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Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

  by Anthony Middleton

published: 28 / 3 / 2010

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds


Anthony Middleton looks at the mid 80's and early 90's history of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who in the second instalment of an extensive reissue campaign have just had three albums from that era, 'Tender Prey', 'Henry's Dreaam' and 'The Good Son',all re-released

Not content to be a ubiquitous presence with Hollywood scores, novels and side projects, Nick Cave is just about midpoint in an ambitious project to issue definitive re-masters of his Bad Seeds work. Perhaps his relatively high profile is the opportunity to justify the re-issue of over a dozen albums, even, apparently, those released in the last few years such as 'Dig, Lazerus! Dig!!', which you would have hoped did not have any need of re-mastering. These are not simply cleaned up, hiss-free retreads. They are, and are meant to feel, definitive in way that, one suspects, the recent Stones, even Beatles, re-issues are simply another marketing ploy to be repeated and re-hashed every few years. The integrity of the original albums are retained by featuring a main disc that, played on a normal hi-fi, has only the songs that were initially released. This is a blessed relief; how many CD issues of albums have been defiled by the well meaning inclusion of out-takes, live tracks or alternate takes that destroy the ‘narrative’ of the recording. Elvis Costello in particular seems intent of making us hear every stray note he has ever strummed or sung over the past thirty years. Here, this is reflected in the packaging that resembles the original, mentioning additional material subtly. Popped into a friendly DVD or computer, the extras appear as if by magic; surround sound, videos, additional songs are there for your delight, or to be listened or watched once and then forgotten about as the case may be. Central to the whole project is the inclusion in all the re-issues of a 40-minute film about the making and impact of each album. Bad Seeds, celebrity fans, civilian fans, musicians and ex-girlfriends all talk to camera about the period in which the album was recorded and what it mean to them. The obvious absence is of course Mr Cave himself. One assumes this was not simply due to his being too busy with his hair colourist but rather a deliberate understanding that he has said as much as he needs to in the songs and that to retain the mystique and magic of his work, it would not help if he sat and explained every last quaver. That said, they have something of the obituary about them. 'The Mercy Seat', the first song on 'Tender Prey', the 1988 first album of the trio of latest re-releases, is arguably his masterpiece or at least would remain so for a good few years after these albums appeared. An apocalyptic, nightmarish stream of consciousness insight into the mind of a killer about to be put to death, the song has become, along with 'Stagger Lee' and 'Into My Arms', irresistible elements of his live performance. The rest of 'Tender Prey' is nearly over-shadowed by the magnitude of this, but it is a close thing. A sense of chaos abounds, showing perhaps that certain lifestyle choices and working practices dating back to the days of the Birthday Party has still not been discarded. In contrast to the burnished work of more recent years, there is a sense of nervous, youthful energy inspiring experimentation and adventure. Songs such as 'Deanna', 'Up Jumped the Devil' and 'City of Refuge' have a kinetic pace about them that the more cerebral Cave strives to reproduce to this day. 'The Good Son', the 1990 second album, is nearly an oddity. In some ways it pre-empts many of the changes that are generally a good way down the line, though this perhaps shows that progression is not necessarily linear, but rather meandering, occasionally doubling back. Apparently recorded after a post-detox Cave spent a year in a Clapham bedsit watching videos and eating curry, 'The Good Son' was largely written and recorded in Brazil. Nick Cave in Rio doesn’t really sit well with me, the sun, the tanned-flesh, the samba beats do not seem to be acceptable backdrops to someone who looks like an un-dead undertaker. Still, it worked and it created new possibilities that continue to be explored to this day. From the opening religious imagery of 'Foi Na Cruz' ("It happened on the Cross") to the bathos of 'The Weeping Song' to grandiosity of 'Lucy', Cave set down themes he would continue to explore while refusing to adhere to a single musical genre. Showing a newfound sensitivity and lighter touch, Cave demonstrates that he could take conventional themes and forms and give them a unique re-spray, as with 'The Shop Song,' another live staple that transcends a simple love song. 'The Good Son' also features some of the better extras on these albums. 'The Train Song', the hilarious duet of Cave and Blixa Bargeld in the video of 'The Weeping Song' and an unexpected cover of Neil Young standard 'Helpless'. Lack of conventionality is a given with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, although it is easy to forget how unusual they are in their make up and influences. With the Australian punk core of the band, central European elements of Blixa Bargeld and Thomas Wylder who brought Industrial influences to bear, along with Americans Kid Congo Powers and Jim Sclavunos, this is no ordinary group as their interviews on the DVDs bear out. But there is a common thread of being true to their sources; there has been a constant reverence, though not slavish, for musical history, refusing to be backed into an artistic corner. If there is a weak point in the opus, many would say it was 1992's 'Henry’s Dream', the last of the reissues, although it contains such great songs as 'Papa Won’t Leave You', 'Henry' and 'Straight to You'. It is obviously the least favourite of many of the Bad Seeds, including Cave who said that a fractious relationship with producer David Briggs saw his vision fail to be translated onto vinyl. Cave wanted a violent, chaotic sound; given that Briggs was an eminent West Coast rock producer who oversaw much of Neil Young’s seventies output, is is hardly surprising that the two did not share a common vision. 'Henry’s Dream' does, however, marks an important evolution in Cave’s writing in that the songs become more narrative driven, something that has become a hallmark in his work. Along with the first four Bad Seeds re-issues last year -'Rrom Her to Eternity'(1984), 'The Firstborn is Dead'(1985),'Kicking Against the Pricks' and 'Your Funeral...My Trial' (both 1986)- these three albums represent just eight years of work which is remarkable not only for the sheer quality but the breadth and development of the work.

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Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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