Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

3. Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsMurder Ballads

Nick Cave is one of my favourite artists who I’ve almost come to loathe. I think he’s had this kind of Evening Standard Magazine-ification, where he’s settled into a role that I think is quite safe, and representative of a certain element of the establishment. That’s quite safe. His politics are probably most in line with Tony Blair, and although he has had some amazing writing in the Red Hand Files, I think he’s allowed himself to fall into the trap of being a kind of anti-cancel culture uncle. There’s a song he uses the N-word in, and he’s carrying himself like everyone’s waiting to call him out on it. But there’s no one in the world who cares because there’s so much real stuff going on. But these aren’t alternative beliefs he’s espousing, he’s empowering mainstream narratives. I’m sure there’s lots of aging middle class goth dads who will happily find a mouthpiece in Nick Cave where they wouldn’t in Lawrence Fox or Jordan Peterson. I also think in Warren Ellis he has a very uncritical collaborator whereas in Mick Harvey he had someone who clearly didn’t think that the sun shone out of his arse. That said, I think Push The Sky Away was maybe his best album.

I almost hate myself that the album I got into him with and listen to the most is Murder Ballads, probably the type of the album he’s defending with his ‘we can’t say what we want in songs now?’ stuff, but the first three songs on this album, ‘Song Of Joy’, ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘Henry Lee’, was the first time I’d heard musicians sing about fucked-up things. At the time, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Most of the music I’d listened to in the first half of my teens was five guys and a couple of guitars, and it was great, but when The Bad Seeds did [MTV Two’s alternative music show] 120 Minutes, I though that was a step cooler.

There were certain artists who I came to, like Nick Cave and Billy Childish, because I just loved people saying outlandish things, and going to uncomfortable territory. There’s stuff on Murder Ballads that he does almost for the sake of it, but I also enjoy the slightly lighter songs like ‘Song Of Joy’, where it’s less blood and guts up front and more storytelling. I hadn’t heard much narrative stuff in music and that connected back to the theatrical side of music I enjoyed. If Nick Cave was to release it now, it would end up being a West End musical. It’s stories well told, and though it’s quite irksome for anyone to talk about how bands sound at any point, The Bad Seeds are at their best.

I still love him, he’s managed to stay interesting and good for longer than pretty much anyone. Even Bowie was only really good for ten or 15 years, in terms of his top level. Whereas if you looked at Nick Cave’s best albums, it’s from every decade I just don’t necessarily want to hear his opinion on everything, as articulate and creatively as he makes his point

Selected in other Baker’s Dozens: Frank Carter, Dinos Chapman, Marianne Faithfull
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