Marianne Faithfull – Negative Capability (BMG album, 2018)

Negative-capability-web

The new Marianne Faithfull album, Negative Capability, was co-produced by The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis and features stunning new compositions by Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan.

I reviewed the album for Clash while travelling back from Paris, which, coincidentally, was where Negative Capability was written and recorded. You can read my review here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call (Mute album, 1997)

nctbs_boatmans

I was tempted to write this review with just one word. That word is ‘beautiful’. Written by Nick Cave at exactly the same time as Murder Ballads, these songs were written with simplicity in mind, and as such the majority of these superior compositions feature a stripped back Bad Seeds, and a heavy dose of piano. The contrast with Murder Ballads could not be greater, taking a deeply intimate, romantic and often spiritual tone. No one dies here, one may be relieved to know.

But maybe a little part of Nick Cave died in order to make a collection of songs; that part of him would be the preacher, the aggressor, the dervish spirit howling and caterwauling over a maelstrom of sensational music. It genuinely isn’t a criticism – I happen to think that this is among Cave’s finest work. Everything about The Boatman’s Call is black and white – the Johnny Cash-esque Anton Cobijn photo of a particularly harrowed Nick Cave on the front cover, through the predominance of the piano keys across the LP, through to the downright clarity of Cave’s songwriting. What’s most clear about The Boatman’s Call is the often obvious theme of these songs, for this is Nick Cave’s most directly personal collection of songs, from the post-PJ Harvey reflectiveness of the quirky folk leanings of ‘West Country Girl’ and ‘Black Hair’, through to his ruminations on his failed marriage on ‘People Just Ain’t No Good’ or ‘Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere’.

However, aside from a fair amount of openness from our tortured songsmith, The Boatman’s Call also features two generally beautiful love songs – ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ and ‘Brompton Oratory’. Like much of the album, these have a musical accompaniment from The Bad Seeds that is directly informed by subtle jazz but the latter also features a perfectly twee Casio rhythm that sounds like it survived from Cave’s original demo. The latter describes a trip made by Cave to Kensington’s famous, and imposing, landmark, and finds Cave wishing he were one of the stone apostles therein, just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with his muse’s intense beauty. It perfectly captures the intensity of romance’s first flourishes, that feeling of not being able to cope anymore. ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ is just mystical and beautiful, its waterside setting making me think of Murder Ballads‘ ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, with all the same romantic longings, just none of the death; an alternative ending, perhaps?

The album features the full Bad Seeds line-up (Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler, the late Conway Savage, Martyn P. Casey, Jim Sclavunos and Warren Ellis), albeit in controlled doses, and benefits from an unusually restrained production job from Flood, who also produced the oft-slated U2 album Pop the same year. The style of production is subtle and delicate, and Cave’s vocal is dominant in the mix, casting a personal, intimate shadow over proceedings. It feels like a one-to-one connection between the narrator and sympathetic listener. Warren Ellis’ violin is also an important element here, receiving greater space in the mix than it had been given previously, bestowing the gypsy folk of ‘West Country Girl’ with a rabidly maudlin edge. His work on ‘Idiot Prayer’, perhaps the track closest to a classic Bad Seeds ballad sees his violin overtaking Blix’s fuzzy guitar as lead instrument, a sign of the sea change that was to come.

I have my own, highly personal reasons, for counting this among my favourite albums of all time. Suffice it to say, many years on, it’s the more miserable tracks here – like ‘Far From Me’ – that I find myself reflecting on when I think of that period in my life. ‘Can’t you find somebody else / That you can ring and tell?’, Cave sings on that penultimate, delicately poignant song. Wise words that I wish my younger self had heeded.

First published 2004; edited 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nick Cave – The Death Of Bunny Munro (Canongate book, 2009)

There are lots of questions that I ask myself while reading Nick Cave’s second novel.

The first is that I wonder what Cave’s wife must think of it. It is to her that this book is dedicated, and yet its lead character – the Bunny Munro of the title – is an adulterous, volatile and decidedly nasty piece of work; lewd, crude and morally corrupt, whose first marital indiscretion is to grope his sister-in-law on the very day that he brings his son home from the hospital. This sets in motion Munro’s wanton and unquenchable infidelity, all of which is only exacerbated by his wife’s early suicide. I think, if I wrote something like this, and even if I claimed it as art, I’d find myself taking up new residence at a family solicitor’s office, but maybe my wife is less tolerant than Cave’s.

