Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!!

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Dig Lazarus Dig!!!

For someone who happily fell into the vast Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds vortex with the twisted storytelling triumvirate of Henry’s Dream (1992), Let Love In (1994) and Murder Ballads (1996), the last decade or so of the Cave and co. catalogue has been to some degree been underwhelming. Whilst there have been some notable delights (1997’s The Boatman’s Call for instance), this listener has been craving more of the aggression and drive of the aforementioned early-‘90s trilogy, complete with bilious Cave-scrawled narratives and a more brutish Bad Seeds than we’ve become accustomed to lately. Enticingly, from its demonstrative exclamatory title inwards, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! may then at last be the one to truly put the Old Testament, testosterone and team-work back into the relationship between Cave and his alchemic ensemble.

The opening eponymous track could be worth the admission price alone. Powered by a granite-heavy groove and baritone Bad Seed backing vocals, “Dig Lazarus Dig!!!” is a virtual-sequel to the swaggering “Do You Love Me?” (from Let Love In); full of bleakly-hilarious lyrical nuggets that spit out from the speakers. From thereon in, the album twists and curls in line with the more demonstrative voodoo-rock edges of Cave’s past repertoire, with The Bad Seeds flexing defiantly masculine – but still far from brainless – muscles throughout.

The snarl-along blues of “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl)” and the sneering Stooges-like “Albert Goes West” feel like logical extensions of last year’s grimy swamp-rocking Grinderman side-project LP. The deliciously spooky “Night Of The Lotus Eaters” joins the dots between Cave’s Birthday Party-era “Mutiny In Heaven” and his Bad Seeds-assisted classic “The Carny”, with apocalyptic visions and a bass-loop-derived eerie ambience. The misanthropic “Moonland” bends a seventies slow-funk cruise into something claustrophobically creepy. If the throbbing organ-duelling of “Today’s Lesson” sounds like latter-day Gallon Drunk, then it proves that relatively new Bad Seed and Drunk mainstay, James Johnston, has finally been allowed to assert his presence with the group.

Whilst all this stylistic switching and swerving truly revives the democracy of The Bad Seeds, Cave still casts his presidential-veto with two terrifically verbose epics; “We Call Upon The Author” and “More News From Nowhere”. The former is a stirring stream-of-consciousness that mocks, celebrates and disembowels the art of Cave’s own songcraft; “Young people gather round my feet/Ask me things/But I don’t know where to start/They ignite the powder-trail straight to my father’s heart”. The latter is a sprawling, sometimes self-referencing but surrealist, travelogue of part-fictional love-affairs; “Here comes Alina with two black eyes/She’s given herself a transfusion/She’s filled herself with panda blood/To avoid all the confusion.”

Perhaps where Dig Lazarus Dig!!! does struggle to reach the dizzy heights of Henry’s Dream, Let Love In and Murder Ballads is through a failure to apply sufficiently gory gravitas into the core songwriting. There’s nothing here that quite leaves the same vivid impressions forever-left by the likes of “John Finn’s Wife”, “Red Right Hand” and “Stagger Lee”. But then we shouldn’t really have expected Cave to have completely repeated himself to placate just one corner of the fan-base baying for pure fire and brimstone, something he seems to touch upon in the album’s only ballad, “Jesus Of The Moon”; “People often talk about being scared of change/But for me I’m more afraid of things staying the same/‘Cause the game is never won/By standing in any one place for too long”. Thus, by challenging himself and his dextrous companions to look forwards as well as backwards, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! delivers a platter that is both powerfully-arcane and invigoratingly-fresh, that serves as possibly Nick Cave’s best ‘main-course’ studio release with The Bad Seeds for quite some time.