Monthly Archives: July 2009

151. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Abattoir Blues & The Lyre of Orpheus”

There was a definite downward slide in quality over the last couple of Cave releases.  This album was pretty much make or break for me.

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Abattoir Blues & The Lyre of OrpheusAudaciously (or perhaps cautiously) Cave and his gang of conspirators choose to roll the dice twice by releasing a double album.

Double albums typically send up warning flags as they are the domain of the self-indulgent.  Thankfully this combo doesn’t venture too far in that direction, although there are a few tracks that would benefit from exile off to the land of b-sides.

Most importantly these CDs mark the return of the cocky, energetic, edgy Cave that produced the mid-1990s gems.  The songs have heavier rhythms and greater diversity of sounds. The piano is much less prominent. The use of female backing vocals and whopping riffs on Hiding All Away, for example, herald new confidence for the band, and fiddle fiend Warren Ellis finally makes his mark across multiple tracks.

Put simply there is just more good stuff versus dross.  There’s also supposedly some sort of Greek myth thread running through the second disk, but beyond the opener I’m missing it.

Irrespective, I’m just happy Cave refound his mojo…

File under: The knackery trip is cancelled

150. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Nocturama”

I know I committed to around 200 words per review, but I feel like writing “see last review” on this one (or just “ditto”).

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds NocturamaAfter giving this album several listens, I can find little positive or constructive to say.

It’s just a bleh effort. The songwriting is uninspired. The musicianship is workmanlike (as an aside I’m no sure that phrase should be pejorative, but it is). There are no top notch songs.

At times the album even lacks Cave-ness. For example, the considerable portions of the pedestrian Bring it On could be any number of cookie-cutter adult-rockers (especially the chorus). At times, I had to convince myself it wasn’t Tex Perkins…

The aforementioned “several listens” reflected my relative unfamiliarity with this recording. I clearly wasn’t grabbed by this post-purchase. I’m still not.

The only fun aspect of this is the very self-indulgent almost fifteen minute closer Babe I’m on Fire, on which Nick plays out the stack-the-rhymes game to its ultimate end. My special edition of the album includes a DVD with the video for said song, which is ain’t too bad (and demonstrative of Cave’s underestimated sense of humour). Here it is (in two parts):

File under: Snooze-a-rama

149. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “No More Shall We Part”

The four year gap between Cave’s previous album and this release was reportedly (at least partly) a result of Cave finally extracting himself from alcohol and heroin dependency. As I have said somewhere else on here, the result is not a strong endorsement of sobriety.

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds No More Shall We PartThe pull of Cave and his buddies (for me) has always been the sense of danger and urgency in the music, the snide nature of the lyrics and the conspiratorial delivery thereof. This album is sadly lacking on these fronts.

It is a pretty straightforward outing. Very calm/beautiful backing with Cave shifting back and forth between borderline spoken-word and lounge-singer style delivery. It is all far to restrained and domestic. Too often it is Cave-by-numbers songwriting too. The frequency of the “pile the increasingly ridiculous rhymes high” approach is much higher than normal.

The album is far from a shocker however. The mid-album sequence of Love Letter, Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow, and the standout track God is the House are well worth it. The latter sees Cave at his humorous best, and spitting the couplets for good rather than evil.

File under: Parting is increasingly possible

148. Various Artists – “Chess Classics”

I’ve dived into the compilations so as to avoid a Cave overload.

Here’s another of these fortuitous acquisitions via a magazine purchase. This collection accompanied Mojo back in mid-2005.

Album Cover Chess Classics Mojo Howling WolfIt showcases the output of Chicago label Chess. And what a damn fine label it was, spanning blues, soul and jazz.

It is the blues that stands out here. The selections from Muddy Waters (Tom Cat), Chuck Berry (the jazzy instrumental Night Beat) and Sonny Boy Williamson (the supergroovy Fattening Frogs For Snakes) are all in that fun, party-inducing, not-feeling-too-sorry-for-myself end of the blues spectrum. Waters’ effort is particularly sexy with tumultuous horns pushing it along.

