Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nick Cave, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

The return of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (except they weren't away for very long).

Go and dig through the bargain bins at your local HMV. Find out a single band or singer who reached their artistic peak at the age of 50. See if you can remember what Bowie was putting out at that time, or the Rolling Stones, or Paul McCartney. Or simply look at Nick Cave's peer and the current state of their creativity and it's guaranteed the words 'constipation' will spring to mind. But not him, not Nick Cave. His inspiration's more in need of an Imodium, like. He keeps coming out with ideas after ideas, four albums in five years (and that's without counting the film soundtracks) and a state of form that sweeps unexplored corners with a swagger and a confidence that is simply astounding.

Now, don't expect Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds to play disco vicar with a drum'n'bass album, or a techno remix, bending over backwards to prove that they're in with the kids. They couldn’t care less, they do their own dysfunctional thing and even when they offer a radical departure from their template -as is the case with Dig Lazarus Dig!!! - it comes their own way, as smooth as a coot. And it got them their highest UK chart position ever.

Track one is like having your throat cut by the sharp edges of a splintered Stooges LP. Except that it makes you gag for more. As guitar-laden as little else he's ever released, the titletrack Dig Lazarus Dig!!! is Nick Cave's own tale of a modern Lazarus, the poor chap that Jesus Christ raised from the dead, a heartfelt warning that a second session on this planet may not be quite such a good idea: "He never asked to be raised up from the tomb, I mean no-one ever asked him to forsake his dream, he ended up like so many of them do back on the streets of New York City in a soup queue, a dopefiend, a slave, in prison, then the madhouse, then the grave". Musically, bass player Warren Ellis is the one calling the shots here. Today's Lesson is another hellraiser. Running apace on a brilliant bass line and a wah effect like 'they don't make them anymore', it'll make you scramble for the repeat button. Similarly, Lie Down (And Be My Girl) is the musical equivalent of REM on speed, manic rhythm section, guitar overdrive up to 11 and a piano refrain that just won't go away. It should be a single. To read his lyrics, you'd think Nick Cave must be absolutely mental, and I mean that in the best possible way. And if he's just pretending then he's doing an excellent job. There are no tired, corny or trite clich├ęs on Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, no self-celebratory junk, no I-love-you-babe formulas. There's a track here, Albert Goes West where the gentlest couplet salutes you with a "Harry went down south and left his way down in the deepest forest of La Vulva".

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' trademark spectral ballads (most of which defined their 90s output), don't find much space on Dig Lazarus Dig!!! The more familiar territory comes with the melancholic waltz of Jesus Of The Moon, while the eerie Night of The Lotus Eaters, like Stagger Lee twelve years ago, is a wobbling wall of sound built upon a hypnotic bass loop and a scratchy guitar.

The myth of a content, middle-aged, weighed-down-with-a-wife-and-kids rock star won't wash with Nick Cave. It'll take more than that to sap his genius.

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is out now on Mute Records and it comes with a 54-page booklet.

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