Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – From Her To Eternity/The Firstborn Is Dead/Kicking Against The Pricks/Your Funeral… My Trial (CD/DVD reissues)

It’s not hard to understand why the world of reissues stirs up such confusion and cynicism, given the multiple lines of attack followed by artists and labels alike to keep back catalogues alive or resuscitate them from near-death.  So, for every long-awaited first CD reissue of a lost vinyl relic (anything by Lee Hazlewood for instance) and a fan-rewarding expanded deluxe edition (Pavement, Sonic Youth et al.), there’s a straight-ahead spruced-up remastered repress (Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, ad infinitum) or an elitist audiophile upgrade with DVD-audio add-ons (Talking Heads, R.E.M., Depeche Mode and so forth) to foster an inferiority complex amongst music buyers about albums they’ve owned, played and loved regardless of fidelity for years.  This piecemeal-despatched new wave of CD/DVD reissues for the 14-strong studio canon of Nick Cave and his beloved Bad Seeds, sits broadly in the last camp. 

By rebooting an already well-serviced discography with rewired sonics for regular CD and purist DVD formats (with previously available bonus tracks strangely segregated on to the latter), Mute have thrown down the gauntlet – buy them again our way or not at all.  It’s a high-risk strategy destined to alienate some Cave followers but it does ultimately make us listen harder to the original long-players with minimal distraction… if affordability isn’t a stumbling block in these cash-evaporating times that is.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - From Her To Eternity

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - From Her To Eternity

1984’s From Her To Eternity is unquestionably worthy of revisiting, given its erroneous positioning as merely a bridge from Cave’s stint in the not-then-long disbanded Birthday Party to his ongoing Bad Seeds-backed solo career.  Even though Cave was indeed picking from the entrails and broken bones of The Birthday Party to build a body for his newer and increasingly labyrinth-like songwriting, his semi-solo debut stands strongly on it own merits now more than before.  With reams of lyrics in search of strong but stretchy structures, the formative Bad Seeds line-up of Mick Harvey (The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party), Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten), Barry Adamson (Magazine) and Hugo Race supplied the imagination required to bring Cave’s wordplay to vivid life (and death).  A chilling cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche” notwithstanding, Cave’s literary prose has rarely sounded quite so seeped in daring non-rock settings.  The dry drum whack and call-and-response vocals of “Well Of Misery” and “Wings Off Flies” reverberate as they if were authentic Roman slave-ship or chain-gang chants.  The piano-led epic “A Box For Black Paul” uncoils like the fractured ramblings of a haunted man playing to a barroom littered with the recently-diseased and the churning cinematics of “Saint Huck” will forever disturb readers of Huckleberry Finn.  Where the ghost of The Birthday Party lingered, the results were nevertheless twisted off an obvious path, as the bass-shuddering “Cabin Fever!” and the still stunningly omnipresent title-track attest.  It’s still not for the faint-eared, but with elevating but not over-loud remastering, From Her To Eternity is more defining than ever.

Notable DVD Extras: Bonus tracks-wise, we have the elegiac yet saccharine-drained cover of Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto,” the morbid “The Moon Is In The Gutter” and a ravaging 1987 re-recording of “From Her To Eternity.”  There’s also the first in a series of interesting-but-watch-once talking head reminiscences from past/present Bad Seeds, acolytes, contemporaries, fans and worryingly ill-looking ex-Birthday Party guitarist Roland S. Howard.  Inverted-snob qualms pushed aside, the 5.1 Surround Sound mix is rather ear-expanding with its more detailed filmic depth.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Firstborn Is Dead

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Firstborn Is Dead

1985’s The Firstborn Is Dead is a decidedly more confident second album – possibly over-confident in parts – resulting from Cave and The Bad Seeds (minus Hugo Race) desire to make a blues record, without actually making it sound much like the blues as we know it.  Hence, it’s a LP that captures Cave’s deepest immersion in the gothic storytelling of the blues and bible belts of the Deep South.  The experiment today sounds both ambitious and flawed.  “Tupelo” continues to tower powerfully with its tremendously stormy climax-building and its Elvis-obsessed mythologizing.  The vintage Cash-sung/Dylan-penned “Wanted Man” gains greater grit from Cave’s appended extra verses and The Bad Seeds’ edgy multi-layered accompaniment.  Despite being slightly forced in its railroad-riding rhythms, “Train Long-Suffering” provides a speedy dark groove that offsets a glut of rather ponderous and slow-paced pieces – like “Blind Lemon Jefferson” and “Knockin’ On Joe” – too reliant on Bargeld’s nervy slide guitar to soak them into the anti-blues remit.  Although par for the full Cave course, The Firstborn Is Dead isn’t the first necessary purchase for a late-comer.

Notable DVD Extras: Period B-side, “The Six Strings That Drew Blood,” fits closely to the main album’s aesthetic, but pales in comparison to the posthumously-unearthed version cut during The Birthday Party’s dying days. 

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -Kicking Against The Pricks

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -Kicking Against The Pricks

Despite its Bible-referencing title, 1986’s covers-only Kicking Against The Pricks was/is less about Old Testament fire-and-brimstone but more about celebrating influences, confrontationally challenging fans and critics’ preconceptions with lushness overriding rawness… and finding room for Cave to explore his fledgling crooner persona.  Like its immediate prequel, it’s a mixed-bag, with a smattering of highpoints that rouse even if they don’t quite soar high enough.  A coruscating take upon The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” possibly surpasses the original and its toneless Nico vocal; the desolate blues-folk of “The Singer” is endearingly self-deprecating; an eerie slow-motion deconstruction of “Hey Joe” could have sat well on From Her To Eternity; and the almost kitsch “Long Black Veil” pre-empts the black comedy body-counting of 1996’s Murder Ballads.  However, the likes of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” are so earnestly and sappily replicated that they just the bring album down to overall curiosity-box ranking.

Notable DVD Extras: Contemporary B-sides – revisions of Leadbelly’s “Black Betty” and Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared” – are rightfully present but frustratingly the opportunity to dig-up the many known unreleased outtakes from Kicking Against The Pricks sessions has been stubbornly missed.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Your Funeral My Trial

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Your Funeral... My Trial

Also released in 1986, originally as a double-12″ EP, Your Funeral… My Trial is Cave’s first minor-masterpiece and the required leg-up to the ensuing purple patch quadrology of Tender Prey, The Good Son, Henry’s Dream and Let Love In.  With Barry Adamson exiting before its completion and recently acquired drummer Thomas Wydler (Die Haut) suffering from tendonitis, Harvey and Bargeld took even stronger roles in dressing Cave’s increasingly more concise prose in richly-textured and murky ambience.  Highlights are undoubtedly the Tom Waitsian carnivalesque magic of “The Carny,” the dolorously dreamy titular-track, the searing “Jack’s Shadow” and the sublimely shimmering “Stranger Than Kindness” (written by Bargeld and erstwhile Cave beau, Anita Lane).  Perhaps only the misogynist sickness of “Hard On For Love” and an overwrought interpretation of Tim Rose’s “Long Time Man” stop the composite gathering of songs from reaching into true classic realms.  The refreshed mastering does however boost its dense soundscapes even more convincingly.

Notable DVD Extras: Only the Birthday Party-indebted sludge-racket of the anti-music journalist diatribe “Scum” is added as an extra audio track, along with part four of the documentary film series.

(Release Note: All the above are available on Mute as both CD/DVD editions and regular extras-free CDs.)