'Nocturama' by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
I was surprised to find it had been almost five years since Cave's last album The Boatman's Call, but nonethe ess it has, so it was most welcome to receive this, his 12th studio solo album. In the course of his career, Cave has gone from the chaotic screamer of The Birthday Party to a reflective, literary post-punk Leonard Cohen figure. This was particularly prominent on The Boatman's Call, where just about every song was mid-paced and inward-looking, with none of the rollicking gothic juggernauts that scatter the rest of his canon and give the Bad Seeds the chance to cut loose and show what a startling band they can be. Here, too, this quiet and soulful Cave takes precedence, on what is easily his most open and least complex set of songs, and he once again makes less use of the Bad Seeds range than he once did, though Blixa Bargeld's pedal steel and Warren Ellis' violin are particularly fine here.
The first track, Wonderful Life, sets the scene, strong, but gentle, tinged with loss and regret, piano-driven and reminiscent of the best of the Tindersticks. Most of the other tracks follow in the same vein, with the gently swinging Rock of Gibraltar being another stand-out, although it does offer the slightly bizarre prospect of Cave holding some sympathy with the Gibraltarian's urge to continue to pretend to be British in the line "betrayed like the Rock of Gibraltar", but maybe I'm reading too much into this. The old roaring rip-it-up Cave returns on two tracks, the grisly Dead Man in My Bed, about someone who has kept a corpse about the house far too long and which contains the memorable line "He used to be so good to me, now he smells so fucking bad", and the last track I'm on Fire. This is one of those list songs Cave has been so good at, ever since his rethinking of Bob Dylan's Wanted Man. In it, he gives the Seeds their head and belts out surreal couplets such as: "The Papist with his soul says it/The Rapist on a roll says it" and "The foxhunting toff says it/ The horrible moth says it" and so on... for 15 minutes. OK, it is quite fun, but not 15 minutes of fun. Six or seven maybe; but 15, no. It really overstays its welcome. It works reasonably well at 90 on the M11, but at home I just got bored. It doesn't sound like his heart is truly in it.
In the end, I can't say this truly leapt up and grabbed my by the throat like a lot of other Cave albums have. It sounds a lot like quite a bit of his other work, and there is a sense of re-treading familiar ground. There is not enough progression, and he sounds a little tired. Maybe this is why there's been such a gap between records. No Nick Cave album could ever be said to be bad, as even at his least interesting he is head and shoulders above just about anyone else, but I think in the long run this will be seen as one of his more minor outings and a long way from the vivid glories of, say, Murder Ballads.