Where To Start With... Nick Cave
First emerging onto the scene in the late 1970s as the frontman of Australian post-punk noisemakers The Birthday Party, Nick Cave has been an ever-present force at the alt-rock end of the music spectrum for almost four decades now, releasing no fewer than 15 albums since The Birthday Party's demise in 1983, usually with his ever-rotating band of musicians The Bad Seeds (as well as another two with side project Grinderman). He's also contributed to more than a dozen film soundtracks and collaborated with artists as diverse as Kylie Minogue and Johnny Cash. Despite the fact he's now in his late 50s, Cave is one of those artists that just seems to improve with age, releasing some of his most critically-acclaimed albums in the last decade.
The last couple of years however have been difficult for Cave on a personal level; in July last year tragedy struck when his 15-year-old son Arthur fell to his death from a cliff near Cave's adopted home of Brighton, not far from the studio in which he was halfway through recording his latest album, Skeleton Tree. Its accompanying documentary One More Time With Feeling, screened for one night only in cinemas worldwide this week, was in part conceived as a way of avoiding the exhaustive press interviews usually associated with promoting a new album, according to the film's director Andrew Dominik. Originally intended as a more straightforward performance-based documentary featuring The Bad Seeds performing the new tracks and exploring the creative process behind the new record, instead the film has been transformed into a deeply moving account of this traumatic event and its effect on Cave's life and work, particularly as it relates to the process of making Skeleton Tree.
As for the album itself, it should come as no surprise that Skeleton Tree is one of Cave's most melancholy offerings yet, even for a man who has earned the nickname 'the Prince of Darkness'. You need only listen to the opening track, 'Jesus Alone', to get a feel of what's to come across the album's eight tracks. Minimalist, stark and hugely atmospheric, it's one of Cave's most powerful performances, imbued with a palpable rawness and fragility, while the lyrics offer oblique references to both death and beauty, conjuring up imagery in a way that only Nick Cave can.
You can find the video for 'Jesus Alone' below and preview the rest of the albums tracks at the top-right of this page. Beneath that we've picked out five outstanding tracks from Cave's long and industrious career as a tribute to one of the most uniquely creative songwriting talents around...
'From Her To Eternity'
The title track from Cave's first album following the spilt of The Birthday Party, 'From Her To Eternity' is one of the album's highlights and still as powerful today as it was then. Some of you may recognise the track from Cave's appearance in Wim Wenders' 1987 film Wings of Desire, in which Cave performs the track along with his new band. You can find the clip from the film below...
'Red Right Hand'
Probably one of his best-known songs, thanks in part to its use as the main title theme to the BBC's drama series Peaky Blinders, 'Red Right Hand' first appeared on Cave's 1994 album Let Love In, although a shorter version was later released as a single. Like many of his lyrics, the song makes biblical references and the title is in fact inspired by a line from John Milton's Paradise Lost, referring to the vengeful hand of God. Despite the typically heavy subject matter, it's one the more accessible songs in the Bad Seeds catalogue.
'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!'
One of our favourite ever Nick Cave tracks, the title track from his 2008 album of the same name is another to make biblical references, this time centred around the famous character whom Jesus reportedly brought back from the dead. Cave takes as his lyrical starting point the idea of what happened to Lazarus after he was resurrected, only transplanting him into a contemporary New York apartment building. Cave's sense of humour can be tricky to latch onto at times, but this is one of his most amusing lyrical outings against the backdrop of one of his most memorable tunes.
'Where The Wild Roses Grow'
Taken from the 1996 album Murder Ballads, 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' is one of many duets on the album, this time with Kylie Minogue, who was in the midst of a somewhat experimental creative period at the time. Based on the urban legend of Elisa Day, a woman murdered because of her beauty, this song is perhaps more notable as a touchpoint in Kylie's career than it is Cave's, but it just so happens to be one of our favourite things he's done.
'There She Goes, My Beautiful World'
Our final pick featured on the 2004 album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus and it remains a live favourite, regularly wheeled out on The Bad Seeds' tours. Lyrically, the song makes references to many great writers and thinkers from Karl Marx to Philip Larkin, with Cave comparing himself unfavourably to all of them. Again, sometimes you have to read between the lines for the humour, but it's in there. It's also a brilliant song.