Beyond The Hits: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
, December 5th, 2013 07:39
Jeremy Allen, David Bennun, Julian Marszalek, Erin Lyndal Martin, JR Moores, Jamie Thomson, Luke Turner and John Doran run through some of the finest album tracks, b-sides, session moments, live versions, covers and hits that never were of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' long and illustrious career
1984 - 'Avalanche' (Leonard Cohen cover, from From Her To Eternity)
What a way to begin. After the chaos of The Birthday Party, starting the all-new Nick Cave project with a cover version was an audacious move, especially given it was a take on 'Avalanche', one of Leonard Cohen's finest moments. But this snarling, tense version actually seems like an apt choice, feeling like a beast coming alive, uncoiling itself from the bleak detritus of what was before into something unpleasant and new. The track itself builds from near silence, guitar and rattling ambience into a drum roll, before Cave sings, hoarse and mean, "I stepped into an avalanche / It covered up my soul". It's held together with sparse adornment - Barry Adamson's occasional bass notes, sparring guitar dissonance from Blixa Bargeld, the odd line of gothic synth.
Speaking earlier this year, Cave described how Songs Of Love & Hate (from which 'Avalanche' is taken) "had a massive effect on me as a kid, when I was 15 or 16 years old I lived in a country town, and someone got hold of this record, and it was like nothing I'd ever heard before." I wasn't around at the time to know, but even when I first heard The Bad Seeds' 'Avalanche' it felt unlike any Cohen cover I'd ever heard; his status inevitably means many are performed reverentially and melodically, which I feel rather misses the point. There are many interpretations to Cave's vicious cover version (a bleak hymn to addiction, perhaps), but the significance of the track is perhaps that it introduces The Bad Seeds as a unit (shortly before this they toured under the name Nick Cave & The Cavemen, which is rubbish) capable of gloriously misanthropic noise. Luke Turner
1984 - 'From Her To Eternity' (from From Her To Eternity)
The title track from the hastily assembled first Bad Seeds album is their first truly great moment, arriving with some alacrity given the cadaver of Cave's last band had barely gone cold. A chronic smack habit at the time of the Birthday Party split - and throughout the 80s and beyond - never appeared to render the songwriter and musician incapable like it does so many. Cave's strong Anglican background clearly instilled in him a strong protestant work ethic. 'From Her To Eternity' rattles with an urgency, a rawness, a capriciousness that made it essential listening in 1984 for any yoot with a proclivity for black nail varnish, and it has become an unlikely live favourite over the years.
With Barry Adamson returning to the fold for the Push The Sky Away tour, 'From Her To Eternity' has undergone something a renaissance, not that there was anything fusty or redundant about the original - dusted off and revived, and punchier than nearly anything else in the set, you have to tip your hat to a song nearly three decades old. That original recording somehow reeks of freezing Berlin (despite being recorded in London before the band decamped en masse) and appears like the vision of a madman beating an upright piano to pieces with a hammer as rats gnaw through the musical wires inside. It's a sweaty nightmare of a song, inhabiting the same somnolent hinterland where Poe resides. It still sounds absolutely frightening. Jeremy Allen
1985 - 'Wanted Man' (From The Firstborn Is Dead)
There are very few artists that can re-interpret source material and make it wholly their own, and Cave's cover of Johnny Cash's 'Wanted Man' is perhaps his finest example. Whereas the Man in Black's version is driven by a rollicking rhythm that casts the eponymous hero as a jolly vagabond riding the rails of a cross-county train, Cave's reading encapsulates the desperation of a criminal on the run from the law.
Cave's former right hand man Mick Harvey once described The Firstborn Is Dead as a "perverted blues album", and this is the track that probably sums this up the best. Ushered in by a pounding and menacing bass that increases in intensity and Blixa Bargeld's slide guitar, the mood is akin to the wind-swept sense of dread that permeates many of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. With Harvey keeping his drums to a bare minimum and coloured by occasional whiplash snare, the sense of anguish becomes drawn out to flesh out predicament of the eponymous protagonist.
