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After years of being better in theory than in execution, Nick Cave executes.

Nick Cave – Nocturama

Be honest, Nick Cave is much better in theory than in reality: a deep voiced ex-punk (The Birthday Party) gothic-cabaret singer/songwriter preoccupied with ennui, entropy, violence, betrayal, death, decay and minor chords, and blessed with a great band (The Bad Seeds including stalwarts Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld).

Unfortunately, his prolific, steady output tends to run together after an early burst of melodic freedom upon release from the frenetic horror that was the Birthday Party. The last album I really liked was The Good Son from 1990, which also sported his last moment of real brilliance, “The Weeping Song,” wherein his preoccupation with human archetypes hit mythic depth.

But all of that is past tense now: Cave’s forthcoming Nocturama produced by Nick Launay, finally fulfills his promise, and is the best album of its brooding, touching, post-ironic sort since Tindersticks’ classic first album.

Cave’s voice has aged into his bravado-of-the-weary performing persona, and he has a new ease with himself that if it doesn’t reflect internal peace, at least reflects a peace with not finding peace. Most importantly, this time out he has the songs, not just overextended lugubrious vamps.

Any previous familiarity with Cave naturally would lead to the presumption that the CD’s opener, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” would in fact be a venomous antiperistalsis of bile and sarcasm ridiculing the very notion that life could be wonderful – instead it is a lovely, measured meditation that acccepts the reality of a “wonderful life,” but is all the sadder because of the difficulty of finding it:

    Sometimes our secrets are all we’ve got
    With our lives we must defend
    Sometimes the air between us, babe
    Is unbearably thin
    Sometimes it’s wise to lay down your gloves
    And just give in
    Come in, come in
    Come in, come in
    To this wonderful life

Exhaustion as ecstasy: well, it’s a start.

“He Wants You” is almost country-like in its simplicity, beautiful piano line, and unalloyed sincerity – it’s a very weird thing coming out of Nick Cave and you keep waiting for the twist, but it never comes:

    Beneath the hanging cliffs and under the many stars where
    He will move, all amongst your tangled hair
    And deep into the sea
    And you will wake and walk and draw the blind
    And feel some presence there behind
    And turn to see what that may be
    Oh, babe, it’s me

This is a dream of chivalric, idealized love worthy of Van Morrison, not the Cave we have come to know as scabrous debunker of all the kinder emotions – it’s breathtaking when the twist is no twist at all.

Appositely continuing the surprising tale, “Right Out of Your Hand” looks exactly at the twist of no twist, casting himself as an “old lion” defanged at last in a pasture of sweet resignation:

    The airborne starlings circle
    Over the frozen fields
    The hollyhocks hang harmlessly
    And the old lion yields

    And you’ve got me eating
    You’ve got me eating
    You’ve got me eating
    Right out of your hand

“Bring it On” acknowledges that after all deflections have been exhausted and despair has been mined clean, only emotional honesty remains: even if it begins as novelty, it begins nonetheless.

“Dead Man In My Bed” shakes off the beautiful lethargy of the first four songs and rocks with a steaming, dizzying authority Cave hasn’t expressed since the Birthday Party – he is arisen indeed. Cave tells us straight out to take the lyric literally:

    I ain’t been feeling that good too much no more, she said, I swear
    She pointed at the bedroom door and said I ain’t going in there
    She leaped out of her seat and screamed someone’s not concentrating here
    There is a dead man in my bed, she said
    I ain’t speaking metaphorically
    His eyes are open but he cannot see
    There’s a dead man in my bed

Besides rocking the cobwebs off an entire Halloween town, the Cave of “Dead Man” is funny, frightening, and stunningly alive (in contrast to the dead man in the bed).

The next few songs drop a notch from the brilliance of the opening five but are not without interest. Returning to rare form is “She Passed By My Window,” where we are reminded that love is a rare and precious thing, far more often lopsided, sabotaged or simply insufficient, than a 1+1=1 magical union:

    For apple, plum and brand new pear
    Soon wither on the ground
    She slapped the snow from off her glove
    And moved on without a sound

.

Cave and friends end with a raving 15-minute gutting of the tradition of “fire”-themed songs, flaming every incendiary cliche along the way in no less than 43 verses, all of which end with “Babe, I’m on fire”:

    The horse says it, the pig says it
    The judge in his wig says it
    The fox and the rabbit
    And the nun in her habit says
    Babe, I’m on fire
    Babe, I’m on fire

    My mate Bill Gates says it
    The President of the United States says it
    The slacker and the worker
    The girl in her burqa says
    Babe, I’m on fire
    Babe, I’m on fire

Yet even this sendup is done with a straight face that never betrays the song, even after 15 minutes – this is a new Nick Cave, one we have been long, long waiting for.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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