Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
Formed: 1984, London, England
Members: Nick Cave, vocals, piano (Nicholas Edward Cave, born Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia, 22 September 1957); Warren Ellis, violin; Mick Harvey, guitar (born Rochester, Australia, 20 September 1958); Jim Sclavunos, drums; Blixa Bargeld, guitars (Christian Emmerich, born Berlin, Germany, 12 January 1959); Thomas Wydler, percussion.
Best-selling album since 1990: Murder Ballads (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "Where the Wild Roses Grow," "Bring It On"
Conjuring the despair of Johnny Cash, the vocal quiver of Elvis Presley, and the volatility of Jim Morrison, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds enjoyed a long career as cult favorites. Their black humor and death-obsessed songs did not subscribe to the cheesy satanism of metal bands, but to the older Anglo-American folk ballad and story-song tradition.
In 1977 Nick Cave and Mick Harvey formed the punk band Boys Next Door in Melbourne, Australia. Hoping to make it big, they trekked to London in 1980 and founded the Birthday Party. Cave suffered the hardscrabble existence endemic among struggling artists. However, the band began to get attention with Cave's cathartic, almost possessed vocals. The group split in 1983 and Cave decided to go forward as a solo artist backed by a band whose lineup could be fluid. At this point, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were born. Harvey remained a constant, and founding guitarist Blixa Bargeld stayed on until shortly after the release of Nocturama (2003).
Their debut album, From Her to Eternity (1984), displays a group that is too theatrical and eccentric for radio but perfect for the underground. Cave delivers seething vocals on the Elvis Presley cover "In the Ghetto," which foreshadows Cave's obsession with songs about death.
The follow-up, The Firstborn Is Dead (1985), is informed by rural American blues. But Cave sings with a creepy, almost maniacal baritone while the Bad Seeds create foreboding guitar riffs and whooshing percussion effects. "Tupelo" uses apocalyptic biblical imagery of plagues and floods to dramatize the birth of "the King," Elvis Presley. Cave's voice becomes a haunting wail on "Knockin' on Joe," an eight-minute saga of a condemned killer's final moments.
The band performed in the Wim Wenders motion picture Wings of Desire (1987) and Cave wrote and acted in Ghosts of the Civil Dead (1988), playing a prisoner named Maynard. Cave later disparaged his foray into acting, saying it did not feel natural. He published a novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel (1990), a weird tale full of allegory and symbolism. Though far from a best-seller, it became a cult favorite, like his music.
Known for their foursquare, simple rhythms, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds grew more sophisticated by the early 1990s, incorporating jazzy piano and violin arrangements. Let Love In (1994) reflects the improvement, with the ballad "Nobody's Baby Now" featuring creative interplay between piano and guitar. But the band's dangerous side is still in effect, with "Red Right Hand" portending doom and "Loverman" examining the ugly extremes of male lust. The latter track was covered by Metallica for Garage Inc. (1998).
Cave indulged in his vocal histrionics for Murder Ballads (1996), almost a self-parody of his reputation for gloomy subject matter. He growls like blues rocker George Thorogood on "Song of Joy," which details the damage wrought by a serial killer. The story-song "Where the Wild Roses Grow" is a left-field duet with pop diva Kylie Minogue, where the Australian popster plays an innocent maiden who ends up bludgeoned to death.
Murder Ballads seems to have served as a purgative, as Cave lightens up on subsequent releases. The Boatman's Call (1997), perhaps the band's most accessible album, rests on Cave's subtle piano textures and sentimental lyrics. "Into My Arms" sounds inspired by Negro spirituals, with Cave praying that his true love will remain with him forever. The dirgelike "People Ain't No Good" approaches sixties pop singer Bobby Goldsboro–level pathos with its eulogy to a broken marriage. The album spent one week on the Billboard 200 chart, hitting number 155 and giving Cave his first U.S. chart album six months before his fortieth birthday.
Nocturama (2003) signals an unusually laid-back approach. Cave and his band recorded the album in one week. Instead of applying his usual workaholic perfectionism to the lyrics, Cave trusts his instinct. This leads to a few jarring moments for longtime fans. The first single, "Bring It On," utilizes a vibrating bass line akin to Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" and is accompanied by an uncharacteristic video full of booty-shaking dancers. Talented as the Bad Seeds are, funk is not their specialty, and ultimately the effort seems awkward. Cave sounds almost sweet on the ballads that lead off the album—"Wonderful Life," propelled by piano and a meandering bass line, "He Wants You," with its solemn violin and Cave's almost crooning vocals, and "Right Out of Your Hand," a pulsating soft-rocker that almost sounds like a live recording. However, Nocturama ends with the bizarre, bombastic "Babe, I'm on Fire." It rambles on for fifteen minutes and features Cave calling out seemingly random categories of people ("the athlete with his hernia," "the corporate flunky") and informing listeners that they all say, "Babe, I'm on fire." It is a track sure to exasperate new fans and old, and the mischievous Cave would likely have it no other way.
Though Cave returned to Melbourne to record Nocturama, he continued to reside full time in the temperate beach town of Brighton, England, saying it was easier for him to be himself and live in relative anonymity in his adopted country. Understandably absent from commercial radio, Cave and the Bad Seeds are an acquired taste, but ultimately rewarding for those who believe in rock music as a form of lyricism and exorcism.
From Her to Eternity (Mute/Elektra, 1984); The Firstborn Is Dead (Mute, 1985); Let Love In (Mute, 1994); Murder Ballads (Mute/Reprise, 1996); The Boatman's Call (Mute/Reprise, 1997); Nocturama (Anti, 2003).
Wings of Desire (1987); Ghosts of the Civil Dead (1988).
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