CD Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Let Love In
Murder Ballads
The Boatman’s Call
Mute
By David Chiu

The mid to late ‘90s was a pretty fruitful period for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, one that saw the band release a string of highly-praised albums. That is the case with these recent reissues of albums from 1994 to 1997 (along with 2001’s No More Shall We Part), accompanied by a DVD of additional tracks and videos. For those who are just getting into the Bad Seeds’ music for the first time, Let Love In (1994) could be a pretty intense listen, verging between jagged and sinister rock (“Loverman,” “Jangling Jack”) and the overwrought and moody soulful tunes (“Do You Love Me?,” “Lay Me Now”)—the turbulent music echoed by Cave’s haunted baritone singing. Murder Ballads (1996) is exactly that—a collection of both originals and some traditional tunes centered on the theme of death or murder. Cave and Co. treat the songs on the record with a combination of macabre, cinematic drama and tenderness. They employ a fresh take on the old standard “Stagger Lee” with almost a hip-hop/funk sensibility; “The Curse of Millhaven” has a Vegas/bluesy shuffle to it, and the epic “O’Malley’s Bar” (clocking in at over 10 minutes) possess a quirky, even loungey sheen. The slower numbers are the standout here, particularly an elegant duet with PJ Harvey on “Henry Lee” and especially the unusual collaboration with Kylie Minogue on “Where The Wild roses Grow.” (Strip away the pop element of her music, and she’s a terrific singer, as showcased on that track.) It’s not all doom and gloom on Murder Ballads, as the guest stars—also including Shane McGowan– and the band close the record on a hopeful note with Bob Dylan’s “Death is Not the End.” 1997’s The Boatman’s Call departs thematically from those previous two albums—the mood is so heartfelt, soul-baring, and spiritual in nature. Even Cave tones down the dark, sometimes tortured aspects of singing for something straightforward and vulnerable: “Into My Arm” is a heartbreakingly beautiful ballad as is “Lime Tree Arbour”; the lyric on “Black Hair” is so sensuous, accented by Warren Ellis’s accordion playing. It’s not all lovey-dovey—some of the songs possess the angst of the previous works like the pessimistic “People Ain’t No Good,” romantic- sounding “Far From Me” and the ballad “Idiot Prayer.” Of the three albums mentioned here, The Boatman’s Call is the better of the best—but one can’t go wrong with either of them. For those experiencing the Bad Seeds as a novice, be prepared for one long emotional ride into the inner demons of the soul.

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