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 Bad Seeds – Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen) (Bad Seed EP, 2018)

It’s been a while since I wrote about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – I think the last thing I put online was a not especially positive review of Push The Sky Away, and Skeleton Tree consequently just passed me by. I feel that I’ve rectified that with this review of the new Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen) EP that was released last Friday.

You can read my review for the Clash website here.

I also reviewed the new Marianne Faithful album for the latest print issue of Clash, which features a wonderful new composition – ‘The Gypsy Fairie Queen’ – co-written with Cave; Marianne’s new LP was co-produced by Bad Seed stalwart Warren Ellis.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

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

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'The Boatman's Call' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd/c stumm142 | 03/03/1997

I was tempted to write this review with just one word. That word is ‘beautiful’. Allegedly 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 was the preacher, the aggressor, the dervish spirit howling and caterwauling over a maelstrom of sensational music, and that character wouldn’t emerge again until the later Grinderman project. It genuinely isn’t a criticism – I happen to think that The Boatman’s Call is among Cave’s finest work. Everything about album is black and white – the Johnny Cash-esque Anton Cobijn photo of a particularly troubled 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 ideas, 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 genuinely 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, 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, making this the closest Cave has yet come to the introspection of Leonard Cohen. 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 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 Blixa’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, seven years on, it’s the more miserable tracks here – like the personally chord-resounding ‘Far From Me’ – that I find myself reflecting on 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. Those would become wise words for my younger self.

 

I was minded to re-post this review after hearing the lead single from this album, the delicate ‘Into My Arms’ at the end of Richard Curtis’s About Time movie. It’s been a long time since I heard this album and for the personal reasons alluded to above, it’s one that I now find relatively hard to contemplate listening to. In the movie, Cave’s track is chosen by the dying Bill Nighy as the soundtrack for his own wake, lending the track a greater poignancy than perhaps Cave ever even intended.

A couple of years ago someone at Mute sent me a link to a YouTube rip of some songs that were recorded for The Boatman’s Call sessions but which have never surfaced except for on an expensive bootleg CD. The tracks that didn’t make it to the final album were every bit as perfect as the ones that were on the final release, a telling testament to the furious level of output that Cave was enjoying in this period of his life. The twin albums of Murder Ballads and The Boatman’s Call thus stand as one of the most pivotal periods in Cave’s career as a songwriter, marking a crossing place, a transition and the start of his wider public acceptance as one of the finest lyricists of our generation.

Track list:

lp/c/cd:

A1. / 1. Into My Arms
A2. / 2. Lime-Tree Arbour
A3. / 3. People Ain’t No Good
A4. / 4. Brompton Oratory
A5. / 5. There Is A Kingdom
A6. / 6. Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?
B1. / 7. (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?
B2. / 8. West Country Girl
B3. / 9. Black Hair
B4. / 10. Idiot Prayer
B5. / 11. Far From Me
B6. / 12. Green Eyes

For information on other formats go to: http://www.discogs.com/master/view/18393

First published 2004; re-edited 2014. This review focusses on the 1997 original release, not the remastered, expanded 2011 edition.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed album, 2013)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'Push The Sky Away' LP artwork

bad seed ltd | lp/cd/cd+dvd/box/dl bs001 | 18/02/2013

Push The Sky Away is the first Nick Cave material to emerge since he parted company with Mute in the wake of his terminated Grinderman project, and the first Bad Seeds album since 2008’s Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!. Now bereft of long-term arranger Mick Harvey, the Dirty Three multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis steps in and takes the role vacated by Harvey; since 2007 Ellis’ playing has filled the void left by Blixa Bargeld‘s guitar, he was Cave’s foil in Grinderman and the pair have realised several soundtracks together, showcasing a symbiotic relationship that has produced some of the best material in Cave’s back catalogue.

It’s precisely thirty years since the volatile young Nick Cave formed The Bad Seeds in Berlin following the demise of post-punk’s ravaged Birthday Party. Much has changed. Aside from a surprise reappearance of original Bad Seeds bassist Barry Adamson on two tracks here, not one of the original Bad Seeds line-up features in the group that bears the name today, but the core group of musicians that have been with Cave the longest remain in situ – Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos (percussion), Thomas Wydler (drums), Martyn P. Casey (bass) and Conway Savage (piano, organ). The fire and brimstone seems to have been exorcised effectively by two raucous Grinderman records and the Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! album in the middle, leaving Cave and co focussing more or less completely on the beautiful melancholia of the more serene moments of Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus.

