Upon reviewing the newly reissued albums of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, most of the elements that characterize Nick Cave’s modern work have been in place since the beginning: the sinister murder tales, the portentous street corner sermonizing, the heart-on-sleeve balladry. Yet considering Cave’s most recent output (2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and 2007’s Grinderman), there seems to be a glaring facet absent from Cave’s persona on these reissues: the wayward, rambling lothario that all but defines late-period Nick Cave is virtually non-existent.
Fortunately, Your Funeral…My Trial, the last in the current wave of Nick Cave reissues, allows for at least one opportunity to revel in Cave’s eloquent perversities. “Hard On for Love,” which earns substantial points for wicked behavior in name and lyrics alone, goes the extra mile by arranging the song as a slowly intensifying rant, with Cave seemingly growing incapable of controlling his primal urges. Though each of the reissues are all fantastic in their unique ways, it’s really about time Cave’s unchecked libido entered the picture.
But that’s about all of the swinging dick Nick Cave you’re going to get out of these reissues, at least until the next round of reissues arrives and the menacing protagonist of Tender Prey‘s “Watching Alice” shows up to haunt your dreams. For the time being, the articulate, doom-saying, chronicler of the damned Cave will have to do, which is more than acceptable.
Your Funeral represents more than the emergence of Nick Cave as a creature of barely contained compulsions. Though each of the reissued albums marks a distinct point in the Bad Seeds evolution, Your Funeral…My Trial is their true watershed moment, marking the point where the band’s art-punk tendencies flawlessly cohered with their increasingly potent melodic instincts and flair for the dramatic. It’s evident in the way the lush, almost epic “Sad Waters” aligns seamlessly with the gloomy, circus from hell atmosphere of “The Carny.” The former builds itself up slowly, utilizing echoing background vocals and stilted “Be My Baby” drums to create Cave’s version of nostalgic romance. It’s undeniably affecting and sad, capturing the acute awareness that all perfect moments are fleeting.
“The Carny” is a different beast altogether. A lumbering, eight-minute near short film of a song that tells the story of a group of carnival workers pessimistically awaiting the unlikely return of the title character, “The Carny” is an almost unbearably grim, Faulknerian portrait of sad lives getting increasingly sadder. Seemingly, “The Carny” and “Sad Waters” share little in terms of mood, but Cave’s creepy fatalistic streak is an unavoidable element in everything he does. So while the arrangements and surface subject matters vary wildly, it’s fascinating to hear how Cave’s bleak outlook permeates throughout everything he touches, directly or indirectly. What’s more, it’s curious how, despite this glum perspective, it would be inaccurate to describe Cave’s music as joyless. In fact, Cave & the Bad Seeds sound like they are reveling in the despair they are chronicling, which adds further menace to already menacing material.
Surprisingly, Funeral generally hews in the direction of “Sad Waters.” Perhaps working with and dissecting other artist’s material on the album prior (1986’s Kicking Against the Pricks) strengthened his desire to be tuneful, but Cave seems much more willing to croon than on his previous work. Sure, there’s plenty of the requisite Cave tempestuousness, but it is lightened by a newly matured dedication to melody, particularly on the hastily gathering storm of “Jack’s Shadow.” Cave would further tighten the balance between his iconoclastic tendencies and his knack for more melodic high drama (as anyone who’s heard “The Mercy Seat” will doubtlessly avow), but Your Funeral…My Trial remains every bit as essential, no matter what further heights Cave would reach.