Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! [Mute/Anti - 2008]Nick Cave has presented many different faces throughout his storied career. I must admit that it has taken a long time for his solo material to make a dent in my psyche. Upon the dissolution of the legendary Birthday Party, his Leonard Cohen-esque lounge singer routine felt a bit too mannered and reserved, and though each of his albums boasts at least a few great tunes, Cave to me sounded a touch self-conscious. There are certainly many who will disagree with me, indeed the many who consider Let Love In his best work, and I won't begrudge them their opinion. For me, though, the real turning point for the Bad Seeds came with the release of the sprawling double-disc Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus. It may be argued that Cave's music has become more traditional since Blixa Bargeld left the band, and that may be partly true. But it also seems that Cave is freer and more confident than he's ever been, and as this latest album proves, not apprehensive in the least about experimenting a bit.
The last Bad Seeds detour, Grinderman, was a fun, if disposable foray into Stooges-style rock posturing, and simultaneously, satire of the testosterone fueled rock gods of the past. Though there were a few more "serious" sidesteps, their self-titled album had the sound of a few guys who were on the same page, one that involved cutting loose with little care for elitist opinions. The fact that Grinderman is an alter-ego for the core Bad Seeds lineup would lead one to believe that they're one entity, with the names changed to protect the innocent, but that's not really the case. The Bad Seeds music involves greater detail and care in the level of storytelling, and seductive avant flourishes which augment rather than intrude upon the simple, clear melodies. Structurally, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! relies on a streamlined framework of gliding tunes, many of which seem to consist entirely of verses, and, in any event aren't beholden to typical verse, chorus, bridge treatment.
Sure, the title track could be a radio hit, because it's an almost danceable, upbeat affair. The music might even please a fan of the first couple of Beck albums. The idea and concept of taking Lazarus back from the grave, reinvigorated as a modern day celebrity surrounded by cameras, women, and engulfed by his own ego is clever, timely and comic. The sense of humor that permeates this phase of the Bad Seeds is welcome indeed, and because Cave has steeped these tunes with intelligence and sly sardonic wit, the music has enough substance to avoid consideration as a disposable novelty. The addition of humor isn't the only nut cracked here; the more "serious" tunes are informed with intensity, and charged with a sense of purpose. Above all of this, Cave's voice is in top form, and his delivery is direct and incisive. What more do you need to know? I say all of this, not as an unconditional life-long fan, but as a fairly recent convert. If you haven't caught up with this band in a while, it is now an opportune time to hop the freight.Erwin Michelfelder