At the centre of it all is one of Nick Cave's most powerful vocal performances. Snarling, menacing and driven by an ever-present mood of danger that threatens to explode into violence, Cave also adds a lyrical twist to the song's denouement. As with the Bad Seeds' cover of Roy Orbison's 'Running Scared', the whole thing is turned on its head as, following a litany of the places where this man is wanted, he cries out, "But there's one place I ain't wanted, Lord, it's the place that I call home." Julian Marszalek
1986 - 'I'm Gonna Kill That Woman' (from Kicking Against The Pricks)
It's almost impossible to overstate how important it was that the Mean Fiddler took over the booking for the Reading Festival in 1989. Gone were the turgid collection of bloated 70s rockers well past their sell-by date, and in their place were the sounds of the day. Appearing ahead of headliners The Cramps in 1990, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds cleared their own lofty hurdle as a formidable live band, as they took a huge leap forward to become an incredible festival proposition with an magnificent performance. And if any one song that year encapsulated all that's best about the Bad Seeds live experience, then this was it.
Drama, tension, passion, violence, betrayal – they're all here. It's a rare performer that can enrapture a concert crowd but to amplify to this level is an extraordinary talent. What lingers most in the memory is the band going down, down, down, their instruments getting ever quieter as Cave contemplates murderous intent. And as the sound from the stage grows dimmer so does the noise from the crowd as slowly and methodically they're drawn into this terrible world until silence descends across the festival site. It feels as if your very soul is being sucked from your body and into Cave's open palm. Within the blinking of an eye the Bad Seeds explode in a frenzy of feral instrumentation and the sense of release in the rapt throng in front of the stage takes on an orgiastic quality. Julian Marszalek
1986 - 'The Singer' (from Kicking Against The Pricks)
There's a slight irony about 'Tupelo', the strongest song that Cave wrote in the initial years of the Bad Seeds. (As far as I can tell) it reimagines the birth of Elvis Aaron Presley (and his stillborn twin brother Jesse Garon, of course) as the kind of eschatological event worthy of WB Yeats' 'The Second Coming' or the terrible visions bestowed upon St John in the Bible chapter 'Revelation'. It's vintage Cave in a brilliant nutshell (minus the girlfriend murder) - it's funny, apocalyptic, clever, chilling, biblical etc. It is noticeably, however, still being voiced by Nick Cave The Frontman rather than Nick Cave The Singer. He shouts about Elvis but it doesn't occur to him to sing like The King. Immediately after The Firstborn Is Dead, though, he turned an important - probably career making - corner, with regards to singing 'properly'.
For The Bad Seeds' third album, Kicking Against The Pricks Cave wanted to shrug off the goth tag with an album of covers of intense rock tracks and singer songwriter standards. It was a risky business aligning themselves with the great and the bad of rock history; in fashion terms it didn't make any sense and the knee jerk reaction from music writers was bound to be the accusation of "creative impasse". But what made it all the more surprising was the fact that Cave unveiled a rich, pliable and emotive baritone which surprised everyone - himself included, by all accounts. (It's not like he'd never sung 'properly' before, certainly he had a good bash on tracks such as 'Knockin' On Joe', but this album clearly represents the first attempt to take the role of singer deadly seriously.) Sure, he overreaches on a couple of tracks - 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' and 'Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart' - but otherwise this album is sheer class.
For me the standout moment is the rendition of the 1968 Johnny Cash track 'The Folk Singer'. It still gives me goosebumps to this very day (unlike 'Tupelo', which still gives me horripilation). Not only is it the, 'Ah yeah, he's nailed the vocals' moment on the album, but it was a clear sighted, smart choice. The band were unambiguous about their admiration for the Sun Records singer (who would eventually return the compliment by covering 'The Mercy Seat') back when it was intensely unfashionable to do so. (Cave's former drinking buddy Mark E Smith was, apparently, called a "fascist" by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons for admitting to listening to the country star.) The song was written by Cash and Charles E Daniels about the bubblegum pop star Tommy Roe, who had scored a couple of big hits Stateside in the early 60s and then fallen out of fashion somewhat, and it graced the b-side of his hit single 'Folsom Prison Blues'. Of course in the early 80s - a good decade before his triumphant Glastonbury performance and the start of his critical rehabilitation with the release of American Recordings in 1994 - The Man In Black was all but washed up, playing to pitifully small crowds in working men's clubs and holiday camps. In short, he had suffered the same fate as Tommy Roe.
