Whilst it might seem a little premature for Mute to already be revisiting three Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds albums that are less than a decade old, in terms of bringing the elongated reissue campaign of the last few years to a full and tidy conclusion it makes sense, at least for completionist fans. It also brings things full circle to prime us for the next Bad Seeds-backed Nick Cave album still supposedly in the works. This final repackaged DVD-appended batch revealingly documents Nick Cave and his long-serving ensemble over a crucial phase of flux and rebirth, in both creative and personnel terms.
Judging by the sleeve notes to this new incarnation of 2003’s Nocturama, Cave and his Bad Seeds are still somewhat bemused that the LP isn’t as highly regarded as they feel it should be. Whilst the album isn’t quite the post-The Boatman’s Call double-dip disappointment this writer remembers it to be, Nocturama was clearly more fun to make that it is to listen to. Acting as a direct response to the minimalism of 1997’s The Boatman’s Call and the ornate restraint of 2001’s No More Shall We Part, the long-player was cut with a much looser recording ethos, favouring speed over meticulousness and feel over finesse. Where this deliberate reinvigoration of The Bad Seeds as an empowered collaborative group works, it works well. With “Right Out Of Your Hand” (with keyboard-player Conway Savage almost duetting with Cave) the band taps into the mournful soul tributaries of Tindersticks’ Simple Pleasure and Can Our Love…; across the searing “Dead Man In My Bed” the lurid ghost of 1992’s Henry’s Dream is summoned; and through the epic near 15 minute “Babe, I’m On Fire” The Bad Seeds let rip with a multi-suited assault to underpin one of Cave’s best deranged comedic preacher routines. Such nuggets aside, Nocturama still sounds sloppy and rushed, particularly in terms of Cave’s core songwriting. Hence two of the album’s three singles are uncharacteristically dire embarrassments, with the boorish “Bring It On” resorting to the use of bellowing guest vocals from Chris Bailey of The Saints and the risible rhyming “Rock Of Gibraltar” featuring lyrics utterly unworthy of the same man who wrote “The Mercy Seat.” Other songs like the gloomy opening “Wonderful Life” and the violin-led “She Passed By My Window” fare a little better but generally they just feel like songs left-over from No More Shall We Part for good reason. Ultimately, Nocturama shouldn’t be viewed as a disastrous long-player but one that merely has some disastrous moments within it. Its transitional gear-changing nature has also been made less jarring given the superior turns that have come after it.
Notable DVD extras: More of the talking-heads documentary series that has accompanied previous expanded reissues along with a smattering of B-sides, including the intimate and inexplicably unused album title-track “Nocturama.”
After the lukewarm Nocturama and the departure of co-founding avant-gardist Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld, Cave and cohorts re-opened the creative floodgates for the 2004 double-set of Abattoir Blues and The Lyre Orpheus. Whilst there are some broad differences between the two albums (with Abattoir Blues being more boisterous in comparison to the more subtle The Lyre Of Orpheus) in reality both are cut from pretty much the same richly-coloured cloth. With occasional touring Bad Seed James Johnston in the studio to bring in relentless organ squall from his Gallon Drunk day-job and the hired-help of the London Community Gospel Choir, the 17 gathered tracks pack a widescreen punch not heard since The Bad Seeds’ rambunctious ‘90s. Not that the collection is a simplistic re-tread of former glories. For example, even though the mighty “Hiding All Away” could have sat on 1994’s Let Love In in some form, its wry post-modern wordplay and gospel gravitas give it a fresh soaring celebratory edge. Elsewhere, there are further new fortifications of old strengths, with the chugging “Nature Boy” flirting with ‘70s glam-rock and the flute-driven “Breathless” floating along in a Latin folk-pop bubble. New directions aside, there is still plenty of room for stately ballads (“Carry Me”), amorphous atmospheric storytelling (“The Lyre Of Orpheus”) and murky lust (“Cannibal’s Hymn”). Overall, it’s the sheer intensity and confidence of the Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus coupling that makes it such a success, even if it’s a tad overwhelming to absorb in one double-length sitting.
Notable DVD extras: A clutch of period live and studio B-sides share the two albums’ expansive and euphoric reach, with the galloping cow-punk of “She’s Leaving You” being the true highlight.
Having successfully reborn The Bad Seeds as an adaptable song galvanising unit, for 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Cave comfortably stripped-away the guests and larger embellishments of Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus to let the ensemble lock together in a tight but flexible fashion. The result is an album of knotty grooves, guttural rhythms and swampy earthiness, with guitars, bass and drums taking the lead but never in obvious ways. Although partly infused by Cave’s randy and raw Grinderman side-project with three Bad Seeds (namely Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos), the album also has some of his most vivid and engaging storytelling since 1996’s Murder Ballads. Thus, the titular-track squeezes a ripe graphic travelogue into a joyously rowdy and funky Bad Seeds stew; the terrific “Night Of The Lotus Eaters” revives the eerie experimental textures of Your Funeral… My Trial; the verbose “We Call Upon The Author” sits well with inside its twisty organ-fired prowl; and the equally word-heavy “More News From Nowhere” makes for a fine finale via its swaggering slinkiness. A few things haven’t aged so well however; with the scrappy “Albert Goes West” sounding like it should have been kept aside for a Grinderman B-side and “Today’s Lesson” being burdened with a cumbersome clunky lyric that drags down an otherwise promising garage-rock trip. A few misfires notwithstanding, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! remains one of the strongest Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds LPs to date, particularly when it comes to celebrating the furtive sonic alchemy that other bands of a similar vintage would find hard to imagine let alone match. The only real sadness of the album is the knowledge that it is the last to feature multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, who has served alongside Cave since the late-’70s through The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds. Undoubtedly then, what comes next – new album-wise – will begin yet another significant chapter in a seemingly unfinishable story….
Notable DVD extras: The surprisingly uplifting “Hey Little Firing Squad” and the serene ballad “Fleeting Love” provide the cream of the extras.