Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds : No More Shall We Part

Australian dark lord returns with LP written in London office

In the beginning was The Word. But nowadays, only glorious anachronisms like Nick Cave still carry a torch for songwriting as literature. So never mind his comical 1900 House vocabulary of knotted yews and hearty salutations - rock's own Nasty Nick still crafts words with such controlled passion and poetic intoxication that he scarcely belongs in the same century as Bono or- Eminem.

After a 20-year journey through punk and blues and gospel, Nick Cave has arrived at a point of sublime simplicity where a single chord or whispered couplet packs more emotional clout than dozens of screaming guitars. Thus the first new Bad Seeds album for four years oozes unplugged austerity, foregrounding Nick Cave's soft-pedal piano and Dirty Three's Warren Ellis on plaintive fiddle. More secular and restless than 1997's 'The Boatman's Call', it nevertheless Nick Cave's position as an ivory-tinkling crooner and funereal soulman.

In between the album's storm-tossed psycho-ballads and theological debates lies a loose narrative about the healing power of love. Nick Cave was married recently, but naturally the celebratory aspects of wedded bliss have passed him by - thus the grimly funny 'No More Shall We Part' alternates between trapped terror and weary resignation as "The contracts are drawn up/The ring is locked upon the finger".

Even so, this is a beautiful ghost of a tune which blossoms elegantly from sobbing psalm to cosmic meditation on destiny and liberty.

'God Is In The House', meanwhile, marks the album's blackly comic high point, a satirical portrait of a devout small-town community worthy of Dylan Thomas. In this grotesquely sanitised backwater there is no place for [I]"queer-bashers with tyre jacks" or "goose-stepping twelve-stepping Teetotalitarianists". Nick Cave's genius is to clothe these spiked observations in a piano melody of lilting loveliness, an iron fist in a velvet glove.

But 'No More Shall We Part' also contains some of Nick Cave's most unequivocally beautiful work to date, from the heartbroken crime-of-passion murder ballad 'We Came Along This Road' to the aching, fluttering reconciliation plea 'Love Letter'. Resolution seems to arrive in penultimate track 'Gates Of The Garden', a waltz-time study in mortality and romantic consolation. But such a tidy finale, of course, would be too glib forNick Cave.

Thus he ends on 'Darker With The Day', a novelistic panorama of loss, longing, spiritual uncertainty and earthly unease. Much like this entire album, in fact.

Stern and forbidding on first hearing,

Nick Cave's mastery of evocative language and slow-burn emotions make 'No More Shall We Part' a beatific page-turner of a record which yields a rich new tapestry of treasures with each repeat reading.

Stephen Dalton
8 / 10

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