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The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
(Mute Records, LCDMUTEL 4)
(Deanna/Red Right Hand/Straight To You/Tupelo/Nobody's Baby Now/Stranger Than Kindness/Into My Arms/(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?/The Carny/Do You Love Me?/The Mercy Seat/Henry Lee/The Weeping Song/The Ship Song/Where The Wild Roses Grow/From Her To Eternity)
Limited copies come with a 9-track bonus CD "Live At The Royal Albert Hall"
Documenting the period between the Bad Seeds' 1984 debut From Her To Eternity and 1997's superlative The Boatman's Call, 'The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' is positive proof of Cave's enduring talent as a songwriter, and the realisation of this talent with the peerless Bad Seeds. The Bad Seeds' instrumentation is exemplary throughout, but what is striking about the album (and particularly the accompanying live tracks) is the great authority in Cave's vocals. Although technically a limited singer, Cave avoids histrionics, concentrating instead on a clear enunciation of the lyrics to carry the song's emotional weight.
Where this collection succeeds over most compilation albums - mentioning no names - is in a judicious track selection. Eschewing a predictable chronological ordering of singles, Best of... has the confidence to include some of the more thoughtful album tracks alongside the more familiar singles. Even so, it is surprising to note that a over three-quarters of the album tracks were released as singles; over the years Cave has been fortunate to have a record company that supported an eclectic selection of singles (one can speculate that a less sympathetic label - mentioning no names - would have had kittens when presented with the likes of the superb piano ballad Into My Arms as an album's lead single).
As the album is a retrospective it is natural that reviews have concentrated on Cave's development and maturing as an artist. Sean O'Hagen's sleeve notes make some perceptive comments on thematic developments in Cave's lyrics; particularly convincing is the observation of a progression in Cave's love songs from the self-immolation of early tracks typified by From Her To Eternity to a more dignified, stately approach on later tracks. O'Hagen suggests that Cave's later songs indicate that love is redemptive; this rings true on the more tranquil half of The Boatman's Call (Cave's most consistently satisfying album, and one of the decade's finest), here represented by "Are You The One That I've Been Waiting For" where "My soul has comforted and assured me/That in time my heart it will reward me". However, even on that album the relationships are still ephemeral: the double-negative of "people just ain't no good" reveals confusion about the reasons behind this lack of stability.
Redemption is desired but unachievable. Perhaps 1990's beautiful The Ship Song, located at the boundary of the conversion between immolation and redemptive desire, where "we talk about it all night long, we define our moral ground, but when I crawl into your arms, everything comes tumbling down", comes closest to unifying these themes.
Cave's other great theme is Death and frequently Murder. This is best represented by 1988's blistering single "The Mercy Seat". An uncompromising tale of an unrepentant murderer facing the death penalty: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth/and anyway I told the truth/And I'm not afraid to die", the song contains little authorial moralising, the horror of the electric chair, the Mercy Seat, speaks for itself. Here, despite the layering of ambiguities, no-one is innocent. Cave's obsession with murder was sated on the notorious Murder Ballads album, a patchy collection where Cave unsuccessfully flirted with self-parody. Murder Ballads spawned Best Of's one genuine hit record, the duet with Kylie Minogue, Where The Wild Roses Grow. One should always be suspicious of hit records by artists who have happily gone a decade without troubling the charts, and Where The Wild Roses Grow came uncomfortably close to novelty. However, these are minor complaints.
The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds shows that Cave is almost unique in being one of the leading lights of the Eighties independent scene who has survived the popularisation and commercialisation of indie music in the Nineties to continue to produce intelligent, credible records. Indeed the best of 'Best Of ...' is composed of the later tracks, indicating that Cave continues to improve with age. Though the calmer, composed sound of the recent songs suggest that lately Cave is more at peace with himself, the Boatman's Call still contains enough doubts to suggest that Cave's best work is yet to be written.
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