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09.20.21 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: a ranking 05.23.21 Want some soul metal ?

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: a ranking

Hello there. I've had this idea of a ranking in my head for a while, so why not make it into a Sput list ? I'm strictly looking at Bad Seeds records, so no Grinderman or affiliated. This is a first, so any feedback is welcome.
17Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Kicking Against The Pricks

Starting at the bottom with a bit of an outsider. This 1986 album is a collection of covers performed by the original Bad Seeds lineup, a strict continuation of the sound established on the first 2 LPs. Cave & friends apply their dark and twisted take on traditional, country and blues standards, with a few forays into more contemporary songs such as the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties", probably the best cover on here. While not bad by any means, I can hardly recommend this album to anyone other than Cave afficinados. It's a very repetitive affair, especially the album's first half, and you can find better executions of the ideas applied here on the albums that came before and after it.

Top 3 tracks : All Tomorrow's Parties, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, The Carnival Is Over
16Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Nocturama, considered by many to be the "lowest point" of an otherwise impressive discography. Coming in after 2 major releases, expectations were high and so was disappointment. 2003 was a transitional time for Cave & his crew, marked by personnal struggles and the departure of long time musical wizard and friend Blixa Bargeld, shortly after the release of the album. The music is torn between the softness and melancholy of recent years, and the more open and exuberant sound to be found a year later. The result is an uninspired 56 minutes where few highlights can be found, like the juggernaut "Babe, I'm On Fire" (that is best experienced with the hilarious music video). As with the previous entry, I'd recommend it only to the most hardcore fans.

Top 3 Tracks : Babe, I'm On Fire - He Wants You - There Is A Town
15Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
The Firstborn Is Dead

This is the second entry in the discography and a highlight of the early Bad Seeds' work. Things start out amazingly well with the literally thundering "Tupelo" : a bass driven, dark and biblical tale on Elvis' birth, both a fan and band favorite that's often played in concert to this day. Unfortunately, the 6 following songs fall short in comparison, repeating the "classic" twisted blues formula introduced in the band's debut. A worthy listen.

Top 3 Tracks : Tupelo - Knockin' on Joe - Wanted Man
14Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!

While 2008's Nick Cave might mostly be remembered for his magnificent Fu-Manchu mustache, let's not forget about this unique little album. Coming in a year after the machismo outburst that was the Grinderman debut, Cave & Seeds took the same "hands off" approach into making "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!". It's also the last contribution from the legendary Mick Harvey, before Warren Ellis would take a bigger part in the band's future sound. The result is a fun collection of songs with a few experimental ideas thrown here and there, making for an interesting if inconsistent listening experience. The self-titled opener is a good example of this rocking, tongue-in-cheek approach while "Night Of The Lotus Eaters" and its brooding bass showcase the other facet of this excellent album.

Top 3 Tracks : More News from Nowhere - Night of the Lotus Eaters - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
13Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
From Her To Eternity

The album that started it all. Even if the band's sound has considerably evolved over the years, the foundations established here would follow the band for over a decade : ominous bass leads, menacing chords and shrieks courtesy of Bargeld and Harvey, pounding drums in the background and a crazy, rambling piano man to tie it all together. Nick Cave embodies a darker version of his blues, country and folk heroes - like a demented version of Johnny Cash who'd have escaped from hell - while stepping down from the more "extreme" antics of his Birthday Party days. From this album onward, he would show his great storytelling abilities, narrating tales of sorrow, love and religion flowing through his characters and himself. However, like many albums to follow, half the songs found on this debut are subpar and rather forgettable compared to the highlights, as their sound would only be perfected later on.

Top 3 Tracks : From Her To Eternity - Saint Huck - Cabin Fever!
12Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Tender Prey

Only four years later, Cave & the Seeds would reach new highs with "Tender Prey". Taking liberties with the aforementioned sound displayed on the debut, the band would push harder in several directions, resulting first in the noisy, abrasive and desperate "The Mercy Seat". This tale of a soon-to-be executed prisoner resonated with Johnny Cash himself in his twilight years, covering it brilliantly on American III, a proud moment of Nick Cave's life. One can also find mellower songs like the soothing yet creepy "Watching Alice" and the weird "pop" attempt that is "Deanna". Overall, an excellent album tainted by a few underwhelming songs.

