To the quick: Cave finally finds his place
The quiet that fills Nocturama, the new release by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is one of peace, not suffocation.
As a teen in his native Australia, Cave was the neighborhood hellion, a boy whose bright intelligence and explosive energy were most apparent in his constant delinquency. His parents survived on limitless patience, encouraging more innocuous pursuits (such as his insatiable appetite for literature).
At age 17, upon being hauled into a police station for a misdemeanor offense, Cave learned of his father's death in a car crash. Utterly devastated, he spiraled down to what became the lowest point of his life.
The wounds of regret and loss grooved his early adulthood; Cave's first band, the Birthday Party, was the product of this difficult period. Known for their vicious energy and obsessively morbid lyrics, the Birthday Party earned a reputation more for their violent concerts than their deconstructive anti-melodies.
After moving to England with the band, Cave retreated even further into a life-threatening drug addiction. The group disintegrated, disbanding shortly after another member's death.
Cave arose again in 1984 as the leader of a new musical collective: the Bad Seeds. By this point in his life, the raw abandon of his youth was beginning to subside into a sense of profound yearning. Over the next decade, Cave kicked his drug habit, found himself, fell in love, and eased from punk into balladry. Songs were filled with characters from the darker side of humanity, trembling souls unsure of their stand in God's graces. These bitter explorations weren't pop culture assemblages, to say the least.
After penning a novel, delivering lectures on the nature of the love song, and appearing in Wim Wender's film Wings of Desire, Cave found and recorded an unlikely duet with Aussie pop ingénue Kylie Minogue. The odd oil v. water pairing earned him an MTV award nomination in 1996, which he politely declined in a letter, saying his music "...exist[ed] beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring... my muse is not a horse, and I am in no horse race."
May all who oppose such an ideal say neigh.
This time around, 20 years into his musical career, on Nocturama, it seems Cave has finally discovered his safe harbor. He's now a devoted husband and father (of twin boys), and his smoky shuffles are filled with the anchoring perspective he once lacked.
Behind those knitted brows at the piano, the upright bass, pedal steel, and violin interlock seamlessly with the tales. Present are jeweled slices from everyday life: a woman dusting snow from a dropped glove, a flashback to his childhood town, starlings circling above purple fields, windowsill flowers, etc...
Exceptions from the soft-gelled ruminations ("Baby, I'm on Fire," e.g.) roll with typical Bad Seeds' thunder, all organ and metaphor.
Although less musically threatening than his earlier work, Nocturama shows the growth of a man whose sincerity cuts to the quick, without fail. From the opening track– "We can stomp across this world / With nails hammered through our shoes / We can join that troubled chorus / Who criticize and accuse / It don't matter much / We got nothing much to lose / But this wonderful life / If you can find it."
I hope he has.