Your reaction to Push The Sky Away will thus depend on whether what you want from Cave is howling, just on the edge of being out of control blues-informed punk, or the mature ideology that has coincided with the establishment’s embrace of Cave as one of the finest songwriters of the past thirty years. If the former is what you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed, since Push The Sky Away generally has the slightly maudlin atmosphere that provided the mood on The Lyre Of Orpheus‘ closing track ‘O Children’; all of which is fine, but as anyone who’s listened to the Velvet Underground’s lovely third album for a while will tell you, sometimes you just want to hear ‘Waiting For The Man’. The closest Push The Sky Away gets to anything like the Cave of his earliest Bad Seeds work is on ‘Water’s Edge’ or ‘We Real Cool’, where the growling bass that dominates the low-end reminds listeners of the apocalyptic ‘Tupelo’ from The Firstborn Is Dead. The rest of the album is delicate balladry, with almost psychedelic arrangements (such as the ephemeral title track), quiet musings and bewildered observations on subjects ranging from mermaids to Wikipedia to teenagers cavorting carelessly on the beaches of Hove outside Cave’s window. In the press release, Cave describes Push The Sky Away thusly: ‘I don’t know, this record just seems new, you know, but new in an old school kind of way.’

That sense of the ‘new’ comes through in the remarkable palette of sounds deployed on the album, much of it purportedly derived from loops prepared by Ellis. With Mick Harvey gone and Cave seemingly unwilling to pick up a guitar after Grinderman, the album is largely devoid of any six-string action, with only the stand-out ‘Jubilee Street’ carrying anything close to a guitar line. Ellis shines through as effective lead musician, tracks filled-out with his loops, violin, mandolin and other assorted instruments. The rest of The Bad Seeds literally seem to play second fiddle to the dominance of Ellis, offering up loping basslines, intricate percussion and sprinkles of beautiful piano. Nevertheless, it’s reasonably clear – and not necessarily a bad thing – that Ellis is the primary mood-maker here. The upshot is some of the most advanced music that the Bad Seeds have ever realised, often bordering on a sort of synth music offshoot that no-one has named yet.

Cave’s singing has matured into a distinctive, varied and considered voice over time. The rough edges are all completely gone, leaving a honey-coated rasp that feels a long way from the guttural bleatings of the Cave of the past, hunched over a microphone in apparent pain, spitting words and sibilant sounds forth like a man possessed. The pretty ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ Cave – with Cave observing the funfare being dismantled and images of departure set to a backdrop of shoes being arranged carefully on a pebble beach – sees the beautiful pairing of Cave and Conway Savage reminding us of some of the most brittle moments of the Bad Seeds catalogue, wherein the tenderness long ago replaced the anger; on this and a number of other songs, Cave reminds me of Ed Harris’s character in The Hours, sat in his window watching the world go by, a resigned, tired air colouring proceedings.

The frontman reprises some of his humourous bluesy story-telling and diverse intonations on the obscure centrepiece, ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, namechecking everything from Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus, Wikipedia, Robert Johnson, vague mythologies and Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider; that and ‘Jubilee Street’ are the clear highlights of the album, both being the most fully-formed and musically complete pieces here. The former has a skittish, absorbing jazz-blues dimension; the latter has a rousing, slowly-developing mix of lovely rolling drums, acoustic guitar, percussion, full orchestration and a muted intensity as Cave rises up into the sky toward the end in angelic contrast to the devilish way he flew forth in ‘Mutiny!’ back in the day. ‘Jubilee Street’ (which may or may not be set on the much-altered street in Brighton now devoid of any of its original charm) has a strong and compelling narrative, touching on the darker side of life with a bleak tale of what sounds like a prostitute who gets moved on from Jubilee Street by Russians.

