably name a few, say perhaps Dad-prog heroes Rush (come on, Snakes and Arrows wasn’t THAT bad…), but how about an actually good album? Maybe Sonic Youth’s relatively underwhelming The Eternal or how about Slayer’s World Painted Blood? Here’s the kicker though: when was the last time a 25+ year group released one of the best albums of their career as their latest? That’s a tough one. With age comes a sense of longing for one’s youth, just look at the god awful recent releases by the Stooges or the Zombies or even fucking Metallica. They are all albums that sound like robotic monkeys imitating their former, badder, slimmer selves with either mixed or just plain terrible results.

Thankfully, this is not the case with Mr. Nick Cave and his motley crew of multi-talented instrumentalists, the most notable being the ever-bearded, ever-incredible Warren Ellis who rocks a viola John Cale-style with real conviction. Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds are the epitome of aging gracefully, whether it’s the ever-evolving songwriting by Ellis and Cave, their added instrument pallet (the flute solo on “Jesus of the Moon” being a prime example), or Nick Cave’s mighty ‘stache, possibly the best example of so-ridiculous-it’s-fucking-badass in all of music. Throw in the same tenacity and vigor and sexual energy they’ve been playing with since Cave was throwing Birthday Parties (see what I did there?), and you’ve got a recipe for success. Just look at Ellis and Cave side-project Grinderman, who both satirize and celebrate the grimy cock-rock they both once played; you know you’ve got it when you can play Letterman at their age and still rock the place as damn sideproject.

However, if there was one thing that made Cave and crew the legends they are, it’s consistency. Put simply, these guys have never released a bad album. Ever. From From Her To Eternity to Dig Lazarus Dig these guys have put out nothing but above average to good to great to absolute masterpiece albums (From Her To Eternity, Murder Ballads, and Your Funeral…My Trial come to mind as their best work, each being one of the best albums of their decades). Remember that little piece about aging musicians and their terrible late-career habits? Yeah, Dig Lazarus Dig is almost intimidatingly good, especially compared to it’s fellow elder contemporaries.

Even the typical mid-career slide into bad habits is cautiously avoided by the Bad Seeds, with albums like Let Love In and The Boatman’s Call being spectacular in their own rights, with the former sporting heavy-hitters like “Loverman” and “Red Right Hand” and the latter being an especially effective confessional album about actual failed relationships. It doesn’t even come across as a call for attention or a Sea Change-esque mood swing, which is pretty damn good for such a personal album.

I don’t think I even have to go into Nick Cave’s talent as a lyricist, with it being basically the centerpiece of the band’s strong talents. Cave crones on about America, God, violence, sex, drugs, rage, sorrow, all of that good stuff, but the way he frames it all, usually in the form of meticulously detailed anecdotes (Not nearly as ornate as Joanna Newsom thankfully; you won’t need a lyric sheet in front of you for these) is legendary.

On “Saint Huck” from his debut From Her to Enternity, Cave tells the tale of an ignorant, innocent figure known as Saint Huck, a Mississippi River wanderer, in a Twain-esque era of America being corrupted and eventually killed by the evils of the city. Lines like “And Old Man River got a bone to pick/and Old Man River got a bone to suck” and “A smoke ring hovers above his head/And the rats and the dogs and the men all come and put a bullet through his eye/And the drip and the drip and the drip of the Mississippi cry/And Saint Huck has his own Mississippi just rolling by him” are delivered with a disturbing nasally, gnarled Cave who relishes the tale and all of it’s dark details. The lines must be heard to be believed, with Cave selling it with a master’s touch.

On other songs like “O’Malley’s Bar” from Murder Ballads, Cave madly shouts “And with a brick as big as a fucking really big brick/I split his skull in half” as if possessed and on the title track of Dig Lazarus Dig, he laments sardonically and humorously about Lazarus, the title character, saying “He ended up like so many of them do,/ back in New York City,/ in a soup queue,/ a dope fiend,/ a slave,/ then prison,/ then the madhouse,/ then the graze/Oh poor Larry…”, previously remarking that “the women all went back to their homes and their husbands/with secret smiles in the corners of their mouths”. This kind of verbal verisimilitude earns Cave the master status that he has been labeled with, every bit of which he deserves.

However, don’t think that his stories are the only praise-worthy portion of his music, with the ornate arrangements by Ellis and the Bad Seeds never taking a back seat. Sometimes eerily effective, such as on the previously-mentioned “Saint Huck”  or “Cabin Fever”, and other times understated and sensual like on “Jesus of the Moon”, “Red Right Hand” or even “Henry Lee”, and yet other times they just rock hard like on “Thirsty Dog” or “Albert Goes West”. Whether it’s atmospheric effects like theremins and church bells or blistering guitar lines, the Bad Seeds’ accompaniments are just as interesting and just as delightfully wicked as Cave’s lucid imagery and atypical characters.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are often overlooked, perhaps because of their lack of obvious single material (the surprisingly well-selling Murder Ballads being an exception), or maybe it’s their adult-themed lyrics, often times being incredibly violent and sexual, or maybe it’s because they’re such an atypical group, combining post-punk, alternative rock, chamber pop, and blues.

Whatever the reason, Cave and crew thankfully stay far away from the typical troupes of almost all older groups, retaining the same tenacity and energy they had when they were younger, aging about as well as any group can, evolving their sound both lyrically and instrumentally, and never ever worrying about celebrating their “one” hit album, mainly because they had about five or six of those. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are legends, in all senses of the word. Respect the purple pants and mustache, because only one man can pull them off, and you’re reading about him.

by Trevor “Respect the ‘stache” Johnson

1 Comment

  1. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Legends « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds by Trevor Johnson […]

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