Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In, Murder Ballads, The Boatman’s Call & No More Shall We Part (CD/DVD reissues)

Having spent the bulk of the past year indulging guttural libido and swamp-rock urges with his Grinderman side-project, Nick Cave is reportedly back at the ‘day-job’ in preparation for a new regular long-player with the full Bad Seeds line-up.  So whilst he knuckles down to write his next musical chapter, here comes another window of opportunity to sneak out another four older albums in deluxe DVD-appended form; this time covering the exceedingly creative and eclectic third quarter of The Bad Seeds-backed phase of his career to date.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Let Love In

Picking up pretty much where 1992’s raw, vicious and occasionally romantic Henry’s Dream left off, 1994’s Let Love In documents the post-1980s Bad Seeds line-up at its most self-assured and democratic.  Vivid and kaleidoscopic in its reach, with some of Cave’s most enduring standards encased within a variety of musical settings, Let Love In has pretty much everything you could need from a Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds long-player… and then some.  From lustful and stormy voodoo swagger (“Do You Love Me?” and “Loverman”), to cinematic biblically-slanted storytelling (“Red Right Hand”), via blood-splattering barroom brawling (“Thirsty Dog” and “Jangling Jack”), through self-deprecating black humour (“Lay Me Low” and “I Let Love In”), inside unpretentious almost crooner-friendly balladry (“Nobody’s Baby Now”) and spine-tingling atmospheric melancholy (“Do You Love Me? (Part 2)” and “Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore”), what the album sometimes lacks in subtlety it makes up for in superbly-directed wide-screen theatrics.  All in all, Let Love In is still a near-peerless collection for those looking for the most representative pinnacle of the strongest incarnation of The Bad Seeds so far.

Notable DVD extras: Aside from another talking heads documentary film, richly-picked period B-sides abound, with the mournful “Sail Away” and the wickedly hilarious “(I’ll Love You) Till The End Of The World” being the most essential selections.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads

Although die-hard followers may have baulked at a Kylie Minogue duet yielding Cave his first bona fide ‘hit’ – with “Where The Wild Roses Grow” – it did at least finally open up his audience way beyond previously confining ghettos.  Whilst its parent album, 1996’s Murder Ballads, isn’t a classic collection, being a tad too weighed-down by its death-centric conceptualism and its vast array of extra accomplices, it is however one of the most musically ambitious and – believe it or not – funniest albums in the Cave/Bad Seeds catalogue.  Crucially, it’s the ribald wit-drenched pieces – that contribute the most to the record’s 64 person body count – which have stood the tests of time the most.  Thus, the unrepentantly offensive sick-funk revision on the traditional “Stagger Lee” is far more enjoyable than the dour PJ Harvey-guesting “Henry Lee” and the near-dainty “The Kindness of Strangers” is outdone by the warped tale of a psychotic teenage serial killer that is “The Curse Of Millhaven.”  Stylistically, the Bad Seeds flex muscles throughout that other bands simply don’t have; giving an ethereal train-tunnel groove to the stunning “Lovely Creature,” a twangy-jazz setting to “Crow Jane” and all sorts of improvised postures for the strangely infectious 14 or so minutes of the exhausting “O’Malley’s Bar.”  It may not be a long-player for those with a prudish aversion to cartoon violence and twisted imaginations, but Murder Ballads remains a peculiar triumph in Cave’s convoluted body of work and provides a solid conclusion to his storyteller years.

Notable DVD Extras: More corpse-making cuts are revisited from contemporary B-sides, with the marvellous high-octane shoot-out of “The Ballad Of Robert Moore And Betty Coltrane” being the most strident ‘should-have-been-an-album-track.’

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - The Boatman's Call

In stark contrast to the carnivalesque variety show of Murder Ballads, 1997’s The Boatman’s Call is the most minimalistic and intimate affair in the Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds canon.  Ditching the Old Testament doom for New Testament compassion, swapping role-playing yarns for personal confessionals and channelling a much-refined approach to songcraft, the album opened as many doors as it shut.  Undoubtedly, it contains some of Cave’s finest and most sincere love songs, in the shape of the sublime “Into My Arms,” “Lime Tree Arbour,” “(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?,” and “Brompton Oratory.”  Although looking deeper into the dark heart of humanity elsewhere, vengeful scorn is veiled in delicate codes, especially for the smouldering “Far From Me” and the majestic “People Ain’t No Good.”  Whilst The Bad Seeds had to reclaim all that had been stolen from them by the Tindersticks et al., for largely sparse backings built around Cave’s gently poised piano, they still found new room to experiment in; giving space to the warped melodica lines in “Green Eyes,” the earthy folk shuffled “West Country Girl” and the accordion-led closeness of “Black Hair.”  On reflection, The Boatman’s Call could have been a songs few shorter (dropping the plodding “There Is A Kingdom” for instance) and less deliberately constraining for The Bad Seeds but overall it remains a uniquely beautiful statement from an artist better known for fire, brimstone and splenetic absurdity.

Notable DVD Extras: Although The Boatman’s Call sessions generated a slew of outtakes, only the contemporary B-sides make it out here again.  Nevertheless, the transcendental and superior ‘band version’ of “Black Hair” is a must-hear, as are the respectively buoyant and soaring “Come Into My Sleep” and “Babe, I Got You Bad.”

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - No More Shall We Part

Having reached somewhat of songwriting zenith with The Boatman’s Call, Cave took an unprecedented four year breather from The Bad Seeds before releasing its follow-up, 2001’s No More Shall We Part.  In some ways, the record is a logical extension of its immediate predecessor, taking the personalised, devotional and self-observational compositional methodology into more expansive environments.  Still largely built around Cave’s voice and piano, No More Shall We Part adds lushly orchestrated strings (scored by Bad Seeds Warren Ellis and Mick Harvey) and more thoughtfully arranged vocals (with the McGarrigle sisters adding their exquisite tones).  For the first half of proceedings, the embellished line of attack works well in embracing a matured range, with the darkest symphonic shades of Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and Lee Hazlewood drawn into the palette.  Hence, the slow-burning drama of the opening “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side” bleeds skilfully into the fatalistic title-track, which in turn glides into the expansive desperate “Hallelujah,” the plaintive yearning “Love Letter” and the tension-wracked “Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow.”  But somehow by the tedious over-clever midpoint of “God Is In The House” the album starts to suffer from lyrical verbosity, increasingly wearying tempos and a noticeable lack of self-editing, which it never really recovers from as it sprawls into the final legs of its over-long 67 minute total running time.  In short, No More Shall We Part would have made a great EP but as an LP it ultimately outstays its welcome.

Notable DVD Extras: Some rougher alternative versions of album tracks suggest how the main event could have benefited from a little uncluttered urgency and the overlooked “Grief Came Riding” revels wonderfully in its sheer bleakness.

Mute Records

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