It’s been 30 years since the release of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ second album, ‘The Firstborn Is Dead’, a record notable not just for its stark, monochrome cover, but also for its brooding, menacing take on the American South.
With 15 albums since the release of their 1984 debut ‘From Her To Eternity’, the Seeds an amazingly productive bunch, which is even more impressive when you consider Nick’s bouts with heroin addiction, a drug which hardly makes you feel like getting up early in the morning and heading down to the recording studio. Ranking all of their LPs is a tough task indeed and though it’s certainly fair to say that they’ve never released a duff record, some of their releases are a wee bit more majestic than others.
15: The Good Son – 1990
On which a loved up, post-rehab Nick Cave ditches the devil and embraces a new, delicate approach. It boasts the tearjerking ‘The Ship Song’, one of the prettiest love songs of all time and the spaghetti western, Sergio Leone-riffing ‘The Hammer Song’ is another highlight, but overall it’s not quite the most fertile offering from the Seeds.
14: Your Funeral… My Trial – 1986
An album that is, for lack of a better term, rather skaggy. An excellent advert against doing smack, the trippy evil of ‘The Carny’ is a perfect encapsulation of Cave’s storytelling song style. Overall it’s just a little too bleak, the kind of record you can only listen when in a certain mood – suicidal, for instance. Many, many points for the song title ‘Hard On For Love’, however.
13: Kicking Against The Pricks – 1986
Pursuing a slicker sound for the first time, this covers album is almost lounge-y. Dim Berlin jazzbar vibes permeate ‘Muddy Water’. It’s also hard to be threatening when singing a Tom Jones song, as they do on the fairground waltz ‘Sleeping Annaleah’.
12: No More Shall We Part – 2001
Up until this point, the gap between 1997’s’ The Boatman’s Call’ and this record marked the longest time ever between Bad Seeds albums. Building on the subtle sophistication of its predecessor, it was a painterly, grandmaster of a record. Classic, elegant and peppered with the Nick’s trademark religious rhetoric, but lacking on Big Tunes.
11: Murder Ballads – 1996
Otherwise known as ‘the one with Kylie’, this collection of songs inspired by traditional folk music also featured PJ Harvey on the devastating ‘Henry Lee’. Despite being mostly about killing, it boasted a certain Broadway razzle-dazzle and contained the badass, very much X-rated ‘Stagger Lee’.
10: From Her To Eternity – 1984
Cave’s old band The Birthday Party split in 1983. The following year The Bad Seeds released this, their first album. Kicking off with a doomy, devilish cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ it made for brutal, uneasy listening and marked them out as a terrifying but wholly vital and utterly necessary.
9: Henry’s Dream – 1992
‘Brother My Cup Is Empty’ could well be to blame for Gogol Bordello, but this record also sees the band experimenting with indie conventionality, like on the deft emo-rocker ‘Straight To You’. The album also boasts the song Nick Cave often calls his favourite, the glistening, menacing ‘Jack The Ripper’, a melodic shot of fierce dustbowl country.
8: Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus – 2004
A grandiose double album that showed off the instrumental talents of the Bad Seeds, this was heavy duty and unapologetic, with gospel backing vocals, huge songs and lyrics about Frappuccinos. The usual weighty kismet was still there, but this was a fancy, fine art kind of moodiness. Lighter moments like ‘Breathless’ helped to round out the 17 tracks.
7: The Firstborn Is Dead – 1985
Starting with the sound of rainfall over graveyard guitar, ‘Tupelo’ was an ominous rockabilly tale about Elvis Presley’s hometown. The band’s second album was all Cramps-y killer cowboy tunes and Gun Club style swagger. A sinister Southern twang bristled throughout the record, which would have made for a perfect soundtrack to ‘True Detective’, particularly the monstrous blues of ‘Black Crow King’.
6: Nocturama – 2003
Blixa Bargeld’s last Bad Seeds recordings made for a stately album, full of lush sonics, delicate piano and momentous love songs, like ‘He Wants You’. The barreling ‘Bring It On’ showed that the band hadn’t abandoned their punk roots either, with ‘Dead Man In My Bed’ and 15 minute long closer ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’ owing heavily to the band’s no wave roots.
5: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! – 2008
Embracing funk licks, soul sass and porno moustaches, the band’s 14th album was a bolt from the blue, proof that 24 years in the game doesn’t mean you can’t dabble with reinvention. Cave and co’s seedy Grinderman project rubbed off the sensual ‘More News From Nowhere’ and the hot and heavy psych swirls of ‘Midnight Man’.
4: Push The Sky Away – 2013
For a band’s 15th album to be one of their finest is a rare thing indeed, but Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds crafted a career highlight last year. From the slow shuffling ‘We No Who U R’ and the hypnotic ‘Jubilee Street’ to the drifting ‘Mermaids’, Push The Sky Away might have sounded tender, but it was tough as old boots too.
3: Tender Prey – 1988
Sure, there was a song about the electric chair – the chilling ‘The Mercy Seat’ – but Tender Prey also boasted the giddiest moment of the band’s career thus far. ‘Deanna’ was a jolly little punk pop song that despite the soul stealing, murder and Ku Klux Klan references, had their first singalong chorus. ‘Up Jumped The Devil’ took things back to Tom Waits style gravel vox and weirdness but this classic also had torch song moments and plaintive ballads that were worthy of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.
2: Let Love In – 1994
An astonishing record, Let Love In streamlined all of the various elements of the Bad Seeds that had come before. Southern blues, funeral marches, warped punk, clattering street jams and fulsome romance were all aired. Full of fire and fury, it’s an album that knocks the emotional stuffing out of you and then sees you begging it for more.
1: The Boatman’s Call – 1997
The barebones piano and voice-led The Boatman’s Call might have stripped back things instrumentally, but the band’s trademark passion was still very much present. With the gorgeous ‘Into Your Arms’ and sage ‘People Ain’t No Good’ it showed the soppy side of Nick Cave, marking him out as one of the greatest songwriters in modern music.
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