The standout track is Howlin’ Wolf‘s Spoonful showcasing one of the truly captivating blues voices and deceptively simple riffing. Alas he preceded the world of music vids, but here’s the song with a gallery of pics:

Chess wasn’t just about blues, so we also hear a collection of jazzier numbers and doo-woppy stuff. There is a certain gravity to even the poppiest tracks here. Nothing seems too disposable. A premium is placed on strong vocals and a driving groove.

This album does exactly what a sampler should. It generates a strong appetite for more. I see some shopping in my future…

File under: Grandmasters at Play

147. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “The Boatman’s Call”

Back when Master Cave was burgling houses, trashing Melbourne punk venues and injecting any shit he could get hold of into his veins, I don’t think too many folk would have thought he’d be penning tunes appropriate for weddings and chickflicks.

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds The Boatman's CallYet, that is exactly what pops up on this oh-so-chilled Cave and Co effort. Having vented his murderous tendencies on the last release, this time he explores his softer side.

This is a much-played CD in my collection. In the spirit of over-sharing in the blogosphere, I must confess this is a post-coital fave. This is the album where Cave sings most smoothly, and where the topic seems to be love.

The journey of the album is intriguing. He starts out enamoured (Into My Arms), but quickly People Ain’t No Good and love has been frustrated and faded (Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere). He professes a serious crush on future reviewee Polly Harvey across three songs. That’s lovestruck teenager levels of output.

The beauty here rests in the pared-backness of the orchestration. Cave’s voice is rarely accompanied by more than strings (often ensconced in a piano). The production levels are fantastic… making it best heard horizontal.

File under: Answer that call

146. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Murder Ballads”

I’ve spent the past week and a bit working through Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel Blood Meridian, a nihilistic chronicle of a life of senseless, unthinking killing. It was a gruelling and thoroughly depressing read.

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Murder BalladsIn contrast, this album with a deathtoll of 64 is a relative summer stroll through the countryside.

This is Nick Cave’s best-selling album, yet is much more like a work of literature or film-making than it is plain-old songwriting. This is Tarantino in song, with frame-by-frame blood splatter, and poetry-quoting slayers.

One of the big pulls for consumers was his collaboration with fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue. A concert-going highlight for me was seeing said poppett join the Bad Seeds on stage at a Big Day Out, and some lass in my vicinity screaming “get off the stage you fat mole!!”…perhaps you had to be there…

The work here is highly entertaining and inventive, although musically fairly sparse. The various tales warrant close attention, as the imagery and imagination are inspired. Cave’s take on Stagger Lee is brutal, and The Curse of Millhaven has a ‘heroine’ for the ages. And for sheer perverse self-indulgence the 14 minute long, slow-mo slaughter O’Malley’s Bar is very hard to beat.

File under: Gangsta rap for the well-read

145. Cato Salsa Experience – “A Good Tip for a Good Time”

My alphabetisation skills aren’t what they once where. These Norwegian rockers should have precded Nick Cave…

There was a wave of throwback Garage rock in the early ’00s that I got slightly captured by. Thus I own albums by NZers (D4, Datsuns) and even Viking-types with lanky hair, skinny waists and loads of effect pedals.

Album Cover Cato Salsa Experience CD A Good Tip For A Good TimeThis album’s a whole lot of fun. These guys have a blast grinding out riff after riff while mashing Hammond organs and waving their hands in front of a Theremin. This is all in the vein of Aussie lads of Rocket Science or the massively underrated Make-Up.

As with all good garage rock, there ain’t much of depth going on in the lyrics arena. The joy is in the groove and the playfulness. This is music I’d happily walk up the road to see on a very regular basis.

The album opens fantastically, with two strong single-type songs (Listen to Me Daddy O and the vid-clipped tune below), but does fade away a little before they hit stride again with Deadbeat.

