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ALBUM REVIEW: The Best Of... [1998] by Gil Kaufman (Sonicnet) Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006

Nick Cave Album Reviews Dark, Disturbing Career

Morose Aussie singer/songwriter had band compile just-released retrospective

Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports:

Singer/songwriter Nick Cave's wit is so dry that you could imagine him gargling with sand.

Asked to describe a common theme among the selections on his just-released career retrospective, The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the eternally arch, frog-voiced Cave didn't hesitate. "I think it proves we've been chained to the same bowl of vomit for 15 years," he said.

Adopting a slightly more introspective tone, Cave, 40, added that -- bowl of vomit aside -- baroque, murderous songs such as the death-row tale "Mercy Seat" are his attempts to communicate stories about "love and longing and the end of things and the extremities of human nature."

There are plenty of those extremities on display throughout Cave's 16-song The Best of ... collection. It features Cave, solo and with the Bad Seeds, performing "Do You Love Me?," "Red Right Hand," "Tupelo," "The Weeping Song" and other potent numbers from the Australian native's songbook.

But the melodramatic singer insisted that this is most decidedly not a "Greatest Hits" album. Cave has never had what one could call a certifiable hit single, and furthermore, he added, he has mixed feelings about the whole concept of career retrospectives.

"Calling it a 'Greatest Hits' would be putting it into a level it's not quite at," said Cave, speaking from his London home. "Ultimately, these kinds of things are record company ideas, but I liked doing this record, even though, initially, I was not incredibly enthusiastic about it. 'Best-of' records often represent the end of the line for things or artists just making time for themselves because they've run out of ideas."

However, Cave said, there is lots of work left to be done with the Bad Seeds.

Starting with material from 1984, the album charts the chaotic course that the singer has taken in his music, from the messy breakup of Cave's previous band, the Birthday Party, to his most recent album of original material. It's difficult to believe that the same artist who forged the clanging, pseudo-industrial howl of "From Her To Eternity" on his 1984 solo album of the same name is the same as the gentle balladeer who croons the gothic love song Into My Arms, a track from 1997's The Boatman's Call.

"The whole thing he does really appeals to me," said Dan Seta, guitarist for slow-core group Idaho. Seta named Cave as a significant influence on Idaho's brooding, glacial sound. "[The Bad Seeds'] song structure is amazing. The darkness and overall tenor of the music, lyrically and tonally, is just amazing. It really sounds like this guy could be out killing people."

Cave took a fairly hands-off approach to compiling The Best of ...., he said, leaving the task in the hands of the Bad Seeds -- a revolving group of accomplished musicians scattered across the globe >from Europe to Australia. The band has included frequent collaborators Mick Harvey and former Einsturzende Neubauten member Blixa Bargeld, as well as occasional sidemen Thomas Wydler, Conway Savage, Martyn Casey and Barry Adamson.

"Each member was invited to put forward a list of 15 songs they thought should represent the best [of our recordings]," Cave explained. "No one did it except Mick Harvey, and those are the ones that went on the record. They seemed to be right ones."

The process, Cave said, made him aware that he has been in an "extraordinary groove" the past 15 years, and that the Bad Seeds have proven to be a strange, accomplished backup band. "What really knocked me over about the whole thing was what an incredible band the Bad Seeds were," Cave said. "Sometimes, [they're] just as happy not to play. They [stand back and] don't swamp the song with their own genius, which can be quite a wonderful thing."

The whole career-review process could have been "quite nerve-wracking," Cave said. "In the studio, I never listen back to the albums, and I haven't heard many of these songs since they were recorded. I might not have liked them, and then where would I be?"

Asked to pick a favorite song on the collection, Cave said that, in addition to his strong taste for the violent ("I get a real kick out of the grammar of violence"), he fancied himself a good author of love songs. "I think I do that very well," Cave said, citing the bittersweet "Into My Arms." "I think I write good love songs, because they are celebrations of love, but also acknowledge the pain involved."


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