It’s amazing what the departure of one key member to a band can mean. Turned loose of Blixa Bargeld constraining dislike of silly pop lyrics and rock conventions, the Bad Seeds have come up with their best work in a decade. They’ve scraped their chairs on the hardwood floors of rock ‘n’ roll, slapped their hands on the barstools of War’s brand of funk, and spilled beer all over bubblegum pop. The bass lines swing, the percussion has hips, and the piano has been pushed to the back of the bar.
Yes, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! has no piano ballad, but Nick Cave is still a cracking balladeer, just with organs and violins stitching him in this time. "Hold onto Yourself" is just as jarring and gorgeous as his piano-driven work, eerie and beautiful and aching: “There’s some cat on the saxophone/ Laying down a litany of excuses.” Cave is at his powerful and haunting lovelorn best on this one, backed by swirling atmospherics and plucked electric guitars.
Cave, with his newfangled mustache and long, long body, is also a great enunciator. His delivery of the lyrics is just as important as the content. Who else can work "I came up out of the meat locker" into a song that ends with a whispered repetition of "I’m not your favorite lover"? Clever metaphors and wicked couplets are all over the records, from “He likes to congregate around the intersection of Janie’s jeans/ Mr. Sandman the inseminator, he opens her up like a love-letter and enters her dreams,” in “Today’s Lesson,” to “I feel like a vacuum cleaner — a complete sucker,” in “Call upon the Author to Explain.”
Cave is a wordsmith in the same sense that Morrissey is, but he’s been dipped in a much darker shade. Both artists are known for astute lyrics and searing turns of phrase, but Cave’s themes of religion, vices, and love give his pieces a Gothic (in the literary sense) slant. On Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, Cave weaves yet another tapestry of characters. The opening track, which also lends its title to the album, is a funky update of the old Biblical story.
In that song, Lazarus has risen from the dead, again, but this time he’s trekking from New York to San Francisco and even Los Angeles for just a day, with all sorts of misadventures and women in between. Then we meet Janie, and she jams her elbow into the ribcage of Iggy and the Stooges on “Today’s Lesson.” We catch up with royalty on “Albert Goes West,” and he leaves us wondering just what dude ranches, psychotic episodes, and ammonia have done to him. Rock ‘n’ roll, people, rock ‘n’ roll.