On Repeat: Nick Cave
This year I’ve spent a lot of time exploring styles of music I’d neglected in the past, be it dancehall or instrumental hip-hop. I’ve been stunned by a visionary new artist with a remarkable sense of identity, and I’ve delighted in a career-defining peak by a veteran artist who I’ve only discovered in the past few years. But for all this newness, I can’t deny that the album I’ve listened to the most, the one that’s moved me and thrilled me and challenged me and entertained me more than any other, is the latest masterwork by one of my long-time favorite groups– Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, whose last album was my favorite of 2004 and whose new one, Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!, just might top my 2008 list.
And why shouldn’t it? It’s a terrific, careening, wildly entertaining and provocative album, made by artists at the height of their power. More and more, I’m realizing how astounding it is to hear Cave pick up the thread of absurdist storytelling that Dylan dropped in the late 1960s; this is an album, ultimately, about the decline of humankind and the end of the world itself, but it’s presented here in an astonishing storm of humor and sex, religion and mythology, sleaze and spirituality. Cave and his Seeds tear into these songs with garage-rock abandon, but, if his songcraft reminds me of Dylan, his persona is a bit closer to Tom Waits. Indeed, when Waits sung a few years back about feeling like “a preacher waving a gun around,” he could have been singing about Cave, who is deliriously funny and compelling here in his violent, feverish fervor, rambling on like an alcoholic wiseman declaring that the end is near but determined to go out with a bang. Listening to him, you’ll believe him– and you’ll want to join him in his fun.
Cave doesn’t reach the heights of transcendence here that he did on his double-disc opus, Abattoir Blues and the Lyre of Orpheus, but, in its own way, the gutter poetry of this set is almost as profound, and probably more entertaining. In a way, it consolidates all the greatest strengths of latter-day Cave, fusing the epic vision and poetic scope of that double album with the greasy, primal energy of the Grinderman side project and the sophistication and nuance of his recent soundtrack works.
It’s an uproariously good time, and it’s yet another Cave album that pushes the envelope of our understanding of just what these guys are capable of. And by spending so much time in the mire, Cave has unearthed some precious moments of beauty here– and any album that can speak so honestly to the wages of sin and the perils of earthly life while still sounding like a celebration of the best aspects of humanity, and of spirituality, is one that’s pretty close to essential listening.