Deep down, the lit majors don't care as much about what he has to say as much as how he says it. So he's got a novel to his name; big whoop. Ethan Hawke has two, and you don't see anyone rushing to his defense every time his goatee grows out another half inch. With Nick Cave, who once had a Birthday Party and torch-songed the house with the cake's candles, it's all about delivery, baby, and still he comes on like Tindersticks' Stuart Staples covering Neil Diamond channeling Iggy Morrison. It's an acquired taste, like Vegemite or Kylie Minogue; either way, moderate doses suffice. With Cave, a singer of murder blues ballads and cabaret love songs like someone who thinks they're the same thing, you get what you crave with each disc. The subtleties vary depending on how into Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis and the rest of the crack band he's feeling this week or next, but in the end you'll find what you're looking for, if you're seeking, that is, a good hour of feeling bloody awful...or just bloody, if the mike stand's an ax handle.
Nocturama, a sort of prim primer in love with love, might even convert the non-believers who were never sold on his Frankie Doom persona; it's got soul, which is to say it's got heart. Maybe not in "Dead Man in My Bed," exactly: Track Five's a rock-solid rocker about a woman cursed with a deadbeat husband she wishes would beat it--or wind up dead, whichever. "I keep poking at him with my stick, but his skin is just so fucking thick," she moans like one of those Cave characters stricken with bourbonitis; once you get the laugh, around the time she moans he won't wash his hands before dinner, the joke's giving the punch line a reacharound.
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But about that heart, it's all over the place but still beating in a chest for a change: in the heartstrings that push and pull the trinity of openers (Cave promises a "Wonderful Life"; Cave insists "He Wants You"; Cave is eating "Right Out of Your Hand"), in the promises he makes and breaks (he says he'll love you, then in the same song declares, "I am no use to you at all," which makes him honest if nothing else), in the threats he hints at 'cause he cares so much (too much, ask me). He's in love most of the time, the same way Greg Dulli's in heat all of the time; when he tells his lover to "Bring it On," a song that dons its pompadoured Afghan Whig, he's asking to bring her worst so he can do his best. That, or he's spoiling for a fight. Still, the last cut's the deepest: "Babe, I'm on Fire," which lasts 15 minutes and 43 verses and features some 200 characters (from Bill Gates and the Bad Seeds to "the hump-backed bell ringer" and "the man from the Klan with the torch in his hand") testifying to how badly Nick C. wants you, which is a lot. You might even give in, this time.