Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have had a long stretch of a career, from the early days of angsty post-punk meanderings to settling into something of a modern folk rock act in the 90's around 1997 they took an ultimate turn into that often cited realm of maturity with the release of The Boatman's Call
. Full of gorgeous piano ballads and some of Cave's most heartfelt lyrics, the album signalled a new era for the group which they had been threatening to deliver since 1990's melancholic The Good Son
. The album stood in stark contrast to previous release Tender Prey
, which to date is the groups most devastating and intense album recorded during a very dark period of Cave's life as a heroin addict.
No More Shall We Part
was the follow up album to The Boatman's Call
, released in 2001. Much like the album that came before it, there are very few signs of the turbulent Bad Seeds of old as the group starts settling into a niche of what could be described as "contemporary adult rock". Don't let this tag fool you though, this album is not quite like the complete snoozefest that the modern day incarnation of R.E.M. or Eric Clapton would pump out. No More Shall We Part
simply demonstrates a confidence, a strength in songwriting that feels like a band completely comfortable in its own shoes for the first time.
As I Sat Sadly By Her Side
opens the album, with some gentle, moody guitar chords strummed. After a bassline works a hook over the top of it, a simple, chiming piano loop and softly played drums are introduced. This forms the core of a song that features some of the best lyrics Cave ever wrote. Much of the album seems to deal with the issue of depression, and how it affects the individual. Here, Cave paints a beautiful picture of sharing a common sadness with a lover about the state of the world with the lines ("She said, father, mother, sister, brother, Uncle, aunt, nephew, niece/Soldier, sailor, physician, labourer, Actor, scientist, mechanic, priest/Earth and moon and sun and stars/Planets and comets with tails blazing/All are there forever falling/Falling lovely and amazing
"). It seems to imply a melancholic beauty in care for others, but implies that the collective sadness of everyone in the world is simply too overbearing to pay attention to. This comes to a head in the most intense lyrical section of the song, backed by a string section -
Then she drew the curtains down
And said, when will you ever learn
That what happens there beyond the glass
Is simply none of your concern?
God has given you but one heart
You are not a home for the hearts of your brothers
And God does not care for your benevolence
Anymore than he cares for the lack of it in others
Nor does he care for you to sit
At windows in judgement of the world he created
While sorrows pile up around you
Ugly, useless and over-inflated
Cave retains some of the sardonic wrath of his best lyrics here, his tongue-in-cheek humour always anchoring off the sadness and angst present being one of the most appealing things he has ever had to offer. The sincerity it is delivered with is nothing short of hard-hitting though, and No More Shall We Part
is a superb follow-up. Opening with a lone vocal section, a simple piano and bass combo soon anchors itself around Cave's gorgeous, deep voice. The song is little more then that apart from spice to the arrangements with some more string instruments, but once again the lyrics delivered are just nothing short of wonderful as Cave recounts a marriage gone sour and the emotions that come from that.
is not a cover of the Leonard Cohen track as you might expect (the one Jeff Buckley popularised), but rather it's own beast which is perhaps the most poignant track on No More Shall We Part
. A simple, exotic sounding run of notes ascends at the beginning, perhaps a keyboard, perhaps some kind of foreign instrument. Some simple piano chords and bass line loops around this, as Cave sings from the point of view of what would appear to be a mental patient left to his own devices running away from it all.
I'd given my nurse the weekend off
My meals were ill prepared
My typewriter had turned mute as a tomb
And my piano crouched in the corner of my room
With all its teeth bared
The protagonist of this little piece recounts his experience in a most heartfelt way, unable to cope with being at home but also unable to deal with the world outside of it -
Now, you might think it wise to risk it all
Throw caution to the reckless wind
But with her hot cocoa and her medication
My nurse had been my one salvation
So I turned back home
The song is one of the most emotionally involving in the entire career of the group, but it isn't until the end of the song which brings its most chilling section, featuring bourgesie artsy folk favourites Kate & Anna McGarrigle lending a stellar vocal performance -
The tears are welling in my eyes again
I need twenty big buckets to catch them in
And twenty pretty girls to carry them down
And twenty deep holes to bury them in
is the start of what might be considered "the boring side" of No More Shall We Part
, which is a shame. It would seem a number of people feel the album is somewhat inconsistent, with a few songs here and there that are worthwhile but mostly piano ballad snoozers. Despite this, I would say Love Letter
has a most precious arrangement in its keys and string sections. Almost the entire second half of the disc is written in this manner, from Sweetheart Come
to Darker With The Day
, it's all piano ballads with strings. The lyrics are always spot on, and mostly deal with relationships and love. It would be pointless to detail them, so I won't.
Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow
is perhaps the most popular and well known song off the album, a reasonably strong alternative hit that is perhaps the closest the album gets to "rock" with its strong chorus sections. God Is In The House
is perhaps the strangest track present, retaining much of the feel of the rest of the album but with much more of a focus on the typical tongue-in-cheek Cave humour here with its playful lyrics, speaking of a boring little idealistic town ("And we paint all our kittens white/So we can see them in the night
"). Oh My Lord
is perhaps the last track here worthy of mention, a true slow boiler of a song if there ever was one. It's opening line ("I thought i'd take a walk today/A mistake I sometimes make...
") is just perfect as Cave recounts another man going insane, as he leaves his wife and recounts on his own miseries walking around thinking about issues of God. It has the same kind of fresh perspective that reminds me strongly of the madness portrayed by the main character in the Australian film Bad Boy Bubby, if anybody is familiar with it.
No More Shall We Part
is a strong contender for the best Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, despite stiff competition from just about everything the act has ever released. It is strongly mature in it's songwriting, and features some of the best lyrics ever penned by Cave. The vocal performances are nothing short of awe inspiring, and I find the album as a whole highly underrated (mainly because of the entire second part of the release which takes some warming up to). It's a truly beautiful, melancholic masterpiece that is haunting and resonates with anybody who has ever felt a crushed heart, or the nature of depression in general. It is a gorgeous release.