Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -
The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues
What to do when you are an elder statesman in a community that reveres your continued commitment to the cause, but in reality favors the young? Do you try to "hang," throwing in an awkward sampling of your misconstrued take on youth culture into your presence, creating deafening silences amongst your audience when you exhibit them? Do you wallow in you decrepit establishment, relying on mere reputation as Once Being Cool to propel you along? It worked for Elvis in his later years, sorta, but he, like all other that fall into this trap becoming living cartoon versions of themselves, relying on the animation skills of others to keep you moving. The nobler path is to rally your resources, milk the cow of your public acceptance, and become a Pop singer. And I don't mean like Britney Spears or Usher, I'm talking the old school "Pop" section of the record store where Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Tim Buckley lie, a garden of perversity masquerading as lush topiary (ever listen to the actual lyrics to Tom Jones' "Delilah?") True, it may not be the most rock-n-roll way to go out, but really, you can only be in Van Halen for so long until you are doomed to become merely David Lee Roth. You might as well make the most of it.
Former punk rock poster boy Nick Cave has wedged nicely into this category of Pop Singer with his latest double LP The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues. It is packaged as two separate albums, but really it is more of a large scale Special Performance (remember those? Used to be your couldn't swing a dead cat at your TV with out hitting "Bob Hope In Hawaii" or something like that) running the wide range of Nick Cave's songwriting niches. It opens (if you start on the Lyre side) with the title track that harkens back to the carnival-in-hell theatrics of the mid to late 80's. Man, I used to love this shit, but somewhere after numerous variations of this kind of lurching macabre-ity from him and many others, I discovered the circus is boring. Still Nick can bring the goods as well as they can still be brought, but two back slides to this style (Abattoir's "Hiding All Away" is the other) are the weaker points in this smorgasbord. The high points for me are the autumnal ballad "Breathless" (infested with a beautiful swarm of flautists), the overblown Neil Diamond storm burst of "Supernaturally" and the exquisitely contents-under-pressure soul-rock volcano of "There She Goes My Beautiful World" (my favorite of Nick's adopted styles, this is his greatest examples of it since "Deanna" some two decades ago.) The Sinatra-grade wistful gaze into the Mirror of the Past that is "Abattoir Blues" seems a surprisingly vulnerable revealing look at the man who is famous for staying in character. Maybe it's the oft-mentioned line "I woke up with a frappucino in my hand" gives this impression of exposure, since we have come to believe that Count Cave survives solely on communion wafers soaked in blood and whiskey.
To me, this is one of the freshest things he's put out since quiet "The Boatman's Call" in that he is expanding on his personas, and breathing his own life into them and for a change, not crashing every Hindenburg he inflates. Instead, the feel of the album is of soaring of the various landscapes he paints. And somehow, this distance makes the songs more believable, more direct than what I've heard in the past. He's not trying to be Bruce Springsteen, trying to convince you he's still mopping the floor of the Stone Pony, But he is letting you know he gets it, and he still has more to offer besides the same clown act. I just hope he keeps wiping off the makeup as he goes, one day letting that Bad Seed blossom like it wants to.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or