The Ten Best Nick Cave Songs
People of Dallas! One of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation is coming to our fair city in March, and the tickets haven't sold out yet. I know they're $80, but come on. He's very unlikely to come back again, and for some reason that no one can explain he's not only started his entire US tour in Dallas but ignored the entire West coast. We're very lucky. So why not repay his faith in you, the good folks of North Texas, and purchase a ticket today? You just know he's going to play some classics. It won't be anything less than spectacular.
By way of promotion, here is a list of some of his finest moments, according to me. There will be plenty to argue with here, with fans and haters alike, and if you've not heard all of these songs, I urge you to spend one cold, rainy night inside with a bottle of red wine and stick them on.
Early Bad Seeds - Nick and Blixa
Out of the ashes of the Birthday Party (one of the few punk bands that would clearly murder you and feel absolutely no remorse) came Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It featured an oft-rotating line-up with Nick and his muse, German arthouse guitarist Blixa Bargeld (also of Einstürzende Neubauten). After a short period recording From Her To Eternity in London in 1984, Cave moved to Berlin, and the brooding atmosphere of the art scene there helped him produce some songs that were both soaring and terrifying, like an eagle with knives, or a hot air balloon with air-to-ground missiles. Here, in my humble opinion, are the five best songs of that Bad Seeds era, in no particular order.
1. "Tupelo," from The First Born Is Dead A striking and intense way to kick off an album, Tupelo marries gospel-style preaching and apocalyptic lyrics to an intensely claustrophobic beat. Still a setlist regular today.
2. "The Weeping Song," from The Good Son A mournful and dramatic duet between Cave and Bargeld, that became one of the Bad Seeds' most enduring standards.
3. "The Mercy Seat," from Tender Prey A strikingly poetic depiction of the thoughts of a man about to be executed, the track speeds up into a furious pace as both it and the execution reach a crescendo. Later covered to great effect by Johnny Cash.
4. "Papa Won't Leave You Henry," from Henry's Dream Everything that defines early Bad Seeds, from the intricate lyricism to the acoustic guitar assaults to the chanted choruses to the build-up into a furious close are present in this album opener. It's both mesmerizing and capable of making you worry about Cave's mental state, a constant concern through early Bad Seeds albums.
5. "O'Malley's Bar," from Murder Ballads Any worries about Cave's mental state were surely confirmed by this strangely gripping fifteen-minute intricately detailed account of a bar massacre in which he is the perpetrator. From an album which, as its name suggests, only features songs about murder. Let's chalk that one up to the heroin.
Honorable mentions: The Ship Song, Deanna, Do You Love Me?, City of Refuge, Jack the Ripper, Stagger Lee, The Curse of Milhaven, Red Right Hand, Loverman, Let Love In
Later Bad Seeds - Nick and Warren
With the release of The Boatman's Call, an entirely piano-based album, Bargeld's influence (or perhaps interest, as he soon departed for other projects) began to wane, and after the great success of this album (featuring standards such as "Into My Arms" and "People Ain't No Good) Cave began to collaborate with famed multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, of beautiful Australian instrumental group Dirty Three. The first result of their work together was 2001's mesmerizing No More Shall We Part, a series of meditations on love and marriage, something Cave had recently been through. Later Bad Seeds is characterized more by piano-led songs, with Ellis' violin front and center, rather than the backing role violins had previously assumed. With Ellis on board, production didn't let up, but has recently seen a move away from the Bad Seeds, with a lot of movie soundtrack work (it's especially worth checking out their soundtrack for The Road) and the distorted guitar blitz of men-in-their-fifties-form-a-punk-band-that's-actually-incredible Grinderman.
1. "Oh My Lord," from No More Shall We Part This track is a swirling, dizzying ascent, led by Ellis' magnificent violin work, that seems to describe a mental breakdown and redemption. The end is a full-on sonic assault - somehow both poised and destructive. You want stage presence from an awkward-looking man wearing a tie? Give that above video a shot -- make sure you stick around for the ending.
2. "Bring It On," from Nocturama While probably Cave's least critically-acclaimed album, Bring It On is still a reminder that no one can craft a chorus quite like him on his day. Also features a vocal turn from Chris Bailey of The Saints.
3. "Cannibal's Hymn," from Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus This album is, to be honest, one of my favorites, and has so many examples of virtuoso songcraft that it seems like a highlight reel, even across a double-sided album. Nevertheless, Cannibal's Hymn is a stand-out, an almost sleazy exhibition of guitar effects and a pounding drumbeat that, when it does finally come in, drives the song forward perfectly.
4. "O Children," from Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus Tinged with even more gospel than most Cave songs, this is an absolutely perfect album-closer and a later-period gem. The way Cave picks everything up at the end of the song to create a church-sing-along full of emotion and hooks is masterful.
5. "We Call Upon The Author," from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! The best song from the most recent Bad Seeds album finds Cave still hollering at full force and spitting out lyrics almost unmatched in their weirdness and ferocity. To herald a dissonant breakdown by hollering "PROLIX, PROLIX, NOTHING A PAIR OF SCISSORS CAN'T FIX!" is a classic Cave the self-referential songwriter move.
Honorable mentions: Today's Lesson, Hallelujah, The Sorrowful Wife, Hiding All Away, There She Goes My Beautiful World, Nature Boy, Rock of Gibraltar, Midnight Man, Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow, God Is In The House.
In summary, I've seen him live a few times, and it's never been anything less than spectacular. It's impossible to know what sort of line-up we'll get (I've seen both the Bad Seeds as a four-piece and as a fifteen-piece with added gospel choir), but is it worth $80 of your hard-earned cash to catch this guy and his back catalogue on what I would imagine to be one of his last swings through the US, right here in Dallas? Yes. Yes it is. If you haven't already, get on it.
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