Review Summary: Jesus couldn’t save this
Back in the early 80s, Nick Cave’s noisy garage-punk / blues band The Birthday Party
were a whirlwind of turbulent, manic energy. Their distinctive sonic storm was raw, aggressive, and invigorating. Whatever your take on their bold cacophonous releases such as Junkyard
or Prayers on Fire
were, they were unlikely to conjure feelings of indifference. This potentially divisive element to Cave’s work continued well into his career with the Bad Seeds. Take what is commonly considered by many as Cave’s magnum opus in 1994s Let Love In
– here the band’s sound is vibrant, unpredictable, and complemented by an idiosyncratic madness. Now it must be said that his follow-up project wasn’t inaccessible and certainly more poetic in comparison, yet the band were still putting on one hell of a show. This concept highlighted by the whirlwind of dark cabaret influences, the gothic-tinged atmosphere, and numerous bursts of percussive energy, with Cave’s versatile vocal performances providing a fitting centrepiece.
Fast forward to the present day and eternal wisdom dictates that apparently things can change in a quarter of a century – who knew, right? People change, they often mellow, sometimes becoming reflective, reserved even, no longer seeking to ruffle feathers as that youthful vigour fades. It is an inevitable contrast, especially if one’s earliest artistic incarnations were brash, brazen and belligerent. In fact, it would be naïve to expect anything to the contrary. So why when knowing this, does Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
seem so monumentally devoid of urgency? Why when hitting play and being immediately presented with an up-tempo, potentially anthemic, barnstorming opener of the same name; does it all feel so tepid? From this point forward ’Dig’
continues to underwhelm. In “Today’s Lesson” we learn that telegraphing a lifeless and unearned chorus hook, results in an unsatisfied audience. “Night of the Lotus Eaters” attempts to reverse course, temporarily distracting the listener with… wait for it… DYNAMICS! This restrained and unassuming cut is a welcome curveball, deviating from the neutralising alt-rock glossiness that plagues the majority of ’Dig’s’
runtime. Even so, ‘Lotus’ ultimately fails to build upon any of its initial potential, eventually suffering an all-too-familiar fate – with most of these songs being guilty of overstaying their welcome. No part of what’s contained here represents this as emphatically as the closing pair. “Midnight Man” is a repetitive and unsatisfying rocker, following a well-trodden structure, tempo, and tone. It’s habit of resetting to a punch-absent chorus in the most predictable of ways, doing it no favours. However, despite the penultimate track’s misgivings, it is completely usurped by the utterly barren, meandering and obnoxiously lengthy slog that is “More News From Nowhere”. For a concluding gambit it works perversely well, essentially presenting the audience with one last reminder of Dig’s’
faults; a seemingly never-ending and misfiring microcosm of what preceded it. The swansong’s only saving grace being a vaguely amusing sense of irony awarded by its title, as it limps aimlessly towards the listener’s eventual salvation.
biblical themes were genuinely intriguing, if the narratives held any emotional weight, it would be easier to forgive its sonic limitations. Alas, no such redemption is on offer. Cave’s attempts at quirky humour are ultimately rendered impotent by a disparity between the banality of his songwriting and any attempts at playful lyricism. What’s left is a mostly competently performed yet uninteresting shell of an alt-rock album, one where the protagonists have long since left its carapace.
Unlike in the resurrection of Lazarus, even Jesus couldn’t save Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
from eternal slumber. Nevertheless, Cave’s legacy remains strong, blessed with an impressive body of work that shines brightly, despite this isolated moment of darkness.