on February 23, 2004
So Nick and the boys have grown up a little bit since the first days of the Birthday Party. How can you fault them for that? You can't just scream and bang away in the studio forever and find that experience satisfying, can you? So Nocturama is another quantum leap in maturity and sophistication for the Seeds. It is softer and wittier and sharper than anything they have done before. This doesn't mean they have sold out. It doesn't mean they don't love their black fingernail painted, spiked hairdo wearing, black trenchcoat sporting fans. It just means that they are true artists who evolve and grow in their craft. Heck, who wanted John and Paul to sing "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" forever instead of moving on to Sgt. Peppers or Yellow Submarine. I mean, really, how many songs about finding the girl of your dreams and then clubbing her to death can you do?
Nocturama is pretty close to perfect without a bad track on the CD. Some are much better than others (with, oddly enough, the softer ballads like "Out of Your Hand" being the best) but ALL of the songs here are better than pretty much every other song you heard this week on the radio. There are still some hard tracks here but also a bit of blues and croon to mellow the harsh. Nick sounds great and the Bad Seeds play a big part musically in this effort. The lyrics are tight and sharp with the 17 minute epic "I'm On Fire" using the most complex verbage of any song in recent memory. As the last song on a pretty mild CD "Fire" is a rough and tumble ride that turns a corner somewhere from "too long" (as some here have complained) to "oh, yeah, keep it coming" (somewhere around minute 15 1/2). It seemed to me like this song is a great excuse for Nick and the Boys to remind all of us out here in listening land that it's still THEIR party and they'll play as loud and as long as they darn well please. If you don't like it, go crash someone elses birthday (Bon Jovi perhaps).
Many haven't mentioned that "I'm On Fire" is on the second disc as a DVD video and is extremely cool, possibly working better than it does on the CD itself. The band members and friends (most notably uber-comic book writer Warren Ellis) dress up as everyone who is "On Fire" to comical and shocking results. During the chorus, Nick sways and screams in his fashion and the band plays on eternally (the video is also 17 minutes long). It is very interesting to note who Nick identifies himself with in the video. The band members appear by name and without costume near the end of the song, but somewhere in the middle there, Nick just looks at you and says, "Yep, this is me." And it probably isn't who you think.
Anyway, the CD is great. And who knows, if Nick keeps "developing" as a musician, the next effort may be Gregorian Chants laced with Ska! Keep the Party Rolling!!!
There are some tracks on Nocturama that fall below Nick Cave's high standards, like the overlong and somewhat indulgent Babe, I'm On Fire and the raucous, messy Dead Man In My Bed. Fortunately these are more than compensated for by the wealth of beautiful gems like He Wants You and Right Out Of Your Hand, both gentle ballads with poetic lyrics and lovely melodies.
Bring It On is a strong rock ballad, Still In Love with its moving lyrics is another slow jewel as is There Is A Town with its mournful chorus. The masterpiece of the album is Rock Of Gibraltar, an exquisite love song where Cave rhymes "Gibraltar" with "alter", "Malta" and "altar." This is a melodic and lyrical classic, ranking amongst Nick's very best compositions.
I don't see how some reviewers can dismiss this album as a failure when it contains so many superb songs with intelligent, moving lyrics and memorable tunes, including She Passed By My Window. Yes, the last track Babe, I'm On Fire is five minutes too long but this isn't a bad song, just too raw and too long. Nocturama is a great work and it deserves four stars.
on October 26, 2003
This is a typical solid Nick Cave album; not quite as good as his best (see "Let Love In)," but this is a slab of art that any TRUE Cave/Bad Seeds fan will devour. Cave's music is definitely not for everyone, especially the majority of American "listeners" who are so determined to categorize and judge EVERYTHING that they are ignorant of. This is the THINKING MAN'S/WOMAN's music; the likes of which is scarce in this great country, which is exactly why the Britney's and N'Sync's enjoy such ridiculously vacant-headed popularity. As all Cave fans know, he is Australian (I don't quite understand that whole Cincinnati thing, that some moron wrote--I'm sure that playing that lovely town,(I mean, being the cultural haven that it is) is right at the top of Cave's list)--and after playing Lollapalooza a few years back he swore never to play in America again after witnessing the idiots who were there to see any one of the interchangeable bands that litter American pop-culture. Thus, if being a freak means having a brain to think (and to be able to look beyond a cd, or book title before purchasing something that is over our heads) then let us freaks unite and enjoy the pleasure of true artistry that we real Cave fans derive from his work.
on October 16, 2003
After seeing a late night live performance of Bring it on, I tracked down the album, knowing very little of Nick Cave, aside from my hipster friends constantly raving about he, the birthday party, and the Bad Seeds. Not since I was first introduced to Bowie's Ziggy Stardust have I been so moved by an album. To think that Nick Cave has been around all this time and I somehow missed out. well, I've corrected that and have gone out and bought his last three albums in the day that has gone by since I got the album then wrote this review. It features an amazing mix of moods, from the shifting elemental mists of the ballads to the harsh, repeating beats letting all hang out. There is even a lot of the inbetween, but no filler, just 110% amazing musical exploration of love, loss, and belief, or the lack there of. This is the best album to come along in a long time and doesn't stink of mainstream interferance, carving out its own nitch, not to the right or left, but far above and set apart from the usual.
