I'll make no secret of the fact that I have a very big weak spot for one Mr. Nick Cave. Although I was sort of a late arriver on the scene (the first album I heard by him was Let Love In, but it won me over immediately. I went and collected a good deal of his back catalogue (Tender Prey jumping high on the list), and was thrilled with his twisted batch of Murder Ballads. There's no mistaking, though, that on his following album The Boatman's Call, something changed. Gone were the over-the-top moments that he and his band were known for, and in its place was a more sparse and reflective Cave. While the album wasn't horrible by most measures, it became probably my least favorite album of his output and I hoped that it would be a diversion of sorts until he got back to his old self.
With the release of No More Shall We Part, though, it was apparent that the newer side of Cave was here to stay. With it, though, he made large strides with the new sound, encorporating violin work by Warren Ellis and allowing the rest of the Bad Seeds to help fill the tracks out. Not only that, but there were a couple tracks on the disc that brought back the dangerous side of Cave, and that was a welcome sign. After finally shifting labels to Anti (I was wondering just how long Warner Brothers would keep him around), he's back with Nocturama, and it's another semi-spotty release.
The album opens with a nice track in the warm layers of "Wonderful Life." It again moves in a rather contemplative way, but like the better songs on his last release, he seems completely as ease with things, and the results show. The same goes with the follow-up track of "He Wants You," as some great piano melodies play back and forth with quiet violin by Ellis and some of the best vocal melodies that Cave has ever done on a slower song. After another quiet track, the album slowly builds things up with the excellent "Bring It On." Once it's gotten to the louder closing, the chorus vocals by Chris Bailey up the cheese factor a bit (although he's a former member of The Saints, he does his best over-the-top rawk schmaltz on this one), but it still sways with almost a bit of honky-tonk.
"Dead Man In My Bed" is the first time the album really gets rollicking, and it hearkens back to classic Cave songs of murder and mayhem. After that dose of somewhat unbridled (both musically and vocally) track, things calm down again for the next four, and there are arguments that could be made on each side. On one side, the music is as solid as almost anything that the group has done post-Boatman's Call, with great interplay between different players with sometimes downright lush moments. On the other side, Cave seems to toe the line more than ever in terms of lyrical content, sometimes walking into downright Neil Diamond territory.
Just about the time you think he's gone completely soft, though, Cave comes back with what might be one of his most audacious tracks ever. The album closer of "Babe, I'm On Fire," is the most loose and crazy track that the group has done since the out-of-control "O'Malley's Bar" off Murder Ballads. Clocking in at almost 15 minutes, the track finds Cave on an absolute roll lyrically, spitting out hilarious/disturbing variations on the same verse over and over throughout the course of the track, building to an odefull chorus that somehow ties it all together. Meanwhile, the music on the track lays waste as organs squeal, violin feedback drones, and guitars and bass rumble all over the place. It's maddening and somewhat brilliant at the same time, and just about the time you think you have him cornered, he comes out swinging. If you're a fan of his work, you'll no doubt want this one too, but if you're thinking about starting somewhere, take my word and go with Let Love In, then fan out from there if he grabs you.