The second is that I wonder what Nick Cave’s friend Kylie Minogue would think of this. Her ‘Spinning Around’, and the attendant gold hot pants from the song’s video, are recurrent objects of Munro’s attention throughout this book. Alongside friends and collaborators John Hillcoat and Warren Ellis, Cave offers thanks and apologies to Minogue – and Avril Lavigne, who is the subject of yet worse and morally reprehensible narrative – but it still feels a bit, well, icky. They clearly still get on, but even if the defence is that this is fiction, the voice of a character etc, it’s still written by one of her friends.

Finally, I wonder whether you could even write a book like this today. The world seems today spins on a different axis, one focussed ever more acutely on equality and where sexual abuse is no longer trivialised. Munro is not precisely misogynistic; I think he would argue that he simply loves women (a lot, frequently), and sex with women even more so, albeit even he recognises that it is like an addiction.

Nevertheless, he’s patently abusive toward his long-suffering and doomed, tolerant wife, Libby, and as the book progresses you begin to view Munro as less of a wild 2000s laddish and opportunistic Casanova and more of a dangerous sexual predator, underscoring your initial impression that Munro is a unlikeable, horrible character; the worst type of man, and the type of man that today’s society would not tolerate. Even the act of reading it left me feeling strangely complicit with anyone turning a blind eye to the whole #metoo thing, as if I was listening to a 1970s comedian ripping through a repertoire of racist and sexist ‘jokes’. And I’m not sure that passing this off as ‘art’ really washes its face on that basis.

Given the title, it’s no giveaway that Munro doesn’t make it through to the end of the book; he meets a particularly messy demise on the front end of a cement mixer, and then his lot worsens when up jumps the devil himself and decides to do unto Bunny what he has done to many women. Strangely, for all his terrible ways, you feel briefly sorry for the man; there is moment where he realises how bad he has been, how he tortured his wife, how he has been less than solid as a father to his son, and not a remotely good son to his equally despicable father. But that feeling is brief, fleeting, and in the end you’re just glad he met his maker, momentary pause for forgiveness and redemption aside.

Like Cave’s first novel And The Ass Saw The Angel – written during his drug-ravaged Berlin years – The Death Of Bunny Munro is a difficult read; And The Ass… required patience and undivided attention because of its deployment of a complicated Southern dialect, and I recall spending what felt like my entire early twenties wading through the book when I read it at university twenty odd years ago (I still haven’t re-read it). The Death Of Bunny Munro is different; shorter, but no less easy to read. In the place of tricky dialogue is the almost constant focus on sex, every page seeming to contain some sort of overt reference to coitus that never once feels sexy.

Perhaps Cave conceived this book as a statement of sorts. I don’t know. I haven’t bothered to look up any interviews he might have done around its publication, and I don’t particularly want to be forced to re-evaluate my repulsion for the sake of art. Nevertheless, for all its intensely nauseating detail, Cave remains a master of vivid prose, and the book is imbued with the same richness of language that his songs are. Amid the maelstrom of ugly detail, Cave somehow finds the space to draw out the powerful unconditional love Munro’s young, troubled and gifted son has for his father, even as he leaves him sat alone in a car in an unpleasant Sussex neighbourhood while his father tends to his despicable business.

Despite receiving this as a Christmas present from my parents in 2009 – I only hope they didn’t decide to read further than the frontispiece when they were writing their note to me in the front – I only just got around to reading this as part of an effort to get through many books, like this, that have sat unread on my shelves. Just like with And The Ass Saw The Angel, I won’t be rushing back to read it.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Straight To You – The Gothic Country And Blues That Inspired Nick Cave (Uncut covermount album, 2010)

  

Uncut put together this covermount CD of tracks that purportedly inspired Nick Cave, covering blues and country tracks by the likes of Leadbelly, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

I’m always a little dubious of these types of things, especially where the artist in question wasn’t actually involved, particularly since a lot of the tracks and artists here are ones that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds covered during their career (mostly on Kicking Against The Pricks) – while it may be possible to conclude that they were therefore an influence, I’m not so sure about all of them. The one artist that Cave frequently spoke about as being a major formative influence on him was The Man In Black, Johnny Cash, who Cave would have the nerve-racking opportunity to work with during Cash’s twilight years. Cash’s nihilistic ‘I’d Rather Die Young’ is one of the tracks included here.

Certainly you can hear a certain Birthday Party-era wildness in Gene Vincent’s ‘Cat Man’, there’s the ‘grinderman’ lineage in Memphis Slim’s ‘Grinder Man Blues’ and Cave displayed a healthy interest in the mystical aura of Elvis Presley on ‘Tupelo’. Defining precisely what has influenced a person, given that life is an entire summation of experience – recognised or otherwise – is a fool’s game. When I interview an artist and feel duty-bound to ask them about their influences, it is invariably greeted with a sigh or an awkward silence. We nevertheless are obsessed with such details, on the basis that it helps us rationalise a person via certain reference points, and that will never change.

