Reissues: Let Love In, Murder Ballads, The Boatman's Call, No More Shall We Part
Let’s be honest, Mute’s third set of Bad Seeds’ reissues is the one we’ve been a-waiting for.
As great as the previous seven albums undoubtedly are, the real red meat of the matter is in these beautifully presented collector’s editions.
Let Love In, from 1994, is a terse summation of everything they’d done before – from ragged punk blues to gospel-tinged rock ’n’ roll and gothic balladry.
Cave’s lyrics are fiery, funny and literate, while the band’s playing is routinely brilliant, never more so than on the deadly Do You Love Me? and the tortured sympathy of Nobody’s Baby Now; while the chilling Paradise Lost imagery on Red Right Hand should freeze the marrow.
But it’s the 1996 follow up, Murder Ballads, that continues to excite fans and thrill newcomers. An unflinching account of the human soul in torment, the protagonists of its songs fight, flounder, fall in love and forget all reason to fulfill their lust as they savage their demons under the noses of God and the Devil. One of them even quotes Milton; while Polly Harvey (on Henry Lee) and Kylie Minogue (Where the Will Roses Grow) prove devilish duettists for Cave’s visceral visions.
If that’s all bit rich for your tastes, try The Boatman’s Call, with its piercing set list inspired by Cave’s break-up with Polly Harvey. Dignified, redemptive, spiritual, songs like the exquisite Into My Arms and Brompton Oratory, with its religious undertones, are damned-near perfect.
The under-rated, but no less brilliant No More Shall We Part would be the pinnacle of lesser careers, but is just another highlight of Cave’s. Love, loss and God inform throughout as on the sprawling, but fat-free, ballad No More Shall We Part.
All four albums come with videos, extra tracks, exhaustive sleeve notes and telling talking head making-of films.
Reissues: Nocturama, Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! (August 2012)
In which the uniformly excellent Bad Seeds reissue programme brings us slap, bang up to date with the band’s three most recent works, more than whetting appetites for Cave’s long-awaited return to his day job after sating the libidinous howl of Grinderman and packing it back in its, erm, cave – maybe for good.
For many Bad Seeds aficiandos, Nocturama is the sound of the band in neutral, coasting, catching its breath, planning its next move…
Stumbling into the new millennium with the introspective No More Shall We Part left Nick Cave with a dilemma – look to the past or herald a future?
Nocturama sounds like he was temporarily nonplussed, wrong-footed possibly by his own survival. Thus, She Passed By My Window is sure sorrowful, sullen even, but lacks the conviction of before. More encouraging are the shock and awe of the incendiary Babe, I’m On Fire suggesting the disgraceful glory of future offerings, ditto Bring It On. Cruelly overlooked on its 2003 release, the album’s true heart belongs in the mordant, apocalyptic musings of Dead Man In My Bed as religion, sex, mistrust and redemption collide beautifully.
Nocturama’s cul-de-sacs made the roar of Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus all the more surprising, overwhelming even. Never one to rest on laurels or invoke past glories, Cave pushed his band of blood brothers hard, insisting they wear suits to work and forbidding anything resembling a training shoe. He’s in commanding form throughout the two parts of this release – Abbatoir Blues playing the raunchy, rocking, sonic assault to the seductive touches and lighter leanings of The Lyre of Orpheus.
It’s not an entirely accurate distinction – Nature Boy and There She Goes, My Beautiful World from the first flit between tenderness and oddball humour, although the opener, Get Ready For Love plugs in, turns up and lets loose in spectacular fashion. The second’s title track is an object lesson in old-fashioned storytelling, Breathless packs an emotional punch and Babe, You Turn Me On sets out convention romantic intentions that find even more glorious voice on Supernaturally.
The extras include both audio and video live cuts that capture the band (without Blixa for the first time in years) in the form of its life, a fact that’s returned to in the accompanying film.
Lazarus is a music leviathan from start to finish. The Bad Seeds pick up the majestic sceptre and orb they lay down with the album’s predecessor and kick on to new heights. There are distinct grooves, grey-slavered moods, big beats and a highly refined gentle touch. There is excess. There is restraint. There are sonic episodes that become the music makers’ middle age and others that rip up the rulebook and show the young guns a thing or two about pushing the limits. It’s a class act.
But all of that bravura serves only to point up Cave’s lyrics. His songs are peppered with a cast of exotics, some real (Miss Polly anyone?), some probably not real, all would make their mark on any company. The aching Jesus of the Moon shows there’s still room for romance, although generally old Nick take a more matter-of-fact approach to les affaires de Coeur. More typical are the soul deep exhortations of We Call Upon the Author and the laugh-out-loud seedy travelogue of the title track.
A smattering of b-sides and the singles videos fill in a few gaps, but the big bonus with Dig, as with all these reissues, is the concluding part of Do You Love Me Like I Love You, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 14-part short film about the record featuring members of the cast.
Can’t wait to hear what happens next.
- all released on Mute Records. Nick Cave photo by Steve Gullick