The thing is, when The Bad Seeds laid down their version, they would have known that Tommy Roe went on to score the biggest hit of his career in 1969 with 'Dizzy', just months after the Cash single was released. This was a coded message to Cash, from one dark-hearted baritone to another - hold tight; your time will come again. Which of course, it did. John Doran
1986 - 'She Fell Away' (from Your Funeral, My Trial)
Before Nick Cave found a second career as a balladeer (and then a third as a novelist and a fourth as a scriptwriter) the polymath went about his days honing and perfecting the sound of gorgeous, glowering menace with more than a soupcon of the southern gothic. His Elvis obsession had subsided a little on what was the band's fourth album in just two and a half years, and what we were left with was the Bad Seeds' most frenetic and cohesive offering yet, 1986's Your Funeral, My Trial.
The title too was indicative of deliciously dark sense of humour that still permeates the band's career, though it wouldn't always be detectable by the dim (until maybe the overt sexy uncle dancing of Grinderman). Your Funeral represents a phantasmagoria of Cave's future endeavours as a songwriter, and 'She Fell Away' is one of the most pulsating and breathtaking on an album you'd find it difficult not to describe as 'pulsating' and 'breathtaking' from start to finish.
The slightly dubious "once the road lay open like a girl" lyric is revisited during the recent 'Water's Edge' ("their legs wide to the world like bibles open") but one can't castigate for recycling when a song sounds this urgent ('Water's Edge' is one of the finer moments on Push The Sky Away as well). Cave yelps and howls and chunters as the song is dragged on rollers like some stone monolith that will soon be worshipped. It falters momentarily, then builds again, before breaking free and causing untold carnage, bells chiming and Cave stuttering incantations and looking to all the world like a shotgun-wielding crazy. Jeremy Allen
1989 - 'Helpless' (from Neil Young tribute album The Bridge)
This writer's introduction to Neil Young came via this cover that first appeared on the 1989 tribute album, The Bridge. Sitting among readings of Young's song by Sonic Youth ('Computer Age'), Loop ('Cinnamon Girl') and The Flaming Lips ('After the Goldrush') among others, Cave's rendition closes side one with a forceful majesty. Aided and abetted by multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey and The Gun Club's master of spooky slide guitar Kid Congo Powers, and Bronwyn Adams on backing vocals, Cave's aching baritone croon is sharply at odds with the falsetto of the song's author. Consequently, this cover wraps itself in a feeling of resignation that's absent from the original, and by converting the country tinges of Young's version to a hybrid of gospel and the blues, this mood is given an extra weight of gravitas. The best cover versions should always send you away to the original while offering something new. Cave's 'Helpless' triumphs on both counts. Julian Marszalek
1990 - 'The Witness Song' (from The Good Son)
And here come the events all tumbling down… 1990 was my first summer in London and thrill of living in the capital was intoxicating – new friends, a new job and new experiences all collided to create a head-spinning joy that only comes with a move to the Big City. I was young and stupid and I should never have embarked on an affair with a colleague who I subsequently found out was engaged. And once I had this information, I still foolishly carried on with a relationship doomed to failure, even though she said she loved me and that she wanted to call the engagement off. Of course, she never did.
And as she wanked me off at the Brixton Academy, the crowd oblivious to our actions, never did the lyrics "Babe, you are a liar" seem so poignant.
1992 - 'God's Hotel' (Live Radio Session for KCRW Santa Monica)
Pinning down Nick Cave's attitude to religion is harder than nailing a jelly to a crucifix. "Any true love song is a song to God," he once wrote. He's confessed to being a committed "hammer-and-nails kind of guy" but at other times denies harbouring any Christian or religious beliefs. Devoted worshipper or heathen child, one thing for sure is the pervasive influence of Christianity on Cave's imagination. He's lifted so much material from The Good Book it's a surprise the big bearded bloke in the sky has never sued.
