Review Summary: Where first we had it...
The more time Nick Cave spends throttling staggering amounts of beauty out of neurotic nocturnes, the more “Door, Door,” his 1979 debut with the Boys Next Door becomes a mere modest blip on his prodigious timeline.
Recorded between 1977 and 1978 in Melbourne, “Door, Door” brought Cave together with drummer Phill Calvert and bassist Tracy Pew, and later Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey, who would go on to help him shape the howl of the Birthday Party. Howard would continue making fatalistic post-punk with Crime and the City Solution and These Immortal Souls, while Mick Harvey would remain by Cave’s side for the next 25 years, playing guitar on some of the Bad Seeds’ most striking efforts.
“Door, Door” occupies a curious spot in Cave’s body of work. It has all the moody soulfulness and gothic melodrama of his tenure with the Bad Seeds, the harsh shrieking guitar-work and tom-tom-heavy percussion of The Birthday Party, and the no-wave cabaret slants that he had delved into with Anita Lane, PJ Harvey and Lydia Lunch.
Though this debut is not as scrappy or disjointed as one would expect from a group of un-indoctrinated twenty-year olds, the recording’s relative lo-fi tendencies create some homogeny in its more heavily-orchestrated pieces. “Roman Roman” and “Brave Exhibitions” suffer most from that flatness, rushing out of the gate on a high note, and then steering it through three un-modulated proto-punk minutes. With more agile mixing, these songs could have easily become as brawny and stirring as Swell Maps’ “New York” or “Cake Shop Girl.” Brief runtimes make these shortcomings seem comparatively slight, but on repeat listens, they bog down sections of the album in ham-fisted clumsiness.
“Door, Door” is at its galvanizing best on tracks where Cave and Co. ride a lean, danceable bass-line and save the full metal jacket flourish for the choruses, creating songs that rise and fall, rather than ones that throw a champion haymaker and then stew limply. “The Voice” and “After a Fashion” are brilliant bursts of how nimble and spirited post-punk can be, the former punctuated with sharp sax and a starry synth over the bridge.
Cave is well-noted for his poetic dexterity, swinging from breathtaking to lecherous in a single verse. The themes on “Door, Door” will ring similar to those already attuned to his points of pursuit. Women, the Anglican God, a humdrum life followed by a humdrum death, and his long-standing Americana fetish are all on display here. But if it didn’t take Cave long to come into himself as a poet, tossing deft kitsch around on Birthday Party albums, here the lyrics are decidedly more hit-and-miss, with some moments bordering on heavy-handed. It’s an understandable misstep, coming from a young kid just coming to grips with performing for a crowd, and it perhaps seems more severe in light of Cave’s later profoundly sublime poetic turns on “Your Funeral… My Trial” and “The Boatman’s Call.”
“Door, Door” closes with what is arguably Cave’s first masterpiece. “Shivers” is a stroke of beauty, a spare piano and a driving bass, underpinned by a wailing guitar and austere drums, and Cave shouting love over it all. The song gained minor traction recently after being covered in grand style by Divine Fits, a side-project of alt-rock dignitary Britt Daniel. Yet it continues to be badly overlooked, and is almost always omitted from the stratum of Cave’s best ballads. It certainly carries more boyish romanticism than “Into My Arms” or “Straight to You,” or any number of his latter-day love chants. But in “Shivers,” the listener can see where Cave’s genius penchant for carving out gut-wrenching confessionals first germinated. It is a song to end an album, a band, a lifetime with.
There are several benchmarks in Nick Cave’s career that stand as bastions of how crafting a collection of songs is wholly different than merely writing one. The unhinged lunacy of “Junk Yard,” the languid frenzy of “Tender Prey,” and in recent years, the devastating grief of “Skeleton Tree.” If “Door, Door” doesn’t manage to hold its weight next to these juggernauts, it can at least hold the precocious title of being the first.