- 20 Nov 20
Songs Of Faith And Devotion
You can say what you like about Nick Cave – and people have said plenty – but there is no denying his prowess as singer and songwriter. Both are laid bare here - divorced from the bang and clatter that The Bad Seeds often, gloriously, provide, with nothing to hide behind except his piano - and both more than pass muster.
Cave had a busy 2020 planned, with an extensive schedule of dates across Europe and the US, but man plans and God – and COVID – laugh. Instead, he streamed this show from London’s Alexandra Palace as a ticketed event last July, and then released it for a (very) limited cinema run. Shorn of the visuals of the man at the piano, this recording shines new light into the corners of the Cave songbook. You would expect classics like ‘Into My Arms’ and ‘(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?’ to sound magnificent in this stripped back setting – and they do, as these sparse arrangements share some of the stately sombre tone of The Boatman’s Call – but it is songs like ‘Sad Waters’, Grinderman’s ‘Palaces Of Montezuma’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’ that really benefit.
‘Sad Waters’ emerges from its raggedy, Velvety original incarnation on 1986’s Your Funeral…My Trial to become something more beautiful in its simplicity, and ‘Montezuma’ – with its ever more strange litany of offerings, including “the spinal chord of J.F.K. wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s négligée” - undergoes a similar transformation. ‘The Mercy Seat’ becomes another thing entirely. The original was deliberately unnerving, as any song about a man facing his own execution should be. Here, it carries broken regret. Whereas the previous narrator welcomed death, spitting the lyrics in the reaper’s face, this version sounds scared. The false bravado of his last claim that he’s “not afraid to die” rings hollow as his voice trembles.
Even ‘Waiting For You’ and ‘Galleon Ship’ from Ghosteen – an album that was, perhaps, easier to admire than to love – shine anew, although you could say that about everything else here too. These are, as he in states in the 'Spinning Song' that opens both records, songs that "yearn to be sung". It is further testament to his enduring talent that the one new offering, the haunting ‘Euthanasia’ - “When you stepped out of the vehicle, and attached yourself to my heart, it was a kind of dying of time” – slips seamlessly in with the rest.
Say what you like about Nick Cave, but there is no denying that he’s made some truly great records, and this – a live set of career highlights, scored for the end of the world, a world that ends not with a bang but a whisper - is right up there with the best of them.