Once Nick Cave finished his last major round of detox a few years back, he instituted a daily routine of getting up at 7 a.m. to write music obsessively. And it was starting to show. Cave's discs since 1997 -- often intense, achingly beautiful detours from the Bad Seeds' sex 'n' death trip -- were getting predictable in their lonely piano-man lurch. Finally, Cave ditched his chateau and started touring again. Then came a new lease on life with the big indie Anti-, a refuge for aging edgy rockers (Tom Waits, Billy Bragg, Joe Strummer).
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Last year's Nocturama was a welcome return to more of a band sound -- less atmosphere, more sneer. The recent exit of longtime guitarist Blixa Bargeld has not slowed the Seeds' progress out of the woods on this new double album. Especially on the more up-tempo of these discs -- Abattoir Blues -- where Cave & Co. stir up a swaggering revival with group gal backup vocals and swaying beats, like T-Rex as dinner theater. "There She Goes" and "Nature Boy" are as close to '70s AM gold as Cave has come. Lyre, meanwhile, gets back into more subdued storytelling territory, though its tracks don't drag on like the too-long therapy sessions of recent releases. Lest the more accepting lyrics, gospel glory-shouting, and perfume-style packaging make you think things are peachy, Cave still tells tales of cows suckling serpents and gods that definitely don't dig us.