on May 4, 2008
The prolific Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been refining and revitalising their music for decades but have not reached the end of their inventiveness yet. Severely cutting back on the trademark wailing violin and spooky piano - and with a noticeable dearth of songs about dead girls - "Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!" is rockier and funnier than the "Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orheus" offering.
That 2004 dazzling double opus would have left lesser bands gasping for creative oxygen, but their thirteenth studio LP rather suggested a band with limitless artistic energy and endurance.
There's a sense of fun here - not always a mainstay of the previous 13 Bad Seeds albums - but we're back to Cave the poet, Cave the laconic chronicler, and he's being a bit more flowery about the rude stuff.
With much of the energy of the grungier "Grinderman" project, Cave et al explored last year, "Dig" is stuffed with all the literary, biblical and mythological jumble fans can usually expect.
If there is a trademark Bad Seed sound, it is most apparent in "Jesus of the Moon", in which Cave's talent for emotive narrative is accompanied by elegant flute.
As verbose and intellectual as it is scary and unsettling, "Dig" is a baffling, dark masterpiece in which Cave deliberately sets out not to deliver the sweet tones of the piano or the guitar chords which massage the pleasure centres of the psyche.
Instead we get rock constantly verging on dissonance, with squalls of sound and numbing basslines.
There are few musicians, who have never had a major record deal, yet command an ever-growing audience and, at 50, are unleashing music with all the vigour and imagination of their youth.
Nick Cave turned out astonishingly primal garage-rock with last year's Grinderman album.
Here, back with the Bad Seeds, he veers wildly between grooviness, beauty and ear-splitting white noise.
The narratives he delivers are fantastically weird: on the title track, the biblical Lazarus returns from the dead in sleazy, pre-Giuliani New York.
The song brilliantly repositions the myth of Lazarus in the moral swamp of 1970s N.Y.; with the Bad Seeds coming on like the Stooges after a funk injection, while "Moonland" is a Taxi Driver narrative with a man behind the wheel in lonely rage. "Albert Goes West" is a report of a psychotic episode which manages to rhyme 'vulva' with 'sucking a revolver'.
"We Call Upon the Author" is Cave addressing God, and chiding those who ask him to explain his songs. "I go guruing down the street", he wails, "Young people gather round my feet/Ask me things - but I don't know where to start".
Even when the maudlin "Hold On To Yourself" provides something musically straightforward - a theme which would not go amiss on the soundtrack to a spaghetti western - there is a din going on in the background which sounds like a colony of agitated bats.
Then listen to "Night Of The Lotus Eaters" and you have a clatttery blues riff around which there are guitar sounds which spookily resemble a creaking door. And then there is "Lie Down Here", whose intro sounds like a man involved in a fight to the death with feedback. This is one mean, ornery album. But it is not in the mould of the primeval Grinderman project.
It's much cleverer than that. "Dig" is, by Cave's own testimony, more expansive, teasing us with glimpses of psychedelia. You could draw comparisons as diverse as Tom Waits and The Fall, but "Dig" is simply great on its own terms.
It is a confident album by musicians who are not simply singing the songs they know will sell and it is an interesting, exciting and often irreverent offering. Adult, funny, packed with Freudian allusion and apocalyptic dread, it really is magnificent stuff.
Download : "We Call Upon the Author", "Midnight Man" and "Jesus On The Moon".