Nick Cave is almost respectable these days – a glowering Australian icon whose career with the Bad Seeds, along with impressive film and book-writing sidelines, have made him a comfortable king in the alternative rock pantheon. But he started out raw and hungry. Cave's earliest works with his band the Bad Seeds have just been reissued as part of a sweeping campaign by Mute Records.
Each of Cave and the Seeds' albums will eventually be reissued with digitally remastered sound and also in spiffy two-disc Collector's Editions with 5.1 surround sound, liner notes, a short documentary and rare b-sides. Their first album, 1984's From Her To Eternity, kicks off the campaign.
The Bad Seeds were born in the aftermath of Cave's first band, the fiercely post-punk Birthday Party. The fledgling Cave and Bad Seeds style, a demented reinvention of the blues, set the template for alternative rock blues later carried on by acts like the White Stripes and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but Cave's lyrics were starting to enter a world all of their own. It proved rich with metaphor and imagery, steeped in the intoxicating allure of the American Deep South that Cave was so drawn to.
The band eases in with a slow-boiling oddball cover of Leonard Cohen's "Avalanche," but when the herky-jerky "Cabin Fever" starts, you're entering Cave's world of visceral angst. When the bluesy harmonica eases in with "Well of Misery" it's like a blast of cool air. The throbbing heart of the album is "Saint Huck," Cave's Mark Twain meets Charles Bukowski nightmare ride through the myths of the American South, wrapping in Huck Finn, "The Odyssey" and Elvis. In its howling, clattering beat you get a vision of where Cave is trying to go – "This is the track of deception / Leads to the heart of despair," he growls.
Cave swaggers through these tunes like a Goth Iggy Pop. He frequently sounds like a man possessed, overwhelmed by his passions, gibbering and moaning away as the songs tend to careen about him. There's little humor in this dark album, unlike some of Cave's later work. While not as polished as Cave and the Seeds would eventually become, with their distinctive melodramatic mix of darkness and heartbreak, From Her To Eternity is still a valuable landmark in their evolution.
The DVD on the Collector's Edition includes a documentary looking at the demise of the Birthday Party and start of the Bad Seeds. It is packed with information, including a song-by-song analysis, but a bit heavy on the talking heads and lacking in Cave himself (annoyingly, though, the documentary fails to identity the speakers easily). There are also bonus tracks of "In The Ghetto" and "The Moon Is In The Gutter," and an alternative version of the song "From Her To Eternity."
Cave's cover of Elvis Presley's "In The Ghetto" is marvelous, brooding and punk rock in the best sense, but also reverent to the original. The included video is equally great, an impossibly young Cave in his tuxedo with Flock Of Seagulls hair, doing his best Elvis the Pelvis with an utterly straight face. With "In The Ghetto," you see Cave angling to become a kind of dark prince of crooners, a negative-image version of Elvis who sings of shadows and legends. While the young Cave might not have imagined it, he turned into just that man.