Recorded for a 1992 KCRW session, 'God's Hotel' finds Cave in heretical mocking mode. The scuffling, wonky-tonk (sic), faux-gospel number starts deferentially enough. Everybody's got a room in God's Hotel; it's never full so you won't be denied. From thereon, the sneering satire escalates in its ridiculousness. Everybody's got a harp in God's Hotel, so you won't come across any frustratingly prohibitive signs reading "There ain't no harp playing allowed", as is so often (not) the case in the mortal world. Oh, and in the next two verses it transpires that everybody in the hotel is blind, dumb and deaf, rendering the prior harp-playing and subsequent "Everybody plays piano" verses even more absurd. And at the song's abrupt ending, Cave brings the parodic prayer tumbling back to earth's seedy-but-fun reality: "Everybody got heaven in God's Hotel" so you'll never see a sign scribbled on a toilet wall reading "Rosy'll get ya to heaven, dial 686 844". Heaven is a maddeningly dull place where harp and piano playing may be permitted, but are also entirely pointless. There is no physical pleasure there. No sight. No sound. No speech. No Rosy. Who'd really want to spend an eternity in that dreary place? JR Moores
1993 - 'The Ship Song' (From Live Seeds)
It's the soundtrack of countless bedsitland assignations and post-break-up bouts of glum self-reflection, and has been covered a staggering amount of times (including live versions by the likes of Pearl Jam and Crowded House that I hope to never hear). As such, it doesn't really fall under the auspices of Beyond The Hits, but it's the version from Live Seeds – with it's seismic implications – that we're dealing with here. It's hands-down the better take on the song, free from the gloopy production on The Good Son that made it sound just a bit too darn Christmassy; in a live setting, its brittle edges are allowed to glint darkly like shards of onyx. But listen to the audience's reaction: three seconds in, there's a hysterical scream of recognition from a female fan (possibly more than one).
If you ever want to pinpoint the moment when Cave metamorphosised from rock & roll hellfire preacher to indie Leonard Cohen, it's when that deathless howl of joy is unleashed. After hearing that, the disgruntled Bad Seeds diehards I knew, given hope by The Good Son's follow-up Henry's Dream, with its stormy, sultry narratives, had to finally concede that the days of Tupelo thunderclaps and all that 'Lookee yonder' stuff were long gone; those such as myself who were a little late to the (birthday) party, and who maybe felt a bit of fraud for privately preferring Cave's gentler side, thought: 'Hey, it's not just me!' From thereon in, Cave was a songwriter that you could play to your mum (which I did, with No More Shall We Part now firmly established in the 'family favourites' canon.) Yep, the first born was dead; the carnival was over. It was all about letting love in and duets with Kylie from this point onwards. All together now: 'Skweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!' Jamie Thomson
1994 - 'Jangling Jack' (from Let Love In)
Nick Cave is, these days, frequently the subject of both serious academic appraisal and at times rather fawning fan worship as part of some new alt rock canon, neither of which I feel terribly comfortable with. I've always been more of a fan of The Bad Seeds as an ever-changing and ever-evolving rock & roll band, possibly the best we have. They're at their best, to put it simply, when they're being fun, and you don't get much more fun, cartoon and pantomime than 'Jangling Jack', just under three minutes of clanging brilliance that sets 1994 album Let Love In rather nicely for the next track, the imperious 'Red Right Hand'.
'Jangling Jack' was in many ways a precursor for the hilarious and bloody brilliance of The Bad Seeds' next album, Murder Ballads. Our protagonist - Jack who jangles - walks into bar and orders, "says I'm Jangling Jack I go do-dum-do / wanna Rinky Dink special, wanna little umbrella too" (still one of my favourite ever Nick Cave lines, for some reason), before getting in an altercation, getting shot, and ending up screaming for his mother in a bloody pile on the floor. It's a brilliant, vivid cartoon, so good that one Australian scrap metal artist has named himself after it. Luke Turner
1996 - 'Stagger Lee' (from Murder Ballads)
How much more evil one murderer can be than another murderer is like arguing over shades of black, and yet the self-proclaimed 'bad motherfucker' Nick Cave assumes for 'Stagger Lee' appears to be in a twisted league all of his own when cast against the other homicidal chanteurs on 1996's Murder Ballads. It's a point that's been made before but bears repeating; the way in which the Bad Seeds take a traditional American folk song and make it all their own is not easy to achieve - it takes chutzpah and commitment and an identity of a certain indelibility and vintage. Cave roars forth as the deviant incarnation of "Stag" Lee Shelton, and never has murder sounded so vile and entertaining at the same time.
It's as though Cave has taken The Aristocrats joke, the old theatre rib-tickler debased throughout the decades by subsequent comedians, and applied the principle to song. Possessed by a demon of profanity, he spews forth unrighteous anger and bilious Old Testament rage as well as some age-old sexual impropriety for good measure. It doesn't matter how often you listen to it, 'Stagger Lee' as performed by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is a vaudeville opera of nastiness and hilarious bawdiness, and in the live arena it usually marks the moment an astonishing band hit the very peak of their powers. Jeremy Allen
1996 - 'O'Malley's Bar, Pts 1, 2 & 3' (Mark Radcliffe session version)
It's no wonder that Nick Cave was among the first and loudest to acclaim the dark humour of presumed miserabilist Leonard Cohen. He must, as much as anything, have empathised with Cohen on that score. Cave is often bitterly, sardonically droll in song, and never more so than on Murder Ballads, the Bad Seeds' funniest album. 'The Curse Of Millhaven' is the most overtly comical number on the record, but the one that lurks longest in the memory is 'O'Malley's Bar'. It's a spatterfest of a song, lasting almost quarter of an hour, grotesque in its detail regarding both the massacre on which it lingers, and the psychological twists of its terrible protagonist.
