Friday, January 09, 2015

What an Enormous and Encyclopedic Brain!

After a month of kind of cheating, it's back to our regularly scheduled Band of the Month. This one might look like it belongs with the last few - another 80s artist - but Nick Cave is very different from the bands I have been writing about. I heard the Bad Seeds back in the 80s, here and there - but I was not a fan. Not in the way I wasn't a fan of the Minutemen (from not really hearing them) - truth is, I actively disliked Nick Cave for a while. Not that I had heard much of him - a few songs on the radio maybe; saw the Bad Seeds in Wings of Desire (which went far toward turning me off, for some reason - they looked like such posers!); heard a record or two at a bookstore I was working at - probably Kicking Against the Pricks, since I seem to remember him making hash of Long Black Veil, though it might have been Tender Prey.... I didn't like it, though to be honest, I didn't think much about him. I put him down as one of those dull goth bores, and let it go. Years passed and I didn't think much about Nick Cave - saw his name here and there, was never moved to find out more about him, certainly not to listen to him.

And then I bought Murder Ballads. I don't know why I bought it; I don't really remember when (though I would guess around the fall of 2000; I think I bought it when I was living in Boston - I used to drop in the used record shops on Newbury street quite a lot, looking for bargains - that's certainly where I got it...) - but once I heard it, I loved it. The songs were great - Cave was funny and cool, and unlike when I heard him in the 80s, his stylization did not annoy me. Had he changed significantly since 89 or so? Had I? I don't know - I was certainly enough of a punk and post-punk fan in 1989 that I should have liked Cave; 10 years later I'd gone through a jazz period, then back to rock, mostly alternative (Sleater Kinney, Built to Spill, PJ Harvey - discovered and started worshipping the Minutemen - started listening to Captain Beefheart) - did that change how I heard Cave? PJ Harvey maybe - I suspect she is why I bought the record in the first place; I was becoming a serious fan of hers by the late 90s. But I don't know. Maybe I just listened more carefully - maybe I listened with my ears not with my eyes, paid attention to the noise, not the hairspray. Whatever it was, I liked it, and I started seeking out more of his work.

He grew on me. I don't know how fast - over the next few records (Nocturama, No More Shall We Part, up through Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues), maybe) there were always songs I liked (babe Im on fire, rock of Gibraltar, 15 feet of pure white snow, supernaturally), but I can't say I always loved the records. I listened to them - picked out the songs I liked - listened to them more.... And then Grinderman came out. It was what I wanted to hear just then - straightforward rock songs, with Cave's croony growl, and messy, noisy guitar - that was for me. It fell right in the middle of the weird folk and neo-psychedelia I liked then (Ben Chasney; Ghost/Boris - anything Kurihara; Times New Viking) - it was perfect. I was convinced, and I stayed convinced. Cave worked the style for a while - Dig, Lazarus, Dig sounds a lot like Grinderman; Grinderman 2 offered up more, and it solidified my more or less complete surrender to Cave. Push the Sky Away moves in another direction, but by now, I would go anywhere Cave took me.

That's basically been true for the last decade or so. I had a lot of catching up to do, but did it - picking up the old stuff when I had a chance and trying to listen to it - trying to finally hear it. Not as easy as it would have been in the 90s - iTunes has made listening to records seem like a quaint and old fashioned idea - though it is also true that Cave is one of the acts that has stayed in rotation on the CD player even after Steve Jobs ruined music. I have probably listened to Cave's CDs more in the last 10 years than anyone else. But I have caught up - figured out what I was missing. From the fairly straightforward post punk of the Birthday Party, through the goth cool of the early Bad Seeds, to the 90s croony stuff, up to the 00s rock - it is all good and all keeps getting better. I should have liked Cave in the 80s - it's only a step or two sideways from Pere Ubu (especially Mayo Thompson Pere Ubu) - listening to those songs now, From Her to Eternity or Avalanche - they sound so cool - pianos, the guitar scraping out of nowhere. There's still a lot of that in the new ones, more than you sometimes notice on first listen - Warren Ellis in particular is a very disruptive musical force - though the rhythms are more conventional, I suppose, more like rock (more like Tom Hermann Pere Ubu?) I liked the old stuff; and I went back to the crooning period - the mid 90s, the music that won me in the first time - picked up some of those records I was missing, and found I liked it more than ever. It helped that I listened to a lot of Van Der Graf Generator, Scott Walker, that sort of thing, in the early 00s - though Cave got me into them, as much as digging into them made me appreciate Cave.

And don't discount the Bad Seeds in this: Ellis in recent years has really put his stamp on the sound of the records - but they have always been tight and inventive and full of personality. The way the songs are put together - the mix of styles, the mix of simplicity and experimentation, the melodies and the noise, the prettiness and wig-outs - there's no end of what they can do, and they do it all brilliantly. Cave's records reward the attention, for their detail, their accumulation of sounds, everything - every song feels like an epic, every record feels like a collection of epics. Yep: he is in the pantheon now - maybe not with the Stones and Beatles, probably not really with Pere Ubu and Richard Thompson or The Velvets - but he probably doesn't fall far outside the top 5 or 6... And right now - 2014 - he continues to put out the most consistent, intelligent and impressive music of anyone. It is one of the things that drew me to him in the 00s - he was still putting out records that were as good as anything. He's been one of the 2-3 best acts of the 21st century, if not the very best.

And to gild the lily, he's become a very solid screenwriter, soundtrack writer and performer, and features in one of the best films of the year. It is all too much.

So here I am, with a huge pile of songs to choose among: the fact that I am still missing a couple records, and there are a couple I haven't listened to all the way through in order (more than once anyway) - doesn't really help. There is so much to choose from. The brilliant stories and words, the sounds, the pretty songs and the rock outs and the abrasive ones, all competing - we shall have to do the best we can.

Top 10 Songs:

1. When My Baby Comes - great as the song is, it's the instrumental second half, an unholy drone with a killer bass line, that puts it at the top.
2. Stagger Lee - earning that parental warning sticker.
3. Rock of Gibraltar - one of the pretty ones, with that killer turn at the end.
4. From her to Eternity - I think I can blame Win Wenders for turning me off from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I just associated them with whatever he was doing - with the bad things about Wings of Desire. But listen to the song - where the piano goes, Blixa's guitar coming in when it does, all the space - damn.
5. Red Right Hand
6. Palaces of Montezuma
7. Weeping Song
8. We Call Upon the Author
9. Let the Bells Ring - especially the live version; those ringing guitars!
10. We No Who You Are

Painful choices, getting down to that. All right - have to let it go. Video? Start with Grinderman, Nick Cave, guitar hero; Warren Ellis, violin hero:

Back toward the start - Birthday Party - Junkyard:

From Her to Eternity, 1989, just hammering it:

Calling on the author:

Mr. Stagger Lee (Austin City Limits) (language, violence, sex and blasphemy):

Come on baby let's get out of the cold!... Palaces of Montezuma on Jools Holland:

And video for We No Who U R:

No comments: