RFB’s Essential Guide To Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
19 Feb 2013
If your knowledge of Nick Cave extends only to either his recent, quietly triumphant LP Push The Sky Away or goes little further than a Best Of, this guide should persuade you that it really is worth getting everything he’s ever done.
Every big Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds fan has a few stories to hand, which needn’t even be wholly accurate, that add to their appreciation of the band; yarns that flesh out the characters, darken the corners or brighten the cracks of light in the music. Such is the nature of the men who compromise the group, these stories can range from ones of salacious, drug addled benders to laughable and thankfully not tragic tales of some seriously dangerous driving. One of my favourites however isn’t even at all sensational – you could even call it humdrum. And yet, it makes me chuckle. When asked to compile a tracklisting for 1998’s The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Cave contacted everyone who’d ever been in the band and requested they submit a list of songs they thought deserved a spot. The only one to bother offering a list at all was Mick Harvey. And so, his list – unchanged, even by Cave – became the album’s final running order.
OK, so your story about how you caught him doing heroin at midnight in an Auckland cemetery whilst swapping tales about Robert Johnson with the crow that was perched on his shoulder is better. But I like mine all the same. Thing is, Harvey actually picked a great tracklisting – the resulting record is certainly more representative of the band’s body of work up to that point than many such compilations manage (it very ably demonstrates the difference between a Best Of and a Greatest Hits, which is to be commended). But yet, in the past 16 years, Cave and the Bad Seeds have gone on to make a lot more music, some of it astonishing, and certainly much of it deserving of a place on anything that claims to represent the band at their finest. There’s also much to the first 16 years of the band that the previous Best Of sadly didn’t have space to cover. So, if your knowledge of Nick Cave extends only to either his recent, quietly triumphant LP Push The Sky Away or goes little further than the 16 wonders on Harvey’s list, hopefully, this alternative, updated Best Of (or a disc two, if you like) might persuade you that it really is probably worth getting everything he’s ever done.
Your Funeral My Trial
Good lord, the sorrow to this one is almost unbearable. The piano sounds like it’s about to kill itself, every instrument seems to be playing an endlessly descending chord progression that gives the impression that the sheet music of the song is being rained off from the page... it’s an absolute masterclass in being completely, utterly miserable. That’s smack addiction for you, I guess.
'The Good Son'
There isn’t really such a thing as a definitive Bad Seeds album. Rather than flexing all their muscles at once, they seem to enjoy giving albums specific sonic themes. But if I had to pick a favourite, The Good Son would be it. The nice thing about the title track is it seems to contain more of Cave’s signature moves in one go - menacing crooner, gorgeous balladeer, dude with serious father issues – than any of his other songs, and for that reason, it stands proud on my Best Of list.
'Papa Won’t Leave You Henry'
Cave was apparently disappointed with the recording of Henry’s Dream, but to me, it sounds like a fucking riot – no more so than during this opening track, on which an acoustic guitar sounds more devilish than it by rights ever should, and call and response verses are delivered with such fervour that you’re instantly marked out as not a friend of mine if you refuse to join in.
'I Let Love In'
Though I’ve already rallied round The Good Son’s flag, you’d get no argument from me if you told me I was a cretinous fool for deeming anything other than Let Love In to be The Bad Seeds’ crowning glory. It finds the band at one of their many peaks, the piano heavy waltz of its near-title track a lyrically incredible look at heartbreak from a man who seems to know a lot about it (“I’ve been bound and gagged and I’ve been terrorised, I’ve been castrated and I’ve been lobotomised, but never has my torment come in such a cunning disguise – I let love in...”).
I can’t believe Mick Harvey left this one off. Dude! One can only assume its inclusion would have warranted one of those parental advisory stickers that might have stopped a few thousand young women who just wanted the CD with the Kylie duet on it from forking out the cash. Shame, because I think people like that are exactly the kind of folks who could benefit from hearing Cave’s classic updating of the tale of old folk antihero Stagger Lee – especially the bit where our titular hero shoots someone in the head the moment they begin performing fellatio on him. Nobody tells Stagger Lee how to get his kicks.
'People Ain’t No Good'
It’s all in the delivery, this one. The lyrics are so simple that in the hands of a lesser performer, this startlingly simple piano ballad could come across as trite, or even laughable. But given to The Bad Seeds – and thanks to Cave’s vocals in particular, which are pitched just perfectly – lines like “people just ain’t no good, a thing that’s well understood, you can see it everywhere you look” sound as if they’re from the mouth of a man who has an unflinching faith in the worthlessness of mankind.
'God Is In The House'
I still don’t know what to make of ‘God Is In The House’, other than that I love it. Depending on my mood it can either have me howling with laughter at Cave’s vision of utopia (“Our town is very pretty, we have a pretty little square, we have a woman for a mayor, her policies are firm but fair”) or blubbing like a prat who’s just been finally come round to the idea that THERE IS NO GOD, or that if there is, he’s in his house, and isn’t coming out. Ever.
'Hiding All Away'
Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus was the first album not to feature Einsturzende Neubauten frontman Blixa Bargeld bringing all hell on his guitar, but ‘Hiding All Away’ proved they could be just as loud and intimidating without him. How? Get a gospel choir in, and let Warren Ellis do whatever he wants, basically. The last minute and twenty of this is particularly astonishing.
'The Lyre of Orpheus'
Here we find Cave going back to one of his favourite muses – old stories he can add filthy modern twists to (see ‘Stagger Lee’ above). Orpheus might not initially be in quite so violent a mood as Lee, but that doesn’t go for the rest of the characters in this monstrous number; at one point, Cave rhymes ‘Orpheus’ with ‘orifice’ in a sentence that also contains the words “I’ll”, “stick”, “it”, “up” and “your”.
'Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!'
As we’ve discussed, Nick Cave likes God, and he likes putting his own spin on stories. With this now signature tune, he indulges in both passions, coming up with a riotous tale in which resurrected bible hero Lazarus emerges from the grave against his will, only to end up in a New York City soup queue, before dying all over again. It’s all set to some brazen, basic, ballsy rock and roll delivered with the zeal of a bunch of teenagers, all the more remarkable when you consider Cave was already fifty by the time he’d written it.
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