Oh, and in watching their clips (and looking at the album cover) I’ve realised they never had lanky hair… but rather mop tops.

File under: Mopping up the Garage very neatly

144. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Live Seeds”

I have encountered Nick Cave and Co a range of live contexts: from standing up, sweaty, indoor grunginess at a town hall in Collingwood, to a sophisticated sitting down grand theatre, and stadium festival action with a thunder and lightning background.

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Live SeedsEach time it has been a thoroughly fulfilling experience, with Cave in total command of the crowd and his mob of musicians.  He’s a captivating performer with the slint hint of danger, but with little risk of disappointment. 

Much of the Cave songbook works extremely well live.  The contrasts between light and dark are accentuated in such an environment.  The energy and effort in producing the bashing rhythms and twisted melodies are a joy to witness.

This CD does a solid job of capturing that experience.  The setlist is a ripper.  It opens with the best opener of all – the slow build of Mercy Seat(although it is a rather restrained and shorter version than I can remember witnessing). The tempos of Deanna and Ship Song seem slightly quickened versus their studio versions. 

The breathy, spitting, prowling Cave seems ready to jump from the speakers and into the loungeroom.  That’s the best one can hope for on a live release.

File under: It’s great to be alive

143. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Let Love In”

Nick Cave aficionados will no doubt shaking their head in disgust that I have started my reviews mid-career. I own none of Cave’s earlier difficult works, despite having seen him play many of tracks of these albums (and relishing them)

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Let Love InUnlike his previous release, this album conjures up memories of such works, as it is much more chaotic and raucous. Cave takes on the psychotic ringmaster roll and as pounds out venom-filled lyrics over swellings waves of rhythms perfectly executed by the Seeds gang.

Tracks such as Loverman, Jangling Jack and Red Right Hand race along. The brilliance of Cave rests on his unwillingness to compromise lyrically. The imagery comes thick and fast, as does the humour. The slightly obscured “L is for… O is for…” lines on Loverman are pure brilliance.

This is a fantastically well-balanced album. For each such spine-jangler there is a slower, moody counterpart. Here Cave returns to the crooning, but with less of the showtuneyness of the last album. His Leonard Cohen-esque leanings show out on several tracks, most notably on Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore.

I also am not sure I’ve heard an album with a better trio of opening tracks yet on my reviews.

File under: Worthy of our love

142. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “The Good Son”

I must apologise for my Axl Rose-like reclusiveness over the past month. I could blame spasmodic internet access in the US, but the justification lays more squarely at the feet of the pianist pictured.

Album Cover Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds The Good SonI have had the Domacles Sword of about ten consecutive Nick Cave reviews hanging over me since we hit California. This raised two large hurdles: (i) Cave just aint very California (the state being too sunny) and (ii) my missus (and travelling partner) has an aversion to much of Cave’s output matched only by her distaste for Jonathon Richman.

As such, this album has received only intermittent listens while stranded looking after the luggage and once on a long drive when nothing else on the iPod was cutting the mustard.

Which is a damn shame, because this is a very solid little release. This is one of the Cave opuses I would describe as “funny”. He clearly seems to having fun, and his tongue seems firmly in his cheek as he croons through a series of overly melodramatic and eerie tales.

This is Cave and crew as composers of some sort of twisted off-Broadway (I guess a long way off… maybe in the back streets of Berlin) musical. The music is rousing and atypically conventional. It leaves Cave’s unparalleled song-writing skills and surprisingly smooth vocals unobscured.

The playfulness is what makes me smile – from the Elvis swagger of Witness Song to Blixa’s role as father in Weeping Song.

Reportedly this album was preceded by Cave’s successful rehab from heroin and him getting some serious Brazilian loving. It stands as a strong advertisement for both.

There are very few weak tracks here, and several that are in the classic Cave category (the “Song” set – Weeping, Ship, Hammer, Witness and my favourite – the sway-worthy Lament).

Makes me glad to back in chilly, dreary Melbourne.

File under: Some worthwhile child-bearing