And so at last the ass lies down with the angel. Nick Cave albums have always been a reliable sticking post amid the fuss and flurry of modern music – sinister, lovelorn, beautiful mysteries, like a dark man bearing gifts melting every few years out of the trend-obsessed mist, then disappearing as quickly as he came. But if recent collections have suffered at all, it’s from a polarisation of mood. After ‘Murder Ballads’ verged on self-parody – one too many bloody-eyed’n’Biblical Southern cowboy devils with slaughter on his mind – came two uniformly maudlin albums: ‘The Boatman’s Call’ was one of the best ballads ever written (‘Into Your Arms’) and eleven pale imitations of it and ‘No More Shall We Part’ was the bout of religious fanaticism you could cuddle up to on a cold, stormy night. It’s the pettiest of quibbles – you may as well complain that there’s not enough decapitation in Monarch Of The Glen – but there never seemed to be enough debate between Spittle Nick and Subtle Nick. It was a sweet but frustrating schizophrenia.
‘Nocturama’ – Cave’s twelfth with the Bad Seeds – is that missing link. Linking up with producer Nick Launey, who first worked with Cave on The Birthday Party’s 1981 single ‘Release The Bats’, has rejuvenated the Bad Seeds’ dormant Fury Gene and what emerges is a vibrant volley between the
who’s been handcuffed to a piano with a bucketful of opium since 1997 and the smack-riddled Nick Cave who’d have happily kicked your teeth in if you’d insulted his big goth quiff in 1983.
So we get a batch of sublime odes on the minor traumas of Nick’s generally happy marriage (‘Wonderful Life’ stinks of foreboding trips to IKEA, ‘Rock Of Gibraltar’ could be an alternative wedding vow; sensational standout track ‘He Wants You’ takes a third person viewpoint and even here Nick takes the role of a darkly poetic Cilla Black) and one old skool murder balled called ‘Still In Love’, all locking horns with some of Cave’s most virulent rage-blues in a decade. Yes, first single ‘Bring It On’ – a duet Chris Bailey from The Saints – could be James with tonsilitis, but it’s the raucous sexual aggression of ‘Dead Man In My Bed’ that jolts ‘Nocturama’ off the rails, and the final fifteen-minute, 40-verse damnation-rock epiphany ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’ feels like eavesdropping on one of Nick’s primal scream therapy sessions. You’ll only listen to the whole thing more than once if you’re the sort of person who tapes the Eastenders Omnibus, but its as fascinating and unbearable as the Fred West interrogation recordings. But with more laughs.
Put simply, ‘Nocturama’ is one of Nick’s very finest – uniting his two dramatic alter egos in devilish harmony. It’s what The Velvet Underground would’ve sounded like if they’d been psychopaths. With a heart.