Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" (Anti Records 2008)

Throughout his career Nick Cave has deftly dodged any fan or media attempts to pigeon hole his music. Any time it appears that he’s settled into a consistent sound he changes gears and keeps us guessing at his true motivations and from where he’s drawing specific inspiration. From the aural assault of his earliest work with The Bad Seeds to the much mellower, more melodic piano ballads that came later and many other approaches in between, he’s always pulled it off to some degree and left a long list of sometimes relatively mediocre, sometimes stunningly brilliant records in his formidable wake. With Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have done it again.

Utterly unlike anything they’ve produced before, much of Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! sounds like it could have been included on one of the Nuggets collections of 60’s garage rock, including healthy doses of underground and even mainstream offerings from the same musical era. Trading piano and strings for distorted guitar and grinding Hammond organ there is a whole lot more straight up rock ‘n’ roll here than Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have ever seemed interested in exploring.

The title track, which kicks off the record, gives immediate notice that things aren’t going to be the same. The song grooves, chunking dancily along behind a semi-spoken word vocal that’s lyrical story is strongly reminiscent of the Velvet Underground era Lou Reed. “Today’s Lesson” hits you next, and this is really where the 60’s garage band vibe kicks in – you can almost picture the band filmed in Technicolor, wearing psychedelic clothing, Cave himself bobbing his head and slapping a tambourine. “Albert Goes West” is a slab of raw power, with the music dropping down to emphasize the vocal on the chorus, only to kick back in with background vocal “ooohs” and “aaahs” and finally a “sha-la-la-la” outro. Very 1960’s.

The garage/underground element isn’t the whole story. Both “Night of the Lotus Eaters” and “Midnight Man” have a Doors thing going on, with the former taking on their more experimental side and the latter the more mainstream. The main difference being, of course, that Jim Morrison was an arrogant, narcissistic hack while Nick Cave is an actual writer. Not to mention the fact that The Bad Seeds are a much better band.

Speaking of writers, much is being made of “We Call Upon the Author”, musically something that could only come from the mind of a contemporary Nick Cave, as a humorous exercise in self-reflexivity. While I agree that there is certainly an element of this, especially in the verses so obviously about himself, it seems to me to be more of an indictment of fans and critics demanding of artists more that they’re willing or should be expected to give, be it in explaining their work or providing details of their personal life. It’s no secret that this has been a source of irritation for Cave throughout his career.

There are also moments that evoke the same feel as The Lyre of Orpheus, particularly with the return of strings and piano on “Jesus of the Moon”. Clumped toward the end of the album, these songs seem placed to reassure Nick Cave purists, at least those of his more recent work, that they haven’t been forgotten.

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! closes with “More News From Nowhere”, an easy going jaunt that brings Warren Zevon immediately to mind and eases the listener out of a decidedly unpredictable experience.

While thrusting its influences into your face more than any previous Cave record, it’s that unpredictability that, in spite of this, makes Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! a quintessential Nick Cave album. While there may be less sonic darkness and disturbing imagery than we may have come to expect it’s still there, and there is a quality to Cave’s songwriting, style, and lyricism that no amount of tinkering with the type of delivery is going to obscure. Not only is it a quintessentially Nick Cave record, it’s very change in direction and unpredictability make it a great one.

As an afterthought, this record certainly seems to place the Grinderman release into a kind of context – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! to me gives it the feel of an out-take collection. Nothing wrong with that.

4 out of 4 Bad Seeds

No comments: