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| Highest Rated 2006
Cave & The Bad Seeds: Nocturama
Posted: February 17,
For those who think Nick Cave has mellowed now that middle age has set in
-- especially in light of 1997's brooding, devotional The Boatman's Call
and 2001's spiritually questing No More Shall We Part -- Nocturama,
the twelfth studio release from Cave and his crack backing band the Bad
Seeds, puts such speculation to rest. Nocturama certainly includes
its share of spare ballads and somber meditations on marriage and faith, but
it also sports a raw, less-refined quality, evoking the spirit of earlier
albums like From Her to Eternity and The Firstborn Is Dead. While the slow numbers still outnumber the hard-charging,
full-blooded cuts, Nocturama proves the fire still rages within
Cave's belly, a fact that saves it from becoming a mere retread of ideas
more fully explored in his recent work.
"Wonderful Life" sets the album's tone; it's a sinuous piano and pedal steel
affair, in which Cave promises "It's a wonderful life," providing "you can
find it." Resistance has been sanded away. The voice is older, tired, and
yet still wary of convention. Cave's cynicism creeps in on "Right Out of
Your Hand," with the singer bitterly noting "Give a sucker an even break /
He'll lose it all, every time." "He Wants You," by contrast, is a straight,
beautifully played piano ballad, all bleeding-heart romanticism, that would
find itself right at home with the songs on No More Shall We Part.
But it's with "Bring It On," featuring guest vocalist Chris Bailey
(ex-Saints), that things start to get interesting, with Cave and the Bad
Seeds injecting a much-needed shot of adrenaline. A big guitar attack,
impassioned chorus and breakneck sense of immediacy mesh flawlessly, while
Bailey's throaty growl works surprisingly well with Cave's weathered croon.
"Dead Man in My Bed," in which a dissatisfied wife gets her say, is
positively incendiary, the moment where Cave and the boys successfully tap
into the elemental fury of their early days.
"There Is a Town" is nostalgic without being sappy, sporting the following
signature metaphysical Cave musing: "And so it goes / And so it seems / That
God lives only in our dreams." "Rock of Gibraltar" and "She Passed by My
Window" threaten to slow things to a complete crawl, but they're completely
obliterated by "Babe, I'm on Fire," a near-15-minute "Can I get a witness?"
testimonial to Cave's burning lust. Over 40 verses, it manages to repeat
itself without once losing potency. (This may also be the only song in the
history of popular music that manages to rhyme "Chinese contortionist" with
"backyard abortionist.") "Babe" is an amazing tour de force, a high point in
the entire Cave and Bad Seeds catalog, and it single-handedly elevates
Nocturama from a decent album to a stellar one. The old cliché about
buying an album for just one song fits here: "Babe, I'm on Fire" is nothing
less than a resurrection of Cave at his most demonically-inspired,
Nocturama falls short of the masterful Boatman's Call, and
lacks the unifying lyrical and musical themes found on No More Shall We
Part. But it manages to accomplish what neither of those records did,
unleashing the full fury of Cave and the Bad Seeds (last seen at some point
during the mid '90s). For that, Nocturama will undoubtedly hold a
special place in the hearts of longtime Cave fans.
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