May 16, 2005

Nick Cave "B-Sides & Rarities"

The twenty five+ years of Nick Cave's career have never been anything less than interesting. From his punk days in the Boys Next Door to the insanity of the Birthday Party and his morose blues/goth singer/songwriter turn with The Bad Seeds, there's really not much that Nick Cave hasn't done. One think you must say about Nick Cave's career is that you should always expect the unexpected. His most recent album, Abatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, is clearly his masterpiece--even though many (myself included) thought it impossilble to make a record better than 2001's No More Shall We Part.

Another thing you must say about Cave is that he's never wasted an opportunity to shine. B-Sides & Rarities is a reflection of that ability. Over the past twenty years, he's released some classic singles--from "Red Right Hand" to "Tupelo" to "The Ship Song" to "Deanna," and unlike most artists, Cave always made sure that even the singles are quality artistic endeavors, believing that even lesser material should be of the same quality as the more available product. Thus, the quality level of B-Sides & Rarities is extremely high--so much so that Cave has stated that this is his favorite Bad Seeds record.

Arranged in a vaguely chronological fashion, the first six years of Cave's career are only hinted at, and even then, several of these songs were released on American versions of his albums. From the blues of "The Moon Is In The Gutter" and "The Six Strings that Drew Blood" to the "Running Scared" and "Black Betty" covers from Kicking Against the Pricks, these earlier songs capture the band's wilder, more frentic side, but they serve more to show the hints of a greater genius yet to come. Not that these songs don't lack the same spark as his later songs--one listen to the venomous "Scum," a vile, harsh rant towards an equally vile, harsh music critic. Though as fascinating as these early glimpses are, they represent Cave as Angry Young Man.

If the Eightes represented the harsher, Old Testament Nick Cave, then 1990 was a pivotal year, one that instigated an unspoken yet quite obvious change for the band. His songs become softer, lusher and lyrically deeper than his earlier work. (It says much that there are only eight of the fifty-six songs on B-Sides & Rarities date from the 1980s.) The Nineties proved to be his most fertile period, due in no small part to the fact that this was the decade where Cave became a father, cleaned up his bad habits and developed a strong, unwavering faith. Tender Prey begat The Good Son which begat Henry's Dream which begat Let Love In which then begat Murder Ballads and The Boatman's Call--each album expanding and developing that same thick, lush sound.

Starting disc two are three songs from a joint single Cave recorded with fellow world-weary, doomed soul Shane MacGowan. Their choice of song is a straightforward and moving version of the classic "What A Wonderful World," both men's histories adding a touching depth to the song, making it a thank-you for two souls who probably should have died years before. Their further collaboration on "Rainy Night In Soho" and "Lucy" hint that maybe these two men should further collaborate. Other highlights include the catchy shuffle of "There's No Night Out In The Jail," an unreleased cover from a tribute record to the Australian Country & Western scene; an alternate version of "Red Right Hand," recorded for Scream 3; "Knoxville Girl," a cover of a traditional American murder ballad and the eighteen-minute version of "O'Malley's Bar."

The third disc finds Cave transitioning yet again, refining the already refined lush, orchestral sounds into something even more spectacular, turning in No More Shall We Part, Nocturama and Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.--two of which are easily his masterpieces. With age comes maturity, and this is certainly reflected in songs "Shoot Me Down" and "Good Good Day"--perhaps his happiest song before last year's "Breathless." The wise, contented "Everything Must Converge" and "Little Ghost Song" deserved a fate other than being the B-sides to one of his lesser singles. His recent turn towards more gospel-inspired music is also apparent in the brief "I Feel So Good" and the Southern Soul of "Come Into My Sleep." Of the three discs in B-Sides & Rarities, Volume III could easily pass for a new Nick Cave album and none would be the wiser. In fact, the entire collection is worth the price for the "Bring It On" and "He Wants You" B-sides alone. The rest of the collection...well, that's a great bonus!

If there's ever been a need to prove Cave's genius, B-Sides & Rarities does the job quite nicely. After all, what else can you call a man whose tossed-off rejects and outtakes sound as good as everything else he's ever released? B-Sides & Rarities is an essential Nick Cave collection that's necessary for both the hardcore fan and those curious about the man's work.

--Joseph Kyle

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