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Nick Cave: Hear it for the caveman

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SERIOUS
BUSINESS: A
'muscular
musicianship'
is evident in
Dig!!! Lazarus
Dig!!! and
even the
shards of
feedback are
pitched
perfectly

SERIOUS BUSINESS: A 'muscular musicianship' is evident in Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and even the shards of feedback are pitched perfectly

SERIOUS BUSINESS: A 'muscular musicianship' is evident in Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and even the shards of feedback are pitched perfectly

Nick Cave has many attributes and talents. But perhaps the most important is his fearlessness. The reformed Antipodean reprobate punk junkie has never been afraid of looking like a prat.

Perhaps it's a lesson he learned from the greats. As a kid, growing greasy sideburns and aping the local gospel shouters, Elvis Presley was ridiculed. Bono took some stick for both his self-belief and his religious beliefs. And Thom Yorke is too complex a proposition to discuss here.

In Cave's case, this freedom has allowed him to graduate from beating his head on the floor with the utterly reckless Birthday Party to posturing as a demented jester in the court of armageddon.

He's a fine writer, of course, a gifted storyteller, and, it would seem, a workaholic. That kinda figures.

OBSESSIONS

Steve Earle isn't the only artist to replace one obsession with a work-related one.

Cave, who was 50 last September, has successfully negotiated the tricky currents of middle age that have done for many rock star careers.

These days he lives in Brighton with his wife and their young children. When he and his mates released Grinderman, a blues-rooted, chest-rug-beater of an album, he declared: “There's a fire in Grinderman that only old men will have.

Grinderman is an extremely joyful thing but there's also a kind of disgust at the heart of it that you only get from age.”

This combustible mixture of disgust and fun appears to have lingered in the collective's psyche