I’m a Nick Cave fan who is listening to the entire back catalogue in release order during my drives to and from work so that I can better evaluate how I feel about the latest album, Ghosteen.
Grinderman 2 (2010)
The first Grinderman record was a loose, scrappy collection of ideas which were often thrown together with little to no regard for traditional song structure, and was a unique masterpiece for it. This second offering from the Bad Seeds side project is, at least, a more cohesive effort, but one which seems to have lost a little of the sleaze and grime that made the first album such an ‘uncomfortable but brilliant’ listen.
To say some of these songs sound like they could have been recorded by The White Stripes is not supposed to be a criticism. I love Jack White, but it’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing! Just listen to Heathen Child and tell me that would sound out of place on any post-Elephant album. Grinderman 2 feels a lot more laid back in places than its predecessor. When My Baby Comes lures the listener in with the strings and complete lack of a beat, before that Bad Seeds wall of sound comes crashing in with full effect – diving guitars and slightly off-key violin. What I Know follow immediately afterwards in a rather forgettable fashion, before Nick is back in your face with Evil, a song which most reminds me of the Abattoir Blues track, Supernaturally.
The album heads towards its close with Palaces Of Montezuma, which is just about one of the most perfect NC tunes ever written. It’s a song which could go over the end credits of just about any film ever made. Uplifting, melancholic, optimistic and sorrowful, all at the same time. I’m not sure what kind of sorcery the band harnessed to pull that off, but they did. Finally, the record comes to an end with the almost Primal Scream-like sounding Bellringer Blues. An epic track with backwards guitars and plenty of Eastern flavour.
If the first Grinderman record is absolutely essential, I feel that this one is slightly less so. It contains one of my favourite tracks of all time, but there are songs which have me reaching for the ‘skip’ button on every listen, and there aren’t many Cave albums I can say that about. Some of the songs are… and I hesitate to use the word… boring. But, that’s just my opinion. And even a Nick Cave record that’s slightly boring in places is still better than 99% of anything that’s ever been recorded!
Standout tracks: Palaces Of Montezuma, Bellringer Blues.
Push The Sky Away (2013)
Ushering in a new chapter for the band, Push The Sky Away is arguably the most laid back the Bad Seeds have been since 1997’s The Boatman’s Call. The first in what turned out to be a trilogy of albums which relied much more heavily on strings and lush synths than any of their previous work, Push The Sky Away is a downbeat, sometimes depressing album, eliciting many different emotions from the listener throughout its 45 minute (or thereabouts) running time. Melancholy, hope, euphoria, distress… but never boredom. Never, ever boredom.
The opening bars of We No Who U R really set the stall out for the rest of the record, but it wasn’t until witnessing the Glastonbury performance of the song in 2013 that it really clicked with me. It’s astonishingly good, lyrically brilliant, and also introduces us to some very specific synth sounds which would go on to play a much larger part on the next album. Wide Lovely Eyes, following directly afterwards, pulls the exact same trick. In fact, neither of these songs would have felt out of place on Skeleton Tree.
Speaking about the album, Cave said: “If I were to use that threadbare metaphor of albums being like children, then ‘Push The Sky Away’ is the ghost-baby in the incubator, and Warren [Ellis]’s loops are its tiny, trembling heart beat”. It does appear that Warren has very much come to the forefront, musically speaking, with this album.
The album drifts, almost ethereally, through it’s middle section, before coming to a close with the much-lauded Higgs Boson Blues and the perfect Push The Sky Away, which is another song which really needs to be seen live to gain a full appreciation of.
This album is like a statement of intent, setting out the Bad Seeds plan for the next decade. The albums we got after this drifted deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, became almost mere wisps of sound as the heartbeats got quieter and quieter until they eventually stopped.
But more on that later…
Standout tracks: We No Who U R, Wide Lovely Eyes, Push The Sky Away.
Live from KCRW (2013)
Packaged with some versions of Push The Sky Away, this radio session recorded at Apogee Studio in LA was also released as a single live album. It is, of course, wonderful. Featuring a handful of songs from the last album, interspersed with some old favourites, Live from KCRW doesn’t seem to have the raw energy of Live Seeds, or the discography stretching set list of the Abattoir Tour discs, but it has incredible production quality for a live record, and every song is delivered perfectly from the lads. Well, there’s not really much more to add – it’s worth a listen, and the new songs sound great live!
Standout tracks: The Mercy Seat, Push The Sky Away, Jack The Ripper.