It's a marvel of imagination and (in all senses) execution, but it's not the studio recording that I keep on my iPod. There is a more insinuating and unnerving version yet: a three-part reading from a 1996 Mark Radcliffe Radio One session, collected on the B-Sides & Rarities set. This one stretches over seventeen minutes, fading in and out, in episodic fashion, on radio static and a walkie-talkie voice that gasps, "Oh my God, oh my God, they shot him in the mother------- head." (Well, it was Radio One. Good luck getting even that much on there now without bringing down the BBC.)
The bar-room piano sprinkled over the song's slow pulse, constituting the sole instrumental variation in its menacing repetition, both echoes and mocks its setting. Cave's vocal has seldom been better possessed by one of his characters: the preening, the narcissism, the madness, the rationalisation of his cruelty and cowardice - they're all slithering about in there. Even by his standards it's a masterful, precise invocation of the macabre, and one of my favourite things his band has done. David Bennun
1997 - 'Come Into My Sleep' (B-Side to 'B-side of '(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?')
There's a lot to be said for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' vice-like grip on the quality control of the vast majority of their albums, but that 'Come Into My Sleep' appeared as the b-side to '(Are You) The One I've Been Waiting For?' still beggars belief. Yet, on reflection, this lush mid-tempo ballad would have upset the flow of The Boatman's Call. Nonetheless, this remains one of the most affecting of numbers among Cave's canon of love songs. The distance of lovers whose physical presence could be divided by continents, cities or simple disagreements is bridged by the power of imagination and lucid dreams. The picture painted here is nothing less than vivid, as Cave implores the object of his desire to overcome the perceived boundaries of reality. The performance by the band is at once understated and forceful. Mick Harvey's xylophone skitters and dances with Jim Sclavunos' bongos over Martyn P. Casey's rock solid bass, before giving way to a chorus that swells and beats with the passion of a lovelorn heart. A hidden gem, it shines ever brighter with each return visit. Julian Marszalek
2001 - 'Disco 2000' (Pulp cover, b-side to 'Bad Cover Version')
Anyone who's heard Nick Cave's cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Tower Of Song' knows that producing a faithful rendition of an original is not high on Cave's list of priorities. Of all the songs Cave might cover, though, one by Pulp wouldn't seem high on the list – Jarvis Cocker is hardly mired in the kind of Old Testament agony that fuels so many of Cave's songs. Yet Cave recorded not one but two versions of Pulp's up-tempo 'Disco 2000', a song which Melody Maker summarised as a "fantasy of meeting an old flame and reversing time".
The original version boils over with enthusiasm as the narrator admires a lass named Deborah and seems certain that they'll be together in the future, even if she's grown older and had a baby. Cave's version, unsurprisingly, is less hopeful. More than that, it emphasises the sadness that this narrator has spent his life waiting for the affection of a girl who will never notice him. Though the 'Pub Rock Version' is more in keeping with Pulp's original, Cave really shines in the slow dirge version, solidifying him as not only a great songwriter but a great reinterpreter too. Erin Lyndal Martin
2001 - 'Oh My Lord' (from No More Shall We Part)
No More Shall We Part is generally accepted as the moment Warren Ellis went from peripheral figure to unofficial Bad Seed vice president, though 'Oh My Lord' - a song that mostly swaggers between two chords and sits somewhere between a gospel standard and a sea shanty - is one of the few tracks that doesn't indulge Cave's new penchant for drenching everything in violin (the penchant doesn't last beyond this album). Instead we get a narrative that, like 'Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow' - also on this record - takes melodrama into the realms of the hilarious. In that song Cave cries out for his nurse in bewilderment, while during 'Oh My Lord' worse still awaits him, with a Sword of Damocles hanging precariously over his head. If The Boatman's Call sagged under its own sentimentality like a drenched shop awning, then the follow up took unreality into a realm of camp pantomime, a welcome exercise in play-acting after all that heart rending and wrenching. Jeremy Allen
2004 - 'She's Leaving You' (b-side of 'Nature Boy')
Along with masquerading as a southern U.S. preacher man, appropriating African-American blues culture, and dying his hair a preposterous shade of black, the most common allegation thrown at Cave is that of misogyny. He doesn't exactly refute such charges, with his countless ballads detailing the sexual murder of women, and publishing an entire novel about the probable perfection of Avril Lavigne's genitals. Nevertheless, even if Cave feels empathy for some of his characters, the accusation that he is morally identical to his pathetic band of desperate, stupid, woman-slaying protagonists is a bit like accusing Robert Louis Stevenson of being a notorious one-legged pirate captain.
