“SOME PEOPLE SAY IT’S JUST ROCK AND ROLL, BUT IT GETS YOU RIGHT DOWN TO YOUR SOUL” SINGS NICK CAVE ON THE TITLE TRACK OF HIS NEW ALBUM. IN TRUTH THERE’S NOT A LOT OF ROCK AND ROLL HERE, SONICALLY AT LEAST, IF PREVIOUS BAD SEEDS RELEASES ARE YOUR MEASURE.
Moments of quiet refracted light seep through, hinting that all might be in danger of being quite well down by the shore in Brighton.
This won’t do, of course. But rest (un)easy – by the end of PUSH THE SKY AWAY things are reassuringly burned and bleak, close to being business as usual. Without Mick Harvey by his side, however, there are distinct differences in what Cave does to get to where it is that he goes.
It’s a much smaller sounding record than he’s released before, occasionally almost a sketchpad of home demos, and some of the songs feel like moments in time, improvisations almost. When any grandeur does come (lush strings here, Scott Walker baritone there) it’s much more affecting than one might have cause to expect. Including lyric notes and revisions in the sleeve of a deluxe edition means that, at times, it feels like we’re close in on the private process as Cave scythes away the soiled outward churn of DIG LAZARUS DIG, scatters seeds and sets about gently tending his vine.
WIDE LOVELY EYES floats on muted guitar scratches and soft-edged electric piano, while WE NO WHO U R has Cave dialing dynamics down to ‘anaemic’. Tinny radio-static drums and lazy-delay keyboard set up a soft-fuzz lo-speed spin on the opening of Radiohead’s PLANET TELEX. Pretty lines gather in dry-mouth clusters over the tongue as Cave wakes in hangover sunshine following the piss and vinegar of his big night out with Grinderman. The threat, the blood, flows in almost unnoticed when “We know who you are, and we know where you live. We know there’s no need to forgive” arrives with the same blank intonation.
There’s a chord drop in WATER’S EDGE which briefly nods – presumably deliberately – to WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW (MURDER BALLADS, 1995) and, therefore, suggests a sinister fate for the girls who populate the song. City types who come for a day at the seaside have “legs wide for the world” and the sexually predatorial local boys oblige. It’s voyeuristic and thrilling, Cave’s half-spoken reportage broadcast into the wind over Gothic jazz which feels like it might be blown in any direction at any moment. MERMAIDS (“She was a catch, we were a match… I was the match that would light up her snatch”) is gorgeous and grand – as close to being fully formed as anything gets here. Again, light – this time dancing across a slow-motion sea-surface. The title track is a whispered apocalypse, phased organ swelling around an admission that the curtains have to be shut for Nick Cave to present Nick Cave.
This sad, frightening and sometimes funny album suggests that being A Dark Rock And Roller – whether that’s a deliberate position or an unavoidable vocation – is something of an art, one which requires emotional sacrifice and mental effort. Check that title again. Those curtains, quite clearly, don’t just close themselves… Despite the considered gloom, The Bad Seeds’ 15th album is Cave’s most accessible in years – it’s almost certainly his best.