RECORDINGS Quick Spins

RECORDINGS Quick Spins

Nick Cave matches dark themes to his rumbling growl on his new CD.
Nick Cave matches dark themes to his rumbling growl on his new CD. (By Polly Borland)
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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!!

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

If Nick Cave were a baseball player, he wouldn't be able to escape steroid allegations. How else would you explain a late-career surge that finds the 50-year-old Australian provocateur making the most vital music of his career?

"Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!," officially Cave's 14th album with longtime backing band the Bad Seeds, is nothing short of a powerhouse. Its 11 songs provide a stunning showcase of lyrical and musical might and precision that any band of young whippersnappers could only hope to approach.

This is high-class rock-and-roll made by musicians who relish getting dirty. The album feels like an extension of Grinderman, last year's side project in which Cave and fellow Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos indulged their lascivious garage rock urges. "Lazarus" is less raw, but lurching organ and scratchy guitar are still the norm, while startling blasts of distortion cut through many songs. Even the tender ballads are downright spooky, thanks to Ellis's work on viola, electric mandolin and flute.

But, as always, the focus is on Cave's lyrics. Like a modern-day Marquis de Sade, Cave explores the dark corners of all things spiritual and sexual with elegance and biting wit, his rumbling growl never sounding better.

The title track re-imagines Lazarus (now Larry) as a hapless, 21st-century resurrectee who suffers through homelessness, imprisonment and insanity before finally returning to the grave. "Ah, poor Larry," Cave offers in one of his few understated moments.

Album closer "More News From Nowhere" is one of Cave's best lyrical showcases to date, a hazy, rambling tale whose protagonist meets many offbeat characters. "Here comes Alina with two black eyes, she's given herself a transfusion/She's filled herself with panda blood to avoid all the confusion," he sings. It's one of those lines that would be cringe-worthy coming out of the mouth of a lesser artist, but Cave pulls it off with his usual aplomb.

-- David Malitz


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