For those who remain gravely unimpressed by fantasies of smashing Kylie Minogue's pretty skull to pieces with a big rock, 'She's Leaving You' may offer respite. Here it is clearly the female character who holds every ounce of power over the wretched, hopeless, undignified chap who realises he's being abandoned. Throughout, the heroine seems completely justified in her decision to depart and is never condemned. In verse three, gender stereotypes are reversed as the couple engage in sexual intercourse, only for the man to be unceremoniously discarded as he is witheringly informed, "Don't worry, baby, this is just my little way of leaving you". He accompanies her to the train station anyway, whereupon he winds up "crying buckets". "Oh c'mon, baby," she scorns, "that's no way to behave".
Musically, it is a frantic, galloping rumble of Bad Seeds raucousness, totally at odds with the poppily conventional, Cockney Rebel-esque 'Nature Boy' single to which it was the b-side. Co-written by Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos, 'She's Leaving You' signals the gestation of the raw, cathartic shriek of middle-aged frustration that would be the Grinderman project. JR Moores
2008 - 'We Call Upon The Author' (from Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!)
Nick Cave and his colleagues' ability to keep Grinderman and The Bad Seeds as very different projects is quite an achievement, and a strength of both. So just a year after the Grinderman record was released, the band put out Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, an album that still managed to sound like The Bad Seeds collective, rather than the four randy nocturnal uncles. From Roland S Howard to Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey, Nick Cave has always thrived with a right hand man to bounce off, and it was on this album where the creative partnership with Warren Ellis really started to come to fruition. However, this can also be rather overplayed - I've felt that in recent years the chugging of Martyn P Casey's bogan bass has become crucial to the Bad Seeds developing sound, giving firmament for their increasingly experimental, less rockist, bent.
Here, the driving music - organ, viola scrapes, guitars having an eccentric mutter to themselves - is the backing to lurid wordplay by Cave. Where his otherworldly landscapes were often rooted in the American gothic, violent cinema, or imagined histories, here they become more surreal and busy ("Our myxomatoid kids spraddle the streets / We've shunned them from the greasy grind / The poor little things they look so sad and old / As they mount us from behind" and rooted in the present of "rampant discrimination / Mass poverty, third world debt / Infectious disease, global inequality/ And deepening socio-economic divisions." Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have always felt like a band who do prototypes and pointers rather well, and this is certainly a huge leap towards the more reflective, observational narratives explored so eloquently on this year's Push The Sky Away. Luke Turner
2013 - 'Finishing Jubilee Street' (from Push the Sky Away)
When Cave released Push The Sky Away earlier this year, many critics looked for the ways in which Cave was repeating or even parodying himself. But of course Cave had some new tricks to share, 'Finishing Jubilee Street' being one of them. (The song's title and first line reference 'Jubilee Street', the centrepiece track on Push The Sky Away, but the songs are only very loosely connected.) Mostly, 'Finishing Jubilee Street' is a beautiful song, from the opening moans to the haunting backing vocals to Cave's crisp intonation detailing a dream he had. Then there is the lovely refrain "all of this and her dark hair", evocative of the repeated references to black hair in The Boatman's Call's 'Black Hair'. It's not just that 'Finishing Jubilee Street' is a solid song on its own, though; it's the pseudo-self-reference that makes it a standout track.
With the possible exception of The Birthday Party's 'Nick The Stripper', Cave has avoided anything resembling self-reference in his songs. Cave has maintained a certain persona throughout his career rather than opt for tell-all vulnerability — yet, prior to 'Finishing Jubilee Street', he'd never given a hint of an outside life to the character who creates the songs. In 'Finishing Jubilee Street', the Cave persona is becoming more human - he's writing songs, sleeping, dreaming. And what a compelling dream it is. Erin Lyndal Martin
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live From KCRW is out now