Nick Cave is a bad-ass. Perhaps, the baddest ass around.
Consider: in the last few years alone, he's released two of the best albums of his career -- Dig Lazarus Dig!!! with longtime backing band The Bad Seeds and the self-titled debut by side project Grinderman. He wrote the screenplay and score for acclaimed Australian Western The Proposition and also scored The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He also penned a screenplay for a Gladiator sequel at the request of pal and fellow Aussie Russell Crowe (read about that here)!
Not enough for ya? Cave's also published a novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, with a second slated for later this year. He has appeared in films such as Johnny Suede (with Brad Pitt) and Wim Wenders' classic Wings of Desire -- to say nothing of his first foray into music with feral post-punk legends The Birthday Party. If all that ain't enough, peep his bad-ass mustache in the photo -- 'nuff said!
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Cave and The Bad Seeds' recorded debut, so it's the perfect time to revisit their catalog and Mute is doing so with deluxe reissue treatments, starting with the first four albums. Each is packaged with a remastered CD, along with a DVD containing the album remixed in 5.1 surround sound, rare single B-sides in stereo and surround, period music videos and a new short film.
The remastering is gorgeous, replacing warmth and low-end that went missing on the original CD releases. It's also great to gather up strong non-album tracks like "Scum," "The Six Strings That Drew Blood" and Cave's "In The Ghetto" cover. There are also new and well-written liner notes with each disc. The only thing missing is some contextual information about the B-sides, as in when they were released and as the A-side to which single (Mute could take a cue from Rhino who do a great job with that kind of thing on their reissues). As might be expected, all the music has aged well, but the accompanying music videos have not.
Each short film included with the albums is part of a series called Do You Love Me Like I Love You. At about 40 minutes in length, each one features the members of the Bad Seeds and recording engineers and photographers involved with the original releases, along with fellow musicians and fans discussing each album. Conspicuously missing is Cave himself, all the better to maintain the aura of mystery that must accompany a first-rate bad-ass. While it's interesting to hear some of the anecdotes, the talking-head-addressing-a-stationary-camera format grows wearisome and it's difficult to imagine anyone wanting to watch them more than once.
Still, all that stuff is just reissue gravy. What really matters are the albums themselves:
From Her to Eternity (originally released in 1984) There's nothing tentative about this record as Cave and longtime collaborator Mick Harvey step away from their former group, The Birthday Party. With lead track "Avalanche," a Leonard Cohen cover no less, the attempt to distance themselves from their not-so-distant past is obvious, if not necessarily effective. It'll take another album and a covers disc before Cave and the Bad Seeds truly find their own glorious sound. That said, there is still much to love here. "Cabin Fever!"is a singular sonic expression of the malady and, across the disc, you can hear Cave developing the narrative style that will eventually become his signature. Meanwhile, the title track sounds as harrowing today as it did 25 years ago.
The Firstborn is Dead (originally released in 1985) A gutbucket blues album with nary a trace of a seventh chord, 12-bar song structure or any other hallmark of the venerable genre -- it's all about atmosphere and that's an amazing feat. On "Tupelo," Cave reimagines the birth of Elvis Presley and his stillborn elder twin brother as an apocalyptic occurrence with thinly veiled religious imagery about the arrival of "The King" thrown in for good measure. That the song refuses to collapse under the weight of the subject matter is a testament to the talent of the Bad Seeds. "Train Long-Suffering" chugs like its titular locomotive and sorrow is the byword throughout the disc.
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Kicking Against the Pricks (originally released in 1986) With his wordsmithing talents poured into the creation of his first novel, Cave made his third disc with the Bad Seeds an all-covers affair. In hindsight, it may be the turning point in his career as he discovered a heretofore undisplayed range as a singer. On all recordings prior, he was a belter, and a great one, but here Cave croons on "By The Time I Get to Phoenix," "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" and other tunes spanning country, gospel, pop and rock and his transformation is stunning. From this album forward, he would mix musical and vocal dynamics with musical and vocal restraint, each putting the other in sharper relief.
Your Funeral ... My Trial (originally released in 1986) This is the album where Cave and the Bad Seeds truly come into their own -- greatness implied before, is greatness manifest here. The Bad Seeds have morphed from a sturdy post-punk band into a unit capable of carrying Cave through his expansive musical explorations and the proof is in "The Carny," a freakshow narrative paired with creaky and creepy carnival music. The title track is Cave's first great piano ballad and "Hard On For Love" finds him frothing at the mouth with lust and biblical imagery on a slow-building rock rave-up. Meanwhile, "Sad Waters" and "Stranger Than Kindness" find the ensemble mastering midtempo songs, something they'd struggled with before. In short, this album laid the full foundation for the magnificent musical monument that Cave and Co. have constructed since and continue to adorn with new material to this day.
All four deluxe reissues are in stores now.