For me, Nick Cave has always been at his best when he’s full of hellfire and wrath and is on stage, fervently preaching about love and death and the death of love, growling at us through his aggressive anger, fanatically slamming his fists and wildly stomping his feet. This album is a departure from that – in a way. If you’re looking for the churning, anger driven music so often equated with Nick Cave, go listen to Grinderman. This album has it, but you have to listen for it, you actually have to spend some energy to find it, and allow yourself to let go of your preconceived notions. The music is sparse, almost minimalistic, but each instrument has something to say, and if you cock your head just right, close your eyes, and drift away with the music, then you’ll hear the angst and ire and the foot stomping Nick Cave, for it is always there, it is just under a different guise on this most recent effort.
What appears at first to be spare, simple instrumentation is actually exceptionally powerful. Cave realizes that he doesn’t need to drown the listener in sound to get his point across on this album, and he plies these waters as deftly as you’d expect from a veteran songwriter such a Cave. He has always known when to bring it down and when to punch you in the face and tell you to Fuck Off. Cave knows that a song’s power derives from the sentiment, the soul of the lyric and the clarity of the music, regardless of whether it’s loud or fast or if it’s subtle and quiet and creeps up on you like the pedophile in the dark park. Here, he is brooding, introspective, stepped down from his soapbox and it seems as though the hellfire has left his eyes….or has it.
Well here comes Lucifer,
With his canon law,
And a hundred black babies runnin’ from his genocidal jaw
He got the real killer groove
Robert Johnson and the devil man
Don’t know who’s gonna rip off who
~Higgs Boson Blues
It’s there, underneath all the layers that he has so artfully built on this album. His timidity is a ruse, for on the 3rd track you expect it to blow open any minute, but as a practiced songster, Cave holds that tension in his slightly trembling hand and delivers the torpid lyrics deftly, ultimately winding it down without letting you down. Track 4, Jubilee Street, opens in a heroin haze of Lou Reed’s Pale Blue Eyes with the languid guitar and tambourine and rambles through a story that breaks your heart while filling you with wilting hope.
I got love in my tummy and a tiny little pain
And a 10 ton catastrophe on a 60 pound chain
Pushing my wheel of love up Jubilee Street
This album lives right at the point on the horizon where the endless sea merges with the sky and it’s so close, the sky is right there, that you can almost taste it, the poison on your tongue, and it seems as though Cave is still trying to find the meaning to it all while ultimately realizing it doesn’t matter, at all. Every time I listen to this album I find something new about it that I like, that speaks to me, but I had to shed all my preconceived ideas about what I thought the next Nick Cave album needed to be before I was able to fully appreciate it. If you can’t do that, then I’d suggest moving on to something else, for this album requires patience and pain and a willingness to just listen, to absorb, to feel.