I’ve long been of two minds when thinking about what the perfect Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record might be like. The angry adolescent in me would crave the Cave who once growled through songs like “Red Right Hand,” “Dead Man in My Bed” and “Jack the Ripper.” Who once snarled, “Well, I thought about my friend Michel, how they rolled him in linoleum and they shot him in the neck,” in “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry,” from 1992’s Henry’s Dream. Who released an entire album called Murder Ballads.
But the hopeless romantic in me longs for the Cave who sung such bare and courageous ballads as “Straight to You,” “Do You Love Me” and “Into My Arms.” Who crooned “I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but I know darling that you do, but if I did I would kneel down and ask him, not to intervene when it came to you, not to touch a hair on your head, leave you as you are, if he felt he had to direct you, then direct you into my arms, into my arms oh Lord,” on “Into My Arms” from 1997’s The Boatman’s Call. If playing that song for your woman doesn’t get you laid, she’s not the one for you.
Cave’s double-album effort, Abattoir Blues & The Lyre of Orpheus, doesn’t quite offer the best of both worlds, but it’s pretty damn close. Abattoir (Slaughterhouse) Blues, is a powerful record, rich with gospel and funk accents to accompany Cave’s preaching and piano. From opener “Get Ready for Love,” Cave and the Bad Seeds are ablaze with feedback, guitars and back-up singers. “Hiding All Away” has a Zeppelin-esque guitar chorus, contrasted with a powerful slow-fast song dynamic. “There She Goes,” “My Beautiful World” and the first single, “Nature Boy,” have that classic Cave cadence and lyrical charm.
Though noticeably softer, The Lyre of Orpheus is still powerful when it comes to the message and the melody. The second track, “Breathless,” is pure whimsical pop and is certain to bring an ironic smile to any true Cave follower. “Easy Money” and the closing couplet of “Carry Me” and “O Children” are other highlights.
I had a moment of pause when I heard Blixa Bargeld left the band, a fear they might lose the edge he brought to the mix. There is less rage and musical experimentation these days, but there is nothing lost when it comes to the lyrics. As an artist, writer and poet, Cave has always excelled when it came to words, and Aattoir Blues and The Lyre of Orpheus do nothing to tarnish that reputation.