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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds | No More Shall We Part (Mute)
Is Nick Cave the most vital artist in music today? Despite a wildly fluctuating but always compelling career since The Birthday Party, by the time he reached 1996's Murder Ballads he was in grave danger of permanent parody as a fire and brimstone Old Testament ranter who would never throw off his (unfair) Goth image in the eyes of non-believers. Even on its predecessor, Let Love In, he was mostly howling at the moon rather than whispering sweet nothings. But then came The Boatman's Call in which he, with marked and often painful emotion, embraced love. It was one of the key albums of the Nineties. Four years on its follow up, while perhaps not as achingly beautiful as Boatman, is arguably an even more mature work. In particular he tackles the subject of God's relevance today ?? a topic as fashionable as a powdered wig ?? with an intelligence, humour and perception that demands attention from listeners of whatever persuasion. The humour comes in God Is In The House whose lyrics ?? "our town is very pretty / We have a pretty little square / We have a woman for a mayor / Our policy is firm but fair" ?? could be a more po-faced John Hegley. But anger is never far away and on the album's centrepiece, Oh My Lord, Cave gives full vent to his rage at the world. Only now it is not through the second-hand character of the itinerant preacher, eyes-a-burning and mouth-a-testifying, but in the first the hairdresser's. Its very ordinariness cements its impact. The contrast comes from the love songs, a form he has made his own. Love Letter and Sweetheart Come are effortlessly, ravishingly moving songs to make you thankful (or wishful) for someone in your life to play them for. It's no barrel of laughs of course, but there is optimism: the character in Hallelujah could be the inmate from Boatman's Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere? released, however temporarily, from his bonds, both mental and physical.Throughout proceedings Cave keeps a tighter rein on The Bad Seeds than ever before. Even with their ranks swelled to nine by backing vocalists Kate and Anna McGarrigle, his piano is the dominant instrument. You can only assume that gifted musicians like Mick Harvey have long realised that they are onto a good thing and happily hitch the wagon of their talent to the horse of Cave's vision. When he does let them off the leash, as on Oh My Lord and Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow, they respond with a controlled fury and growing menace reminiscent of The Mercy Seat. The icing on the cake of this wondrous record is the full band finally touring nationally for the first time in nine years.

Mark Walton
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001