Bring it on... I can't wait for more!
on May 17, 2003
I'll be frank - while I do know who Nick Cave is, and how important some people think he is, I personally had never consciously listened to any of his records before "Nocturama." It's not like I purposely avoided Mr. Cave, I just never seemed to cross paths with his music.
After this record, I kind of wish that I would have before now.
But that's not to say that this album is amazing; in fact it's rather dull mediocre at points. But I can definitely hear the genius contained within these 10 songs that is probably more heavily present on his past releases. "Nocturama" seems to be quite the departure from his past work [according to one of my roommates who is a huge Nick Cave fan, who declared to me "this is [bad]!" after I let him borrow the disc]. The majority of the songs tend to slip by via the use of Cave's rumbling baritone voice and ample use of folk instrumentation. It's great for background music as you lie in bed at night, but it rarely gets your blood pumping.
Only twice does the album really let loose. The first sign of life on the disc is track 6, "Still In Love." The band finally opens up and kicks in some distortion as Cave sings to a lost love.
As an aside, it's of interest to note that a hefty chunk of these songs are about love, or more aptly about love lost. Funny how if a group of 20-somethings sing about their ex-girlfriend we mock them, but here is a grown man approaching old age bellowing out his pain and we applaud him for his artistic merit.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the rock. The last track of the album, "Babe, I'm On Fire," runs over 14 minutes, and the song is more intense musically and lyrically than anything else on the album. Cave sings virtually the whole time, using innovative rhyme schemes that I never would have even thought of. Apparently this song was only rehearsed once by the band before putting it to tape, and the recording really captures the free nature of it, with fuzzy bass and pounding organs driving the track.
So overall, the album is somewhat of a dud, but there are some gems on here, even in the "unplugged" sense - "Rock Of Gibralter" is a terrific love song, and the rest of the material isn't bad, per se - it just isn't what I've been led to believe is par for Nick Cave.
on May 4, 2003
While there is no such entity as a "Bad Nick Cave Album", this is the one I would recommend last in a long line of excellent albums. That is not to say that it is bad, but i pales in comparrison to the former albums like "No More Shall We Part" and "The Boatman's Call".
Like every Nick Cave album, this has it's various themes such as love, god, salvation, depression, and if I am interpreting it right, mental torture. The lyrics are sharp as always, but not as strong and potent as that of his earlier albums. Where "Nocturama" misses the mark is in the production, which makes the album seem over-produced, and I have the strong "been there done that" feeling when listening to the album. Since Nick Cave has built his career on the evolution of his unique sound, this album can be considered a step back rather than the leap forward that "No More Shall We Part" was.
But I will stress again that this is not a bad album, and should please the casual listened with both it's intense and melodic moments. But for people wanting something that lives up to previous works, I cannot strongly recommend "Nocturama".
