Cave dwelling

22:06, Dec 17 2012

I like Nick Cave. I'll say that now - by way of explanation that this is no beat-up; this is not intended as any sort of hatchet job. 

I've just started reading Sinner Saint: The True Confessions, Thirty Years of Essential Interviews and I chose it - I saw it there in the library and figured it worth the punt - because my interest in Cave's music has been waning. Big time. I thought that the book might trigger something, might explain some things, help me back on track - or towards (re)finding the right tracks. Do you ever get like that? And do you find a book can help? A bio, a memoir, some essays or interviews - some background to help contextualise...

If I go through Cave's discography there's so much to like - and so much that I actually do like, or did.

But hasn't he - really - been living off the Legend of Nick Cave for a bit long? I liked the Grinderman albums, thought them a nice shake up - particularly the second album. I've enjoyed his soundtracks - in some cases I haven't even seen the films and haven't felt I've needed to (or in the case of The Road it was a better book and movie-soundtrack album than it was a film).

So I've stuck with him. It's a 30 year career (and then some) and I've kept up with it all since being turned on by The Murder Ballads and heading back to scoop up everything else.

But I think Cave peaked, albums-wise, with The Boatman's Call. I really do. I think by then he'd said all he needed to say. That makes a very good run of albums - up to and including that one.


Now there have been moments since then. Certainly. I thought the back-end of No More Shall We Part was really quite wonderful and the best bits of the Lyre/Abattoir double was - as is almost always the case with any double-album or simultaneous release of two discs - a decent effort enshrouded by too much filler.

I've been quite obsessive in my Cave collecting too - spoken-word discs, the collections of lyrics and essays, the novels. Everything around the music; everything that comes from the music and goes toward the music - the movies, and by that I mean  the concert films and documentary films as well as the movies he's scored, appeared in (I wouldn't say acted) and written.

It's funny balking at using the word actor for Cave because that's exactly what he is. An actor. He, like Tom Waits, like David Bowie, like so many others is someone who people might want to see as an artist, an "artiste" even. But actually, no, he's an actor. They're actors. They dabble. They quite often delight. But they have crafted an air of mystery, intrigue and artistic worth that is actually not really there when it comes down to it.

(Perhaps I should also say that I'm a huge Tom Waits fan and a huge David Bowie fan. I'm sure some of you knew that and the rest don't care. But I feel it's worth mentioning, parenthetically though it may be).

You see I want to like Nick Cave again - but I think he's just been far too busy being too pleased with himself across the last decade, spreading himself thinly with projects that - as deeply immersed as it could seem - he's actually positioned himself to be able to walk away from very easily. The films, the side-projects, the writing and the music: it's all (mere) folly to him/for him now. It's all too easy to be adored for even attempting something.

Much as I've enjoyed his recent soundtrack work - when I hear it - it's incidental; as the job requires. It is background. It is score for a set of moving pictures. It's not the great songwriting that he once offered.

There have been some Nick Cave songs that have devastated me - with their simplicity and yet so bold, gorgeous, deep, dark, mysterious, soulful and wise.

I haven't felt that for a long time. I know Grinderman 2 wasn't all that long ago - but as much as I liked that album it was also a big part of the folly-factor that has plagued Cave post-Murder Ballads.

It's as if he's had to show people that he might (always?) be joking.

There was always humour in Cave's writing. In and around the spiritual questioning, the sexual frankness, the striking imagery - often entwined with it all. But at some point he started trying very hard to inject silly humour into the songs - goofing-off throwaway lines, it's almost as if he's testing how much he can get away with. That in itself would be no bad thing - but he's now gotten away with far too much.

The Nick Cave concert at the Town Hall in Wellington a few years ago was one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

With the news of a new album and an Australian tour in February I'm hopeful we'll get an announcement - soon - that he'll be back to play at that great venue. I'd like to think the new album will be worthy.

I'll always stick in for one more album from Cave - but I need some convincing at this point that it is worth sticking it out. So this book of interviews is my starting point (I have read some of the other bios on the market - but happy to take recommendations if there's one you're sure I've missed). And from there I'll be back to the early Bad Seeds and to The Birthday Party and I'll be looking for what I used to love. Hoping to find that it's still there.

Tell me, are you a Nick Cave fan? Or have you never been a fan? Do you like his music but only up to a point? The 1980s-only perhaps? Or up to Murder Ballads/Boatman's Call perhaps?

And do you have any idea what I am on about here - fill your boots too: point out that you never have any idea what I am on about! - have you had a similar experience with Nick Cave? Of needing to reconnect, to find the magic that you were sure was there? And if not Cave then maybe some other artist with a large discography, with peaks and valleys to work through in their recorded output - maybe?

And any starting/stopping points you recommend regarding the music of Nick Cave?

Finally: actor or artist? Or do you think he manages to pull off both roles, possibly switching or blurring the two?

Postscript: Captain Beefheart and Scott Walker are great examples of artists - I reckon. You might spot that between them they've been rather huge influences on our actor-friends Bowie, Cave and Waits. 

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