Nick Cave is certainly the most exciting figure in the last four decades of pop music (active since 1973, but the first album appeared only in 1979), who already published twenty LP’s oeuvre can behind you, not to mention the countless EP and live albums, film music and other things made together with other musicians in which he was also involved a lot.
For this reason, the establishment of such a list seems crazy, because the career of such a brilliant musical genius in only ten songs can not be summed up in 10 songs, who was able to create so completely different, but brilliant albums such as the Birthday Party’s Junkyard and the Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call.
I will still try and even if I won’t be successful in representing all sides of Cave, at least I can display ten great songs that are not known by everyone. First, however, let’s see a brief overview of Cave’s career.
As I said, he founded his first band in 1973, the “Boys Next Door”, whose only album, “Door, Door” appeared in 1979. I do not think I would hurt anyone by declaring that this is the worst album of Cave’s career, a post-punk collection of immature and terrible uproars. The Boys Next Door was then followed by The Birthday Party, Cave’s first truly successful formation who played drug-fueled, gothic post-punk with noise rock and jazzy beats.
The Birthday Party quickly burned out, three albums appeared during their short career, the weaker introductions without title, as well as the much stronger Prayers on Fire and Junkyard, as well as some classic singles (“Release the Bats”, “Nick the Stripper”). After the break-up of Birthday Party Cave and the guitarist Mick Harvey formed the band, which later became known as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and is clearly the Australian singer-songwriter’s topmost band with a great importance (already existing for three decades).
The Bad Seeds often changes its members and it partly thanks it’s musical style to this: the first discs (like From Her to Eternity or Kicking Against the Pricks) are still reminiscent of the gothic punk of Birthday Party, but the sentimental The Good Son full of piano ballads, the turbulently acoustic Henry’s Dream, the Murder Ballads re-interpreting traditional murder ballads, the honest and upright Boatman’s Call or the macho, garage rock Dig, Lazarus, Dig !!! are all sounding really different.
Still, if you hear a Bad Seeds song we immediately know that it is a Bad Seeds song. Why? Because Cave is always there is the focus, he is clearly the leader of the continuing swirl of the Bad Seeds members’ swirl. Cave is totally unique character, songwriter and storyteller, we may only mention him besides the ones like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits, but he is not a celebrated songwriter in a classic sense, like the former ones, he is rather suited to the ranks of “underground” artists as Trent Reznor Michael Gira and Scott Walker.
Well, actually, he does not fit anywhere. The three major themes of Cave’s texts are love, death and God – these sometimes separate, sometimes they merge, but they are present everywhere. Gothic tales describing the horrors of the Old Testament, can be found in his career just as piano ballads accompanied by piano and female backing vocals (and everything in between), but Cave’s personality leaves it’s mark in such degree on each of them that no one should be confused.
And let’s not forget that Cave is a tireless author as Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, something appears in an average of two to three per year even in the new millennium, which he has to do with; the only difference between Young, Springsteen and Cave that what he is doing in these days, is still valuable.
The last Bad Seeds album (Push the Sky Away from 2013) was just there among the best, such as the Dig, Lazarus, Dig !!! from 2008 or Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus from 2005. Let’s take a look at the six best songs of this genius:
6. Into My Arms
The Boatman’s Call is still the most popular Bad Seeds album among critics and the audience alike, and it is even the most favorite for those, who are actually not so keen on Nick Cave. This LP is the most easily receptive one of Cave’s repertoire, the wrenching, deep voice of Nick Cave sounds above completely calm and restrained orchestrations, he is mainly mourning over the end of their relationship with PJ Harvey.
He never say this specifically, we only find references in “West Country Girl” which may refer to the English singstress, overall, the Boatman’s Call is a sort of a universal break-up LP and it is clearly one of the bests in the genre. Almost any song of it may be selected (“Brompton Oratory,” is my secret favorite for example), but the first single opening the album, “Into My Arms” is definitely the best choice, and in this case it is the right decision.
While this is perhaps the most honest ballad in the career of Cave, it begins with a surprise row, “I do not believe in an intervening God”. And now, almost twenty years later, we may feel that no one sang more meaningfully about a man with a broken heart.
5. Red Right Hand
There is a chance that you know this number. If we aready spoke about horror movies, well, the “Red Right Hand ” is the perfect background music for any horror, and makers of such classic films from the nineties as Scream 2 or Dumb and Dumber took advantage of this. But “Red Right Hand” does not need any accompanying video sequence: this song is a real horror tale in itself and by the way it is one of the best known and most easily memorable song of the Bad Seeds.
The muffled, slinking keys, the unforgettable keyboard solo and Cave’s heavily Tom Waits influenced way of expression narrates very faithfully the story of the mysterious guy who is “a spirit, a god, a man, a guru” and in whose catastrophic plan you are just a cog.
4. The Ship Song
If “The Carny” is one of the extremes of Cave’s spiritual world, than the “The Ship Song” is the other. This song appeared on the 1990’s The Good Son which was debunked at it’s appearance since it moved away from the dark intensity of the 1988 Tender Prey towards the relaxed lovemaking, and it could not be more far away from the stuff that the Bad Seeds previously issued.
The friendly piano of “The Ship Songs” is accompanied by a relaxing background vocal of the members of the Bad Seeds, the text is simple and emotional, in the video the surprisingly neat-looking Cave is sitting in a suit near the piano while he is surrounded by angelic-looking children.
Perhaps the “The Ship Song” was not the kind of song that was expected from Cave after the angry and scary music of the eighties, but now we regard it worthily as one of the most beautiful songs of his career.
3. Straight to You
On “Straight to You” Cave is his most romantic shape- but this is not the middle-aged, slow romance of No More Shall We Part, but an irresistible late night, drunken serenade, which may not be Cave’s deepest song, but it’s still there among the best ones.
The Henry’s Dream is by the way one of the highest quality Bad Seeds album (almost as good as Let Love In, full with such great recordings like “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” the “Christina the Astonishing”, the “Loom of the Land” and “Jack the Ripper”, but the “Straight to You” with drunken saints screaming to the moon is simply unforgettable and will always emerge from the album but also from Cave’s entire career.
2. From Her to Eternity
From Her to Eternity, the best song of Cave’s career appeared on the first Bad Seeds album with the same title, which is still one of the best of the band. This album appeared just a year after the last album of Birthday Party, so the underground gothic rock impact of Nick Cave’s earlier band was still noticeable, but the sophisticated new direction was already perceptible on songs like “Saint Huck” and “From Her to Eternity”.
1. Higgs Boson Blues
Higgs Boson Blues is moving away smoothly from the garage rock style of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! for the sake of a claustrophobic, restrained sound, which lends a slightly depressing atmosphere for the songs like “We No Who U R” or “Push the Sky Away”.
However, one of the best is the nearly eight-minute “Higgs Boson Blues “, largely because it is masterfully able to keep the subdued atmosphere for nearly eight minutes, that defines the entire album while it never gets boring.
As in the rest of the songs, there’s something sinister hiding under the carefully plucked guitars, the nervous electronics and the references matching nightmares (Hannah Montana, Robert Johnson, sirens… or Higgs boson, while we are on).
Thank you for reading our article. We hope that you will read the next one also. And don’t forget to take a look at some of the other giants like Bob Marley, David Bowie, Donovan, Prince or Lenny Kravitz which we have also covered. Stay tuned!