It's nice that Nick Cave feels kinder and gentler, it'll help him stay sane and live longer, but I miss that old manic intensity. The intensity that made him bark like a dog on Birthday Party's title song, the intensity that was presented in its most polished form on an album full of Murder Ballads, and then put away in a shelf with old bones, empty cognac bottles, tattered Bibles and discarded French letters, never to be dusted out again.
Only, never is an excessively long time, and Old Nick couldn't stay domesticated for too long. Nocturama already shows signs of a certain tension between the old, raving Cave and the new, croony-gloomy one. The struggle for ascendancy reached its peak on the twin CDs of Abbatoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus and the Bad Son seems to have gained ascendance for the moment . At least for the purposes of the current record, the debut from Nick Cave's side project - a band consisting of a stripped-down version of the Bad Seeds, without long-term collaborator Mick Harvey, and with the CaveMan on guitars.
It's a far more organic and spontaneous sound than the structured, premeditated writing that has marked recent (and probably future) Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds records. Still, it isn't as if it couldn't have been released as a Bad Seeds album - for all that the first two tracks, 'Get It On' and 'No Pussy Blues', and the album closer, 'Love Bomb' brim with noisy guitar, pounding rhythm and frantic vocals with lyrics about sex, and rock n' roll, and sex and what have you (and sex) (and rock n' roll), the album soon moves on to more mid-paced, melodic material. The title track is a stripped-down, rootsy affair that wouldn't have been out of place in classic Bad Seeds albums like 'Tender Prey' or 'The Good Son'. '(I Don't Need You) To Set Me Free' could have found a place on 'Let Love In' it certainly has a rhythmic imperative that hasn't been seen a lot since then. 'Man In The Moon' might as well have fit on any album since 'The Boatman's Call'.
But I think these are only superficial similarities. There really is a raw, personal feel running through these songs - a return to a more confessional, cathartic statement. I felt that even the best albums of his recent phase missed a certain darkness and directness, and this album sees all those elments back in place. Sure, it's an older, wryer, less impatient Cave at work here, but one who is again on the edge, as a songwriter, reaching deep into his favourite music of the distant past and the the darkest places in his blackened heart to create songs like the latter-day folk masterpiece, 'Go Tell The Women'.
There are two versions of this album. A leaked version, and an official one. The leaked version has three rather good songs - 'Decoration Day', 'Rise' and especially 'Vortex' that are missing from the final release. Not that the replacement songs, 'Depth Charge Ethel' and 'When My Love Comes Down' are any weaker, but I wonder what happened. Perhaps the idea was to create a more focussed set, with as few slower, more ballady songs that could instead be saved for the next Bad Seeds album.
The Eiderdown-Stuffing Botomline: Cave strips it down and notches it up to deliver the album that I've been hoping he would for a while, now. He's back on the edge, but he's done his thing, he has evolved - he just might be invincible again!