Nick Cave has always seemed misplaced, of another era. An Australian whose ‘60s-retro skinny suits and 19th century face have lived all over Europe, Cave looks and sings like an old soul. His macabre rock ballads of murder and sorrow might be sung by an Edgar Allen Poe narrator stuck in a Flannery O’Connor story. Where his contemporaries have plowed the ruts left by the Beatles and the Stones, Cave has always been more interested in the American blues and country/folk traditions of John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash: religion, sorrow, murder, insanity, alcohol, lust, and depression. I’ve often wondered what kind of personality the author of such lyrics as “this is a weeping song/ a song in which to weep” (“The Weeping Song”) exudes in day-to-day life.
When Blixa Bargeld left Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, who would have predicted his departure would result in one of the finest offerings in the band's catalog? Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus is a double CD or, rather, two completely different albums packaged in one very handsome box with a stylish lyric booklet and subtly colored pastel sleeves. They were recorded in a total of 16 days by producer Nick Launay (Kate Bush, Midnight Oil, Girls Against Boys, Silverchair, INXS, Virgin Prunes, et al.). Abbatoir Blues, the first disc in the set (packaged in pink, of course), is a rock & roll record…
Continuing the creative roll of Tender Prey and The Good Son, Henry's Dream showed the band in fierce and fine fettle once more. The biggest change was with the choice of producer – David Briggs, famed for his work on some of Neil Young's strongest albums. While Cave later thought the experiment didn't work as well as he might have hoped, Briggs does a fine enough job, perhaps not letting the group's full intensity through but still capturing a live feel nonetheless. Cave himself offers up another series of striking, compelling lyrics again exploring love, lust and death. Here, though, some of his images are the strongest he's yet delivered, especially with the near apocalyptic "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," which begins the album brilliantly as the narrator lurches through a landscape of storms, brothels and urban decay. Equally powerful, if slower and calmer, is Dream's lead single, "Straight to You," with Cave delivering a forceful declaration of love.
Reduced to a quartet for the most part, with Barry Adamson joining Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Mick Harvey and Thomas Wydler on only a couple of tracks, the Bad Seeds turn from the interpretive triumph of Kicking Against the Pricks to another strong high, the mostly-original Your Funeral…My Trial. The one cover is a sharp, unsurprisingly dramatic version of Tim Rose's "Long Time Man." As for the rest of the album, Trial shows the Seeds working as, again, a remarkably accomplished and varied act, ever available and ready to explore a wide range of musics distilled into Cave's often dark, always passionate vision. Arguably Cave and company have by now so clearly established their overall style that Your Funeral…My Trial is much more a refinement of the past than anything else, but so good is their work that resistance is near impossible. If anything, the brooding power of the Seeds is more restrained than ever, suggesting destructive endings and overwhelming love without directly playing it.