Top 3 Tracks : The Mercy Seat - Watching Alice - Mercy
11Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
The Good Son

The beginning of the 90's was a moment of great change for Nick Cave. Tired of his erratic way of life that saw him constantly moving from Australia to London and Berlin, with drugs offering no comfort, he decided to move to Sao Paulo with his wife. Soon, they'd have a son. At peace with himself and his newfound home, a different kind of inspiration would fuel the next album. "The Good Son" is indeed a novel affair : it's more peaceful, welcoming and straightforward than its predecessors. The change is immediate with the gorgeous portuguese ballad "Foi Na Cruz", and other grand numbers such as "The Ship Song" and "Lucy". However, the sorrowful and menacing influences of the past are not lost and can be found in the amazing title track and "The Weeping Song", a surprising duet with Blixa Bargeld.

Top 3 Tracks : The Good Son - The Weeping Song - Sorrow's Child
10Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Henry's Dream

Hot on the heels of the successful release of "The Good Son", Cave sought a different approach to songwriting. With this album, he tried to recreate the feel of brazilian music he heard in the streets of Sao Paulo : acoustic, spontaneous, colorfoul with gritty undertones. In his own words, what he and the Bad Seeds performed in the "Henry's Dream" sessions was a failure on that part, but they stumbled on greatness nonetheless. Compared to their previous effort, this album does feel more acoustic and brutal. "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" and "Jack The Ripper" embody that feeling perfectly. There are still downtimes to be found, like the deceivingly simple "Straigh To You" that'll stay in your head long after you heard it. It also serves as a good example of the increasingly important place of keyboards in the band's music, thanks to the late Conway Savage.

Top 3 Tracks : Papa Won't Leave You, Henry - Jack The Ripper - John Finn's Wife
9Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
The Boatman's Call

"The Boatman's Call" was the first Nick Cave album I heard, and it still holds a special place for me. This widely acclaimed exploration of love, breakups and the deep set of emotions that follows is a very intimate and personal journey. After the "Murder Ballads" sessions, Cave entered a brief relationship with the talented PJ Harvey, and their subsequent breakup was the main inspiration behind the album. Cave takes the reigns with his somber voice and piano while the rest of the band takes a step back, with the notable exception of new member Warren Ellis. The result is a set of 12 beautiful, minimalist and stripped back songs. Avoiding clichés, Cave sings as much about the loss of love as the necessity of moving on, while cherishing the memories that have been made along the way. However, a weaker set of songs on the first half keeps this album from getting a better spot in the ranking.

Top 3 Tracks : Into My Arms - Far From Me - (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?
8Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away

I really got into the band around the release of this album, thanks in part to a great concert performance I had the chance to see in my city back in 2013. While the last album was released 5 years prior, Cave & Ellis kept busy with another Grinderman output and their work on movie soundtracks. The pair had found a new working dynamic, and the ageing Nick Cave started to lean into "softer" productions. Don't get me wrong : "Push the Sky Away" holds 2 of the best songs of Cave's career that both end up in explosive climaxes - the amazing "Jubilee Street" and personal favorite "Higgs Boson Blues", where his shamanic ramblings rise to unexpected levels. But the album's strength also comes from subdued numbers like the floating title track, the somber "Water's Edge" and the social media inspired "We No Who U R". Not all experiments pay off though, with an underwhelming mid-section that drags the album down.

Top 3 Tracks : Higgs Boson Blues - Jubilee Street - Push the Sky Away
7Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Murder Ballads

"Murder Ballads" is a sort of concept album : every song is a romanticized tale of colorful individuals that - you probably guessed - ends up in poor fashion. This allows for a throwback to the earlier sound of the band, most notably the emphasis on groovy and driving basslines courtesy of Martyn P. Casey, while the atmosphere around them gets thicker and noisier than usual. However, there are two notable exceptions that can explain the otherwise surprising commercial success of this album : the duet with PJ Harvey "Henry Lee" and the gorgeous duo with old time friend Kylie Minogue, "Where the Wild Roses Grow". Dig deeper and you'll find the nasty gems on here : the seductive and enthralling "Stagger Lee" and the chaotic and gargantuan "O'Malley's Bar", a 14 minutes killing spree. The album closer, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Death Is Not The End", gives a little respite after such a wild ride.

Top 3 Tracks : Stagger Lee - Henry Lee - O'Malley's Bar
6Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Let Love In

Widely considered to be the best Bad Seeds' best album, and I can see why. It contains their now most famous song "Red Right Hand", thanks to them Peaky Blinders. "Let Love In" is a combination of the best elements from the band's past : a thundering rhythm section, classic inputs from Harvey and Bargeld (like his signature shriek on "Loverman"), Savage's masterful keyboard arrangements, the grandiose atmosphere from the Brazil days tainted by Cave's malignant chants and lyrics. Love is in, so are his demons. Both parts of "Do You Love Me?" showcase the general feel of the album : a chaotic mix of emotions carried by an angry/languorous/sorrowful sound that shifts as it pleases, taking you along for the ride whether you want it or not. It's uncompromising and unforgiving. Let love in.

