No mere compilation could do justice to the sweep and fever-dream fecundity of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Thus Lovely Creatures, Cave’s first ever ‘greatest hits’, is best regarded as beginner’s guide to this eternal outsider rather than a definitive survey of his near four-decade career.
That said, for the newcomer there’s lots here sure to mesmerise, from the Old Testament goth of ‘Tupelo’ and ‘The Weeping Song’ to the backwoods bacchanalia evoked by ‘Red Right Hand’ (perhaps his poppiest moment) and the wailing, stampeding ‘The Mercy Seat’.
What’s most extraordinary is the manner in which Cave, invariably accompanied by the shrieking violins of regular foil Warren Ellis, has plotted a shape-shifting life in music whilst communicating an essentially unchanged worldview. Always the awkward bystander, his lyrics at their best have the quality of true literature, with their gift for cutting observation and Biblical bombast.
Indeed, the Cave of 1997’s Into My Arms — one of the great love songs of the decade — is fundamentally the same artist as the individual behind the playful ‘Dig Lazarus Dig!’ and ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, the shouldn’t-work-but-does collaboration with Kylie Minogue that anchored his Murder Ballads collection of the mid-1990s (and confirmed the playful streak fans had always discerned just beneath the surface).
Recorded in the aftermath of the death of his teenage son last year’s Skeleton Tree LP was tender, exquisite and almost impossible sit through all at once. There was too much rawness and honesty, as Cave unflinchingly led the listener on a guided tour of his grief. You admired him for sharing — yet were unsettled by the prurience the project evoked.
Lovely Creatures is far more straightforward and will serve as an essential primer to anyone curious about Cave but until now intimidated by the sweep of his songbook. More than that, it stands as testament to Cave’s unique position as pop’s inscrutable preacher man.
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