on March 27, 2003
Cave's new album has been receiving somewhat mixed reviews among both fans and the press. Allow me to give a sense of perspective. Objectively, this is a good Nick Cave album -- not a great one. Those giving it 5 stars are not objectively comparing it to Nick's other work; those giving it less than 3 are not comparing it to everything else out there. A good, one might even say very good, album, Nocturma is not a Cave masterpiece; indeed, it must be said that this is his least consistent effort since Henry's Dream. Some fans, however, might prefer this to his last two offerings. Whereas the last two were almost Cave solo albums, the Bad Seeds are much more involved this time around. There are full-band raveups on this album the likes of which haven't been seen since Let Love In. Violinist Warren Ellis has a strong presence on the album, which also features prominent backing vocals from Chris Bailey, The Blockheads, and even Bad Seed Conway Savage, who is now apparently relegated to the role as Cave seems to have permanently taken over all of the piano duties himself. Standout tracks include the opener, Wonderful Life, a fine track that would have fit in smoothly on The Boatman's Call; Right Out of Your Hand, a heart-wrenchingly sad ballad; Bring It On, a fairly commercial (for Cave) song that just might win the man some new fans; Rock of Gibraltar, which is not quite "The Ship Song 2003", but quite nice in its own right, and also the rare song that prominently displays Nick's Australian accent; and Still In Love, a classic Cave "ballad" that is so drenched in irony that you can't be sure whether the narrator is dead or alive -- and, if dead, whether he killed himself or if his wife did. Dead Man In My Bed and Babe, I'm On Fire are two insanely upbeat, chaotic tracks the likes of which Cave hasn't toyed with in almost twenty years. Both are lyrically tongue-in-cheek: the former can be interpreted either as a typical Cave exercise in macabre humor, or as a paean from a dissatisfied lover. The latter is a near-15-minute mammoth of a track that, while entertaining, is no O'Malley's Bar. Granted, this track was obviously not meant to be an artistic masterpiece, but rather a fun and loose track and a climatic close to the album. It's likely to become a perennial concert closer. Many long-time fans will, no doubt, embrace these two tracks. Still, on the whole, I see this album faring better with fans of Cave's softer balladeer side. Many have compared this to The Boatman's Call, but it is closer to The Good Son. This is a good album -- a return to form, some might even say -- that any Cave fan should pick up. That said, there are some factors weighing it down. I concur with the observation of several other reviewers in noting that Cave's lyrics on this album are not up to his usual standard. Granted, while No More Shall We Part was not a musical behemoth, it was a poetic masterpiece superior word-wise to anything this side of Dylan and Cohen -- and, in my opinion, one of the 10 best albums ever released by anyone. Though some nice phrases abound on Nocturma, it just does not stack up by comparison. Tracks such as Wonderful Life, while not as optimistic as its title, leave one wondering if Cave has not mellowed somewhat. Cave has always included slow-brooding ballads on his albums -- but, whereas they used to about things like watching little girls undress and killing your mate, they now consist of (mostly) irony-free explorations of love. Also, whereas the songs on, for instance, The Boatman's Call focused on specific situations, most of the lyrics on Nocturma are very general and abstract. There is nothing wrong with this; it's just that much of the irony and sense of humor that attracted me to Cave's lyrics in the first place are no longer as abundant. Perhaps this is due to a long-overdue bliss in his personal life -- whatever the reason, it has arguably been a dearth on his inspiration. Some of the tracks on this album also seem lesser. There Is A Town and She Passed By My Window are very, very simple songs that seemingly could have been written by anyone -- and yet possess a charming and mysterious quality that leaves you wondering if they aren't, somehow, abstractly profound. Overall, though not a Cave masterpiece, Nocturma is a fine album that almost any other living artist would kill to have produced, and any Cave fan should pick it up.
on March 27, 2003
Having become a rabid Nick Cave fan in the last several years, I have been eagerly awaiting the release and arrival of Nocturama.
Industry spin promised a departure from the morose introspection of the last two albums with a return to the wide-open style of Let Love In.
Well, in truth Nocturama is a mixed bag. Lyrically, it is much softer than the last two albums and musically, it is still far away from the violence and rage that imbues much of Cave's older work. Yes, Nick Cave has come a long way since his Birthday Party days, you could almost say he is slouching toward respectability as he mellows with the years.
The best songs on the CD are Wonderful Life, the rocking Bring It On, and the riotous Dead Man In My Bed. The closing song, Babe, I'm On Fire, with its repetitions and its jejune lyrics,is much too drawn out and becomes a liability to this otherwise fairly listenable album. That everyone says "Babe, I'm On Fire" is news to no one.
Several songs, Right Out Of Your Hand and Still In Love, sound like something Van Morrison might do when feeling uninspired. You might even chance to hear them played on a soft-rock station, that's how mellow and bland they are.
If you yearn for the Nick Cave of old, forget Nocturama. But if you are a fan willing to follow him as he develops, then this CD is an obligatory stop on his meandering musical path.
on March 24, 2003
As a Birthday Party/Bad Seed fan, I was encouraged when I heard that this album came close to his most fully realized Bad Seed effort, "Let Love In." I practically snatched the album off the shelf when I finally saw it here in Korea.
Unfortunately, I can't give it as enthusiastic a notice as I would like. Something seems missing for me..so let's look at the factors that affected my decision, shall we?
SONGS: Appropriately dark/tender/tuneful/fast and energetic/sloppily played. OK...so no problems there. The balance is a little too much on the side of Nick that is "The Good Son" and "The Boatman's Call" for my taste, but pretty good nonetheless.
VOCALS: Typical for Nick, throaty and low, Cohenesque at times and harsher at others. Again, nothing wrong there.
MUSIC: Engaging, the usual Bad Seeds' mix of overlapping, ever-so-slightly syncopated playing...cranked up for the fast numbers, muted for the slow ones. Just fine.
