Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August 19: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"

Artist: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Album: Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Year: 2008
Label: Mute

Understandably, many cite 1984's From Her To Eternity as one of the most amazingly dark and morose records ever recorded. As his first album following the breakup of The Birthday Party, the album overflows with downtrodden moods, yet it also proved that Nick Cave had far more he wanted to accomplish musically. That album brought the world the first incarnation of The Bad Seeds, which is largely still the same configuration to this day. Having released a number of utterly sensational albums with The Bad Seeds over the years, Nick Cave has also taken time away from the band to explore other musical projects. As time progressed, Cave began to move towards a more aggressive, louder musical approach, and throughout the 2000's, the overall sound of his music began to drastically change. After releasing their sensational self-titled debut and touring the world with Grinderman, Nick Cave re-assembled The Bad Seeds in their entirety and went back to the studio to record the follow-up to 2004's Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. The resulting sessions yielded what may very well be the bands' greatest achievement and it is unquestionably one of the most devastatingly phenomenal rock records ever made, 2008's Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

With a title like Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, one cannot avoid some cliché commentary on the fact that, regardless of how long he takes between records, Nick Cave is always able to re-invent himself and remain one of the most dynamic artists on the planet. Cave himself said that the album title and song of the same name were inspired by the fact that he has always wondered how Lazarus himself felt after, as the story goes, Jesus brought him back from the dead. On the title track, he moves the story to modern day New York City, and follows the sudden stardom and downward spiral of the cleverly renamed "Larry." Cave sums up his thoughts when he sings, "...I mean he, he never asked to be raised up from the tomb...I mean no one ever actually asked him to forsake his dreams..." The song itself is just the tip of the iceberg, as the entire album is an extraordinary explosion of sensational music and lyrics. Having worked with artists ranging from Talking Heads and Public Image Ltd. to Lou Reed and Gang Of Four, producer Nick Launay provides the perfect partner for Cave, as he is able to bring out the best sound, regardless of what musical direction Cave chooses to explore. From the beautifully moody and melodious "Hold On To Yourself" to the screaming, garage-rock sound of "Lie Down here (& Be My Girl), Launay ensures that every song sounds absolutely stellar, and the overall sound on the album is nothing short of flawless.

When it comes to the music found on Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, the fact of the matter is, The Bad Seeds have rarely sounded better, as they are clearly now a full-on rock and roll powerhouse. Whether it is the all out rock of the albums' title track or the slower, funkier "Moonland," the group is truly in top form and their sound rivals any band on the planet. The dual guitars of Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis are as brilliant as ever, and it is in the aggression of their playing that it becomes clear that the band as a whole is more than happy with the new, more rock-based direction. Again, much of this may be from riding the wave of the Grinderman record, where Ellis was also featured on guitar, along with Bad Seeds Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos. The rhythm section of Casey and Sclavunous carry the energy of the Grinderman sessions into these songs, and they have rarely sounded better. The bassline that opens "Today's Lesson" is by far one of the funkiest, yet wonderfully menacing that Casey has ever performed. Sclavunous, as always, employs a great variance in his percussion, playing everything from maracas to sleigh bells to bongos, alongside his normal, sensational playing of his standard kit. Adding additional percussion as he has since joining the band in 1985, Thomas Wydler continues to play a perfect compliment to Sclavunos. Rounding out The Bad Seeds is organ and keyboard master, James Johnston, and the moods he creates with his playing truly turns the songs into masterpieces. Throughout Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, the band swings, construct deep, dark moods, and blow listeners away with some of the most exciting and powerful rock music to be recorded in decades.

With his full, deep, and captivating voice, Nick Cave remains one of the greatest vocalists in the history of music. Constantly bringing a somewhat somber, dark mood, yet with an equal dose of rock and roll majesty, Cave's voice and delivery are truly unparalleled. On Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, he sounds as strong as ever, and the somewhat menacing and cunning manner of singing which he has perfected provides a brilliant compliment to the amazing music. As is always the case with anything on which Nick Cave sings, the songs are all about the lyrics. Certainly a man who can turn a phrase, the lyrics on Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! are as brilliant as ever, and Cave once again finds ways to mix together his trademark brand of sexy, sinister, and undeniably smart lyrics and he delivers them perfectly. As always, many of the songs (and obviously the album title as well) have religious overtones, and some might even go so far as to call some of the lyrics "blasphemous." While there is no shortage of amazing one liners on the album, Cave sings an absolute classic when he slyly sings, "...he likes to congregate at the intersection of Jaine's jeans...Mr. Sandman the inseminator, he opens her up like a love letter and enters her dreams..." on "Today's Lesson," which is, by far, one of Cave's most rawkus, yet amazingly sensual songs ever. However, Nick Cave's sense of humor is also very present on the album, with amazing lines like, "...I feel like a vacuum cleaner, a complete sucker..." Truth be told, few artists have the lyrical prowess of Nick Cave, and his ability to create fantastic allusions and moods, alongside his mesmerizing vocal delivery, remains second to none.

Many (myself included) will argue that Nick Cave has never written a bad song, and therefore never recorded an album that is anything less than superb. With his unique voice and mind-bogglingly brilliant lyrics, there has truly never been another artist in the same group as Nick Cave. From his early days of wild screaming with The Birthday Party, to his dark and moody beginnings with The Bad Seeds to the unbridled rock of Grinderman, Nick Cave is always fantastic, regardless of the band with which he is performing. However, his work with The Bad Seeds represents a bulk of his recorded catalog, and due to the exceptional musicianship of the band, the albums are all varied, yet always exceptional in quality. Even for those who have somehow never experienced the amazing sound that is Nick Cave's music, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! will instantly hook them, as it is by far one of the greatest rock and roll records ever recorded. Though it now stands as the final recording of The Bad Seeds with Mick Harvey (he left the band for personal reasons in early 2009), it would be hard to argue that he left at anything other than the bands' finest musical hour. Truth be told, there is not a single song on the entire album that is anything less than extraordinary, providing a variety of different tempos and moods, yet consisitantly incrediable at every turn. Though the album shares many of the dark moods and absolutely remarkable lyrics that have been a constant throughout the history of the band, the more aggressive, somewhat dirtier rock and roll sound is what propels Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' 2008 release, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! above the rest of their catalog and cements the album as one of the most amazing rock albums in history.

Standout tracks: "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!," "We Call Upon The Author," "More News From Nowhere."

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