The rest of the album is sonically clever and absorbing, even if Cave sounds like he might be sleepwalking through his songwriting at times. Nevertheless, he’s managed to produce some truly lovely songs as well as a new-found observational capacity in tracks like ‘Water’s Edge’, wherein the opposing forces of London girls looking for a good time and local boys looking for something to do clash; like Quadrophenia for vampires and party girls. There’s also moments where his particular brand of Viz-style smuttiness and wry humour shine through. Overall, it feels like Laura Ashley wallpaper – nice to look at, perfectly inoffensive and fine in the background, but you wouldn’t decorate your whole house with it.

Thanks to Rhian at Big Mouth.

***

I’m reposting this on the occasion of the Push The Sky Away receiving the prestigious Ivor Novello Album Award, an incredible achievement for both Nick Cave and his publisher Mute Song.

Cave has deserved greater recognition for his songwriting for far too long, and I’m delighted that the rest of the music world seems to have caught up with those of us who always knew where his songs would ultimately take him. I just wish that it had been another album that had secured him that recognition; a year on, I still haven’t warmed to this album, and I personally feel that there are far better works than this in the Cave back catalogue.

Track listing:

lp/lp+7″/cd/cd+dvd/dl:
A1. / 1. We No Who U R
A2. / 2. Wide Lovely Eyes
A3. / 3. Water’s Edge
A4. / 4. Jubilee Street
A5. / 5. Mermaids
A6. / 6. We Real Cool
A7. / 7. Finishing Jubilee Street
A8. / 8. Higgs Boson Blues
A9. / 9. Push The Sky Away

7″/dvd:
C. Needle Boy
D. Lightning Bolts

First published 2013; edited 2014.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – He Wants You / Babe, I’m On Fire (Mute Records single, 2003)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'He Wants You / Babe, I'm On Fire' 10" artwork

mute records | 10″/cd mute290 | 02/06/2003

The contrast between the two tracks from Nocturama that were released together as the album’s second single couldn’t be more divergent. ‘He Wants You’ is the sort of high balladry that Nick Cave had made his own by the time of the fourteenth Bad Seeds album, a sort of more embellished and plaintive version of the introspection that had first become evident around the time of The Boatman’s Call. Only, somehow, with its filigree piano lines and quiet, romantic murmurings, it seems a more exaggerated version of that period. It really is a beautiful song, one that crams so many illustrative gestures into its verses before an elegant simplicity takes over. The song appears to describe a man who will do absolutely anything he can do to get the woman of his dreams; but this isn’t the kind of obsessed character a far wilder Cave described on something like ‘From Her To Eternity’ – this is a far gentler, resolute and upstanding man. ‘He is straight and he is true,‘ he sings and we’re left thinking the persuer is a pretty nice bloke.

The wilder side of Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds comes to the fore on the edit of ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’, cut down from its fourteen minute album version to a tidy four minutes, wherein frantic organ lines and stream-of-consciousness lyrics cover everything from terrorism, right-wing politics, agriculture and even manages a nice backslapping name check of the members of the band. ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’ is urgent, messy and a bit of a musical trainwreck that feels improvised and sprawling and doesn’t appear to want to take itself too seriously, a band letting their collective hair down at the behest of their leader.

The single was backed with two extra tracks from the Nocturama sessions. ‘Little Ghost Song’ hinges on the same chorus from the album’s ‘Right Out Of Your Hand’ but sees Cave and Conway Savage harmonising unevenly together. Previous vocal pairings of the two have always been pretty tight, but this one doesn’t gel so neatly, leaving the listener wondering whose voice they’re meant to follow. ‘Everything Must Converge’ is far better. A spare, loose reflection that fate ultimately binds us all together, ‘Everything Must Converge’ has a lovely gospel quality to it, lots of reference points from nature and a really beautiful sound. It’s bold and romantic without ever becoming over-sugared, featuring some restrained organ riffing and a fantastic wandering harmonica melody that seems to usher in a totally unexpected reggae-infused segment. Understated and remarkable.

Track listing:

10″/cd:
A1. / 1. He Wants You (Edit)
A2. / 4. Everything Must Converge
B1. / 2. Babe, I’m On Fire (Edit)
B2. / 3. Little Ghost Song

Written 2013 / published 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence