When Blixa Bargeld left Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, who would have predicted his departure would result in one of the finest offerings in the band's catalog? Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus is a double CD or, rather, two completely different albums packaged in one very handsome box with a stylish lyric booklet and subtly colored pastel sleeves. They were recorded in a total of 16 days by producer Nick Launay (Kate Bush, Midnight Oil, Girls Against Boys, Silverchair, INXS, Virgin Prunes, et al.). Abbatoir Blues, the first disc in the set (packaged in pink, of course), is a rock & roll record…
Nick Cave is an artist who has never shied away from exploring the darker side of the human experience, often in broadly gothic strokes on his early albums but with a growing degree of nuance and compassion as Cave and his work matured. But a very real and deeply painful tragedy was visited on Cave while he was working on his 16th solo album, Skeleton Tree. His 15-year-old son Arthur Cave died when he fell from a cliff in July 2015, and while the writing and recording was already underway when the youngster suffered his accident, the grief and pain of loss Cave felt is palpable throughout this album. Skeleton Tree is relatively modest in scale – it runs just 40 minutes, the cover artwork is minimal, and the music lacks the dramatic, grand-scale arrangements of Cave's albums of the 21st century…
In April 2013, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds were booked to play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and with the same lineup of acts appearing two consecutive weekends, Cave and his bandmates had a few days to kill in California. During their downtime in the Golden State, Cave and the Bad Seeds cut a live-in-the-studio session for Santa Monica's public radio station KCRW-FM, and the recordings have been released under the straightforward (if less than imaginative) title Live from KCRW.
Continuing the creative roll of Tender Prey and The Good Son, Henry's Dream showed the band in fierce and fine fettle once more. The biggest change was with the choice of producer – David Briggs, famed for his work on some of Neil Young's strongest albums. While Cave later thought the experiment didn't work as well as he might have hoped, Briggs does a fine enough job, perhaps not letting the group's full intensity through but still capturing a live feel nonetheless. Cave himself offers up another series of striking, compelling lyrics again exploring love, lust and death. Here, though, some of his images are the strongest he's yet delivered, especially with the near apocalyptic "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," which begins the album brilliantly as the narrator lurches through a landscape of storms, brothels and urban decay. Equally powerful, if slower and calmer, is Dream's lead single, "Straight to You," with Cave delivering a forceful declaration of love.
With guitarist/keyboardist Roland Wolf and Cramps/Gun Club veteran Kid Congo Powers on guitar added to the ranks, along with guest appearances from old member Hugo Race, the Seeds reached 1988 with their strongest album yet, the insanely powerful, gripping Tender Prey. Rather than simply redoing what they'd already done, Nick Cave and company took their striking musical fusions to deeper and higher levels all around, with fantastic consequences. The album boldly starts out with an undisputed Cave masterpiece – "The Mercy Seat," a chilling self-portrait of a prisoner about to be executed that compares the electric chair with the throne of God. Queasy strings from a Gini Ball-led trio and Mick Harvey's spectral piano snake through a rising roar of electric sound – a common musical approach from many earlier Seeds songs, but never so gut-wrenching as here. Cave's own performance is the perfect icing on the cake, commanding and powerful, excellently capturing the blend of crazed fear and righteousness in the lyrics.
The blues had long been a potent undercurrent in the Birthday Party's music, so it wasn't all that surprising that Nick Cave embraced the sound and feeling of rural blues on his second album with the Bad Seeds, The Firstborn Is Dead. What was startling was how well Cave and his bandmates – Barry Adamson, Mick Harvey, and Blixa Bargeld – were able to absorb and honor the influences of artists like Skip James and Charley Patton while creating a sound that was unmistakably their own. The moody obsessions of rural blues – trains, floods, imprisonment, sin, fear, and death – seemed made to order for Cave, and he was able to tap into the doomy iconography of this music with potent emotional force; on "Tupelo," he makes a sweeping and disturbing epic of the rain-swept night when Elvis Presley was born, and "Knocking on Joe" is a tale of life on the work gang that communicates the pain of the spirit as clearly as the ache of the body.
Nick Cave launched his solo career in style with From Her to Eternity, an accomplished album mixing the frenzy and power of his Birthday Party days with a dank, moody atmosphere that showed he was not interested in simply continuing what the older group had done. To be sure, Mick Harvey joined him from the Party days, as ever playing a variety of instruments, while one-time Party guest Blixa Bargeld now became a permanent Cave partner, splitting his time between the Bad Seeds and Einsturzende Neubaten ever since. The group took wing with a harrowing version of Leonard Cohen's "Avalanche," Cave's wracked, buried tones suiting the Canadian legend's words perfectly, and never looked back. From Her to Eternity is crammed with any number of doom-laden songs, with Cave the understandable center of attention, his commanding vocals turning the blues and rural music into theatrical exhibitionism unmatched since Jim Morrison stalked stages.