This is one for the Cave completist only. I’m not sure now whether the magazine that this came with included a feature on Cave or some sort of explanation about how these tracks had been selected, or maybe it tied in with a Bad Seeds release that month. I certainly don’t have it any longer. If you surrender the notion that this is intended as some sort of definitive listing of what made Nick Cave who he is today – ignoring the fact that to do that justice would involve everything from church choir music through to The Stooges – what you are left with is a decent album of some very important blues and country songs.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Anita Lane – Do That Thing (Mute Records single, 2002)

Anita Lane 'Do That Thing' artwork

mute records | mute285 | 2002

I actually felt quite embarrassed listening to this second single from Anita Lane‘s appallingly-titled Sex O’Clock. Not because it’s a terrible track, far from it, but because the lyrics are so overtly sexual (example lyric: ‘Call me up on the erogenous zone / All night kundalini telephone.‘) – it is a bit like how uncomfortable you felt as a teenager when the passion levels rose a bit too high in a film you were watching with your parents. Or maybe that was just me.

No two ways about it, Lane here is feeling horny, many of the lyrics delivered as if midway through a hazy passionate clinch. Repeated choruses with Mick Harvey of ‘Do that thing / That thing that you do.‘ urge the sexual momentum forward. Musically, Harvey has constructed a song of considerable beauty, a classic soul groove with a host of Motown strings and percussion-driven beat; think Marvin Gaye duetting with Serge Gainsbourg. Classy, subversive, blatant – perfect.

The solitary B-side ‘Look At The Sun’, co-written and produced by Johnny Klimek, is a countrified ballad, a thing of remarkable beauty. Lane’s vocal is perfect for the track, which really draws out the emotional quality of the song. In fact, the song could have been delivered just as successfully by her former beau Nick Cave.

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Fast Times: Nick Cave Skateboard

Fast Times: Nick Cave deck

In what is probably a new low in Nick Cave merchandise – bearing in mind his previous lows have included Grinderman pants and tea towels – it was announced this week that Cave had worked with Fast Times and artist Chuck Sperry on a skateboard.

I will be completely honest – whenever I see spotty young urchins pulling tricks at the skate park down on London’s South Bank with their headphones on, I usually do assume they are listening to Nick Cave.

Not.

At this rate I think we can assume that a career in fronting insurance commercials when Iggy Pop throws in the towel isn’t far away.

Check out the advert for the deck featuring ‘Nature Boy’ below.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound: Issue 8 Reviews & Other Recent Writings

Electronic Sound - Issue 8

I haven’t updated Documentary Evidence for a while but that’s not because I haven’t been busy with other writings.

The latest edition of Electronic Sound for iPad is now available. This issue features my reviews of Erasure‘s excellent album The Violet Flame, Olivia Louvel‘s mesmerising Beauty Sleep (featuring one track based around a sample of Recoil‘s ‘Stone’) and a major interview with Simian Mobile Disco about their new ambient album Whorl.

Issue 8 also includes a feature on the fortieth anniversary of Kraftwerk‘s ‘Autobahn’, which includes input from Mute‘s own Daniel Miller.

To read more go to the Electronic Sound website.

Just lately I’ve found myself spending some time at the Milton Keynes concert venue that’s literally on the doorstep of the village in which I live (The Stables) and in the last month I’ve reviewed three gigs at the venue. This marks something of a tentative return to reviewing gigs after a long break. The first was something pretty special for me – Nik Kershaw, whose solo acoustic show I reviewed for This Is Not Retro. Kershaw’s music was what I grew up with and Human Racing, his first album, was the first album I ever owned. My review for that concert, with photos from the Worthing gig on the same tour by my good friend and talented photographer Andy Sturmey can be found here.

I’ve also written two pieces for a local Milton Keynes site – TotalMK – of my other two recent Stables gigs. Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans found the jazz drummer performing pieces from Subterraneans, which sees his band work through jazz versions of tracks from David Bowie’s Berlin period. Howe is a hugely talented drummer who has worked with many different acts in the jazz and rock world, including Nick Cave, for whom he drummed on songs to the soundtrack for I Am Sam with The Blockheads. The other Stables gig was Tom Baxter, well known for getting picked by movie and TV producers when a stirring song is ever required for a soundtrack.

As well as that little lot, you’ll continue to find my reviews in Clash each month – the latest issue includes a piece of mine on the latest Thurston Moore album, which is more than likely the closest we’re going to get to a classic Sonic Youth LP anytime soon.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence