Nick Cave’s cool, you know this. You also know he’s been around for donkeys and has one of the most revered back catalogues going. Where to start then? Well, some headphones and black clothes would be a good start but after this you should probably breakdown the beast you’re about to approach.
Wasn’t he in the front man of notorious post-punk outfit The Birthday Party before hand? Why yes. Wait, didn’t he do a song with Kylie? This is also truth speak. The journey from back-combed ass kicker to lyrical, lustful crooner has been a long one made not through vast leaps but rather refinements. Some older fans may decry the group’s more ambient and madcap song writing of late but that’s art for you, subjective like.
There’s over thirty years of tunes to choose from so without further ado lets dip our toe into this weird and wretched world of gothic beauty and pick some beauts….
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'Tender Prey' (1988)
Shouldn’t we start at the beginning? Normally yes, and with Cave you wouldn’t be any worse the wear in doing so. Still, ‘Tender Prey’ sits as the best accumulation of the Seeds first years and the last album before Cave ditched some of his nastier vices and relocated from Berlin. Opening with the band’s signature song ‘The Mercy Seat’ this LP is the last farewell to the scrappier and less polished beast they once were, performances certainly reflecting this.
‘Deanna’ could have happily dropped in the summer of '76, while ‘Watching Alice’ is straight out of the Cohen tradition if said song-master hadn’t seen daylight in weeks. A retrospective look back and the track ‘Mercy’ becomes a powerfully autobiographical hymn for all the sinners present than yet another walk through gothic pastures. ‘Tender Pray’ is the sound of a band of its last legs but clutching musical gold while being so.
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'Let Love In' (1994)
With ‘Do You Love Me’, ‘Loverman’ and the seminal ‘Red Right Hand’ all featuring, ‘Let Love In’ easily stands as one of The Bad Seeds most known if not beloved release. Tonally the whole thing majestically flows from number to number, naturally waving to the devil, killers and bad men of this world while doing so. Mick Harvey’s organ and extra percussive touches help add some brilliant signature madness to the likes of ‘Jangling Jack’ while future full time member Warren Ellis’ violin screeches and screams to great effect.
‘Thirsty Dog’ shows that no matter how hard they try the lads can never truly rid themselves of that post punk snarl from which they were birthed. ‘Lay Me Low’ on the other hand gives Cave a fine platform to go full on Vegas crooner, a sarcastic ode to legacy and a life lived to its fullest. Imagine ‘My Way’ but for bookish outsiders.
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'Murder Ballads' (1996)
One of the more accessible releases for the beginner, ‘Murder Ballads’, predictably features ten tracks eager to paint a horrible and violent demise. Featuring the likes of PJ Harvey, Shane MacGowan and Kylie Minogue on guest vocals, the group’s ninth release displays the band’s usual brand of doomed love mixed with an added lightness of touch.
The Kylie boasting ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ evokes the spirit of a lush 60s duet, albeit one that ends with a fatal bludgeoning. Similarly ‘Henry Lee’, Caves masterful track with Harvey, aches with melancholy and romanticism and in fact led to a relationship between the two.
That’s not to say this is a ‘soft’ record though, far from it. ‘Curse Of Millhaven’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ are two of the nastiest yet humorous numbers the band has ever produced, the front man gleefully inhabiting the psychotic protagonists. Twenty years on ‘Murder Ballads’ still stands as great example of what makes the group tick while displaying their growing musical spectrum and ambition.
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'Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus' (2004)
Bursting forth with the gospel backed opener ‘Get Ready For Love’, this double album can easily claim to be The Seeds most vibrant and diverse release. An absolute master class in lyrical imagery and musical ambition, here the band took their usual darkness and filtered it through more a layered and grandiose framework to produce some truly heartbreaking moments.
Side B’s ‘Easy Money’, ‘Come To Me’ and ‘O Children’ make a tear jerking trio of rare power while in contrast the flute led ‘Breathless’ is the most upbeat and throw away piece of pop the band have ever penned. Still for its gentler moments there is still plenty of swagger left in the tank, especially on the mischievous ‘Hiding All Away’ and the exuberant ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’. An eighty-two minute sonic feast in which to easily lose ones self and come back changed.
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'Push The Sky Away' (2013)
Upon release some more foolish listeners described this odd and enchanting gem as ‘boring’, those poor saps. The gang’s fifteenth album sees Cave’s and Ellis’ soundtrack work bleed into the day job with the best possible results. Ghostly, bare and with some of Cave’s strangest lyrics, ‘Push the Sky Away’ reveals a band still happy to experiment and throw out the rulebook. Some pretty wigged out guitar noise may back ‘Mermaids’ but at its hearts it’s a classic Seeds track obsessing over God, women and the supernatural.
Elsewhere the fantastically titled ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ slowly builds an oily blues groove while Cave discusses Robert Johnson, Miley Cyrus and mummified cats. It’s all a little unhinged, but done with such a gentle hand it proves a real surprise. The titular track’s spectral organ leads the listener out the record, not with a bang but a drift, a group of French children eerily joining the singer as he looks for hope in it all.
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'Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 1984-2014' will be released on May 5th.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart