Cave, Nick: Nocturama LP
The dramatic procession of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds entered a new phase in 2003. The supremely crafted albums which came out towards the close of the century, Murder Ballads and The Boatman's Call, affirmed what many have known since the band formed out of the ashes of Australian legends The Birthday Party in 1983: as an expressive force The Bad Seeds are entirely in a class of their own, and Cave is one of the few truly great, genuinely maverick songwriters and performers of the present day. The twelfth Bad Seeds album Nocturama displays a renewed strength of purpose within the band, and is marked by an immediacy of recording technique and thematic diversity. The sessions took place in early 2002 when the band decided to use free time on an Australian tour to try out new compositions. They ended up learning and recording the album in a week.
"The idea was to take some of the preciousness about the making of the record away, and possibly create records more like they did in the old days which was a faster turn around," says Cave. "The way I wrote this record was to get the musical idea down, and a set of lyrics, and then put it to one side and start a new one. I didn't reflect on the songs again, or play them again. Once they were written, that was it. Whereas with the record before - No More Shall We Part - I'd arranged the whole thing before I went in, which perhaps inhibits the band a little. If something's already complete and all they have to do is play the parts, it doesn't give them much breathing space, and with this record they had a lot more room to play."
An objective point of view was brought to bear on proceedings in the form of Nick Launay. The LA-based British producer had worked with Cave many years before when he produced The Birthday Party's 1981 single "Release The Bats," and at the behest of Mick Harvey Launay agreed to record the sessions. The band's sheer pleasure in playing together built on the intention to loosen up the process saw Nocturama emerge with a rawness in both the driven and the gentle songs.
While admitting to the influence of a handful of poets - Auden, Thomas Hardy amongst them - and song writers - Dylan and Van Morrison - Cave is still clearly inventing his own traditions on Nocturama. The mood swings are impressive, spanning emotional surrender to venomous black humour. He engages with a wide range of themes. There is a tender sunset song of hope; an elegant piano song of longing; a yawing, dark violin waltz; a swaggering pledge of love; a raucous abominable tale; a sorrowful evocation of loss; a nostalgic meditation; a fragrant love epiphany; and one final, lustful demonic epic.
Nocturama might just well be the complete Cave and The Bad Seeds panorama. Some of the loveliest, most compelling songs are the gentle ones like the opening "Wonderful Life" or the simple rendering of nostalgia with "There Is A Town." "Bring it On" sees the band hitting a bold, superfly noir groove. The song benefits from an outstanding duetted vocal from Chris Bailey, formerly the singer with Brisbane's glorious pre-punk nihilists The Saints. "Dead Man in My Bed" follows immediately from "Bring it On" and further raises noise levels as Cave takes the perspective of a woman afflicted with a useless partner.
The album's most spectacular song is saved until the end when the Bad Seeds unleash the flaming jam "Babe, I'm On Fire" demonstrating their mastery of demonic relentlessness. At fifteen minutes it's an epic with 43 verses (or more, as many didn't make the recorded version) in which a bizarre cast of high and low characters testify to the burning lust of the singer. The song was played just once prior to recording. "It was just an idea that steamrolled," says Cave. "It's the kind of song you write when you're not writing a song."