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 [a]Nick Cave[/a] 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- [a]Eminem[/a].

After a 20-year journey through punk and blues and gospel, [a]Nick Cave[/a] 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 [a]Nick Cave[/a]’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 [a]Nick Cave[/a]’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. [a]Nick Cave[/a] 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”. [a]Nick Cave[/a]’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 [a]Nick Cave[/a]’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 for[a]Nick Cave[/a].

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,

[a]Nick Cave[/a]’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