So what's wrong? Well, I was going to say the mix, but my problem with this album is that it's missing what drew me to Nick Cave so long ago--abandon. Nick and the Seeds are controlled throughout, rarely giving themselves over to the energy of the moment. I've always enjoyed Nick when his restraints were off, ala "Tender Prey," "Henry's Dream," or "From Her To Eternity." Don't get me wrong, I always liked his ballads, too...very much. But only "Let Love In" has balanced his two sides completely. And unfortunately for either Nick or my maturity level, I prefer his wild, semi-psychotic side. For pensiveness, I listen to Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. To feed my wild darkness, I listen to Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Stan Ridgway (esp Drywall). Too bad Mr. Cave can't help me anymore. He's just gotten too polite for me.
There's good music here, and while I respect Mr. Cave's decision and direction, I'm afraid I'll have to leave this one on the shelf more often than not.
on March 12, 2003
Like an embittered Bob Dylan tirelessly shoveling dirt over his 60's reputation as "protest singer," Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds have seemed adamant, in recent years, about demonstrating their versatility. Brooding, adolescent swamps of noise, gloom and frenzy that emerged from his years-long "Birthday Party" in the early 1980's slowly but diligently acquiesced to Cave's later, quieter projects with The Bad Seeds.
But the transition from angry teenage poet to sobered balladeer hardly occurred overnight. Cave's endearing pursuit of the perfect love song (he has even taught courses on the subject) surfaced only gradually amid albums that ranged from bellicose to bland. Tender ballads like "Nobody's Baby Now" squeezed into the brilliantly raucous holler that characterized Let Love In, and even 2001's languidly morose And No More Shall We Part breaks into occasional freak-out jams, as in the explosions that deliver "Oh My Lord" and "Sorrowful Wife" to their manic crescendos.
If 1997's gorgeous Boatman's Call represented the culmination of this betrayal of the mosh-pit in favor of a close-hugging slow dance at some late-night piano lounge, Nocturama delves confidently, if unevenly, into both of Cave's distinct personalities. Not since the 80's has Cave delivered as musically schizophrenic an album as Nocturama, journeying from the sexy swagger of gorgeous ballads "Wonderful Life" and "He Wants You" into grueling, Goth-rock festivals like "Dead Man in My Bed" and the nearly 15-minute-long "Babe, I'm On Fire." If Cave teetered on the verge of regurgitating old notes after the beautiful but predictably gentle No More Shall We Part, Nocturama's mixed bag of fluff and ferocity revitalizes a band nearing the end of its second decade. One would be rather hard-pressed to accuse Cave of softening in his middle age after experiencing Nocturama's occasional cacophonies.
Despite his ambitions, though, Nocturama is Cave's least-consistent effort since Henry's Dream. Released just on the heels of And No More Shall We Part, Cave and the Seeds sound a bit rushed and beleaguered at times. Where Boatman's Call blossomed with jazzy heart-break, Nocturama sputters and drags. Though the album's first five tracks are vintage Cave with a surprising burst of energy in "Bring it On," and the beautifully hyper "Dead Man in My Bed," the tracks that follow ring hollow and boring by comparison. As on past albums like Henry's Dream and The First Born is Dead on which great songs like "Tupelo" are followed by a succession of tracks that were more filler than killer, Nocturama's second half sounds quite tired of its familiar wail and the piano's flickering teardrops. One wonders whether Cave has lost his sense of humor.
It seems as though Cave has written tunes like 'Still In Love" or "Rock of Gibraltar" so many times before that they sound about as fresh as bricks of clay in the sun this time around, while "She Passed By My Window," with its bland, fluttering percussion and dull piano, comes across with little more life than a concrete wall. Even Cave's lyrics, usually as intelligent and biting as the best of his contemporaries, fall flat and stale here, as in these tired lines from "Rock of Gibraltar": "Let me say this to you/I'll be steadfast and true/And my love will never falter" and "You'd stand by me/And together we'd be/That great, steady Rock of Gibraltar." This is hardly the writing one would expect from a man who has published several books of verse.
Similarly, what might have served as an album-resurrecting stomp in the epic "Babe, I'm on Fire" sounds like a shelved outtake from Murder Ballads-perhaps the less-realized counterpart to "O'Malley's Bar"-that still hasn't quite shaken off the dust of years. More ambitious than accessible, the song carries on far too long (the lyrics comprise four pages of the album's liner notes), becoming a monotonous and jarring onslaught of noise.
Nonetheless, Nocturama demonstrates that, even in his less inspired moments, Nick Cave's commitment to authenticity and poetry remains a beacon shimmering in the darkness of pop music's bleak landscape. "It's a wonderful life/If you can find it," the dour, baritone comic quips on Nocturama's fabulous opening track, "Wonderful life," his haunted piano bemoaning the illusion of happiness. If FM radio still turns the other cheek to the music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, it still stands as a tribute to the group's enduring authenticity. And that is something that even Cave can be happy about.