I wonder why I, an agnostic writer, always seem to gravitate towards songs and artists with an almost obvious spiritually inspired music style. Two of my favorites, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison and “The Maker” by Daniel Lanois, sing about the search for salvation in a three minute journey through their inspirational songs. Another song, Nina Simone’s upbeat southern flavored cover of “House of the Rising Sun” reminds of my living in New Orleans and listening as I past the Baptist church near my uptown apartment. I remember feeling the power their holy songs pulsing through my sweating skin, as I walked by.
It’s not just the songs. Artists like Bob Marley and Johnny Cash use their voice to show us the glory of their faith. The thing I love about Marley and Cash is that they believed in not only their religion but the power of creative art by sharing their spiritual joy to listeners, without shoving their devotion down our ears, with their unique, inspired brand of musical beauty.
This brings me to Nick Cave, one of the most enigmatic singer/songwriters of this modern age. Cave has gone from being a hooked-on-heroin punk leading his band the Birthday Party spewing Biblical psalms over their three chords of demented and unrelenting heresy to a clean, sober and literally reborn rock and roll anti-hero. He now is an artist in the vein of his heroes Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and his heroine Nina Simone. Gone are all the drug induced days of the Birthday Party and replaced with the holy and infectious beauty of the Bad Seeds. It’s as if Cave is the rebellious preacher, preaching his poetic sermons, and the Bad Seeds are his demonic house band, playing the riffs that both Lucifer and the Lord would both love.
It’s this dichotomy that makes me hold Cave as a hero and inspiration in my life. He is the good, the bad and the ugly; and the thing is, he really doesn’t give a fuck what Christians, Goth nor Punk rockers think about what he sings. Cave writes for the glory of song. He just happens to be really devoted in his religion but it’s the music that’s key for him because without it, he’d be just another madman on the corner starving for attention in this disconnected world where anyone can down load a hit of salvation in about fifteen seconds.
After releasing the brilliant double disc, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, this week Nick Cave goes one bigger and drops a triple disc of rare and unreleased gems called B-Sides & Rarities. Compiled by Bad Seed guitarist Mick Harvey, this 3 CD set showcases the best of everything Cave and his band rarely heard and unearthed recordings that some die hard fans, like yours truly have been dying to hear for years.
I have always said that you can tell a great band by the quality of their b-sides and unreleased records. Only the best artists take their time and effort on every recording they lay down and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds do not disappoint. There’s so much in these discs that it’s quite overwhelming. I believe there are bands out there that would sell their souls to have at least one of these gems as proper track on their commercial album.
Let’s start with the highlights of disc one — three acoustic versions of “Deanna,” “The Mercy Seat” and “City of Refuge.” The intimate nature of these songs complexities are stripped to the core in these memorable versions; especially in “City of Refuge” which sounds like a haunted hymn sung by spirits at an abandoned pub.
Disc two starts with the much sought after Cave’s duet with Pogues lush singer Shane MacGowan on Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world.” This duo does Louis justice with this lovely rendition thanks to the string arrangement by Bill McGee. Then there’s the eerie guide vocal sung by now ex-Bad Seed guitarist Blixa Bargeld on “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” The same track that Kylie Minogue made infamous on the now famed Murder Ballads album. Then there’s the three part trilogy of “O’Malley’s Bar” that’s one part cacophony and another part brilliance that only Cave and The Bad Seeds can create over seventeen plus minutes of madness.
Disc Three showcases the most recent musical activity by Cave and Los Seeds. I love the way Harvey arranged this compilation chronologically. You can hear the maturing of the band from dirty sensibilities on disc one’s “Black Betty” to the delicate honesty of “Black hair.” It shows that true artists grow and evolve through time and the rest of them fade out into obscurity. You can hear Cave clearly shine in such rarities as the Boatman Call outtake “Opium Tea” and the most recent b-side “Under the Moon.”
There’s so much in here, fifty plus tracks worth that I could write a dissertation on the brilliance of B-Sides & Rarities, but I will spare you. If you are new to the Nick Cave cannon you need to discover this amazing release. I am not writing this praise not to God above, but to the one and only—Señor Cave. A true artist, dare I say genius, whose backlog of rarities and b-sides are a musical version of a holy grail to his fans. Christmas has come early for Nick Cave fans. This is the ultimate collection for the Bad Seed in your life.
Tindersticks – Waiting For the Man
Johnny Cash – Love/God/Murder
The Birthday Party – Hits