Top 3 Tracks : Red Right Hand - I Let Love In - Do You Love Me?
5Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus

The first word that comes to mind is generosity. Not only for the sheer amount of music on display, but also for its inviting nature. Following the dud that was "Nocturama", Cave & Friends took things in a new direction, thanks in parts to the input of Warren Ellis. "Abbatoir Blues" is a frenetic affair led by a somptuous gospel choir that allows every band member to let loose. "Get Ready for Love" is the perfect opener with its catchy hooks that don't drop a single beat until the end of the song. Apart from a few breaks like the title track, the intensity only withers when you reach "The Lyre of Orpheus". Its laid back approach is a good counterpart to the joyous ferocity from before, right until the monumental "O Children" closes off the album in great fashion with a very emotional vocal performance from Cave & the choir. While every song don't hit the mark, I consider it one of my personal favorites.

Top 3 Tracks : O Children - Get Ready for Love - Hiding All Away
4Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

This last offering from Cave & the band has been divisive, but I find it quite enthralling. 3 years after the devastating "Skeleton Tree", Cave turns back to music with a new mindest. This time, the atmosphere is lighter and brighter, like the album cover. While the pain of loss is still here and palpable, we see Cave moving towards acceptance. The musical ambience is mostly comprised of Ellis' arrangements, with barely any other instrument in the mix. The result is a minimalist yet gorgeous affair, giving a welcome emphasis on Cave and his words. While not for everybody, this new chapter of Cave's life has deeply resonated with me. There's almost nothing to skip in these mesmerising 68 minutes and I hope Cave will find peace of mind, in time.

Top 3 Tracks : Hollywood - Waiting For You - Spinning Song
3Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Your Funeral... My Trial

In the third place, we find an album from 1986 called "Your Funeral... My Trial". This "classic" era Bad Seeds record takes everything endearing about the debut and elevates it to new heights. The overall tone is moodier compared the earlier works, allowing the grittier takes like the sprawling "The Carny" to shine all the brighter. Here, you can find the band's first forays into ballads, like the opener "Sad Waters" or the title track. "Stranger Than Kindness" is a unique entry in the Bad Seeds's discography and an all-time favorite : by losing the usual bombast of the previous albums, its dark and depressing overtones are almost overwhelming, and yet so captivating. "Jack's Shadow" and "Long Time Man" are excellent takes on the "twisted blues" formula they now excell in. This is the perfect starting point if you want to explore 80's Bad Seeds.

Top 3 Tracks : Stranger Than Kindness - The Carny - Your Funeral My Trial
2Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Skeleton Tree

Arthur Cave, son of Mr Nick Cave, passed away in 2015 following a tragic accident. Even though "Skeleton Tree" was mostly written beforehand, you can feel the heavy burden of loss weighing down on Cave from start to finish. This is a dark, painful and difficult album, and not everyone will be able to take something from it. It's such an intimate and immediate peek into the beginning of his grieving process that you can feel the pain distort Cave's voice. To accompany him and his piano, Ellis and the rest of the band take the necessary step back, with low drones and soft drums on "Jesus Alone" or a few keys and strings on "Girl in Amber". The emotional climax of the album is probably the gut wrenching "I Need You". The whole album is filled with devastating lines. It's Cave at his most vulnerable and stripped. He does not ask for pity, kindness or anything else. It's pure catharsis, and that's beautiful in its own way.

Top 3 Tracks : Girl in Amber - Jesus Alone - I Need You
1Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
No More Shall We Part

It's probably an unusual pick for the top spot, but I'll stand by it. "No More Shall We Part" is the first Bad Seeds album I truly fell in love with, embracing every song from start to finish. As Cave himself puts it, if "The Boatman's Call" was a close and intimate affair, this one is its open and welcoming counterpart. It's still a pretty calm album, mostly comprised of slow jams with the occasional bombastic piece like "Oh My Lord" breaking the pace. And I love every piece of it. "Love Letter" might be my favorite Cave song. "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side" leaves me speechless. "Hallelujah" places Ellis in the spotlight with great violin parts. "God is in the House" is a faux-lullaby and one of the most unique entry in the Bad Seeds' discography. I didn't even mention the hauntingly beautiful backing vocals found all along the album. Don't take my word for it, just go and listen to it.

Top 3 Tracks : Love Letter - As I Sat Sadly By Her Side - Oh My Lord
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