Genre Benders

Sometimes it takes a re-issue of old albums to rediscover a musician that you’ve been out of touch with for a while. So it was with me last week. When a couple of re-issued Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums landed up, re-mastered and with bonuses such as DVDs in tow, I revisited Nick Cave and after the first couple of tracks on the re-issued Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! (originally released in 2008), I wondered how on earth could I have let so much time elapse before I re-heard Cave’s music.

NOT AN AVERAGE ROCKER: Nick Cave’s (seated, centre) dark humour, menace and the charisma that he adds to them makes his songs different (Photo: Courtesy Facebook)

NOT AN AVERAGE ROCKER - Nick Cave’s (seated, centre) dark humour, menace and the charisma that he adds to them makes his songs different (Photo: Courtesy Facebook)

Nick Cave, 55, is (if you’re unfamiliar with him) an Australian born musican, songwriter, author and actor, whose career began in the early 1970s with a band called The Birthday Party. Although they explored many styles they got labelled, a bit unfairly, as a gothic band. Nevertheless, in those pre-internet days, the band found cult followers in both Australia and the UK. The Birthday Party evolved into Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a band that has lasted for years and has some 14 studio albums in its back catalogue. A 15th is said to be in the works.

If that were not prolific enough, Cave has had other musical projects over the years—Grinderman, a side project, has two studio albums to its credit; he’s scored music for films, ranging from the post-apocalyptic, Viggo Mortensen starring, The Road, to contributing a song on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; he has authored at least half a dozen books (okay, some of them are compilations of lyrics of his songs), including 2009’s The Death of Bunny Munro, which is about a sex-addicted salesman; in addition, he has acted in films and written screenplays.

It is difficult to slot Nick Cave’s music into genre-based boxes. He and his band meld many genres—punk, garage rock, blues, and even jazz—into their songs. And their sound can change from album to album, sometimes quite dramatically. If you want to sample Cave’s music, I’d recommend Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, an album name inspired by Lazarus, a subject of a miracle in the Bible where he is depicted as being raised from the dead by Jesus. In the title song, Lazarus is “Larry” and he surfaces in New York and San Francisco before everything goes pear-shaped for him and he’s homeless and in line at a soup kitchen.

Cave is obviously influenced and inspired by musicians such as Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan but he has a unique edginess of his own. His music has a bass-heavy foundation but also swirly keyboards, occasional electric guitar forays and, best of all, the words. Cave isn’t your typical rock lyricist. His themes dwell on issues of sex, relationships, death and God—nothing unique about that—but it is the dark humour, the menace and the charisma that he adds to them that makes his songs different. He’s clever; he’s witty and sharp as a razor.

Cave released Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! at 50, an age at which many rock musicians lean heavily on their back catalogues or on recycling. Rather than doing that, Cave upped the ante and made a hard-driving, punchy album with fast songs that have words guaranteed to make you listen carefully to lyrics. I like to put Cave’s albums on repeat to be able to listen to the music and lyrics more closely.

The other re-issued Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album is 2003’s Nocturama. If Dig had a full-throttled sound, Nocturama is just the opposite. It’s got a laid-back air of a man who’s put his angry youth behind him. The songs are ballads about love, relationship and seem, at least in comparison with Cave’s past, tender even. But just as you thought Cave was going soft, the last track on the album, Babe, I’m On Fire, kicks in and it is all what the previous nine are not. For it is a muscular, loud and nearly 15-minute long track, which reminds you that Nick Cave still has the fire of his youth raging away inside.

Perhaps Babe, I’m On fire was also a sign of what was to come. Dig, the punchy album, yes, but also some other things. With my interest in Cave’s music rekindled, I fished out his two side-project outcomes—2007’s Grinderman and 2010’s Grinderman2.

Conceived as an alternative project, Grinderman was the name of a four-member stripped-down band that Cave formed in order to do things in a more unhindered manner than the Bad Seeds band would let him. Grinderman comprised some of the personnel on the Bad Seeds team (Warren Ellis, the violinist, Martyn P. Casey, the bassist, and Jim Sclavunos, the drummer) and the sound was wilder and raunchier. I now remember why, as I said in the beginning, I’d stopped listening to Cave’s music at home. Grinderman’s song lyrics have a bit of the NSFW/H to them and the first album’s cover shows a monkey doing something that you’d probably like to keep away from impressionable young children’s eyes. But what music!

The Texas indie-rock band, Spoon’s frontman, Britt Daniel, and the erstwhile Canadian band, Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, have a new project, Divine Fits. It’s what you could call a supergroup given that another member of the band, Sam Brown is from the Ohio band, New Bomb Turks. Divine Fits’ debut album is called A Thing Called Divine Fits. It is a set of slickly produced pop-rock songs that demonstrate how a couple of stars in their own right can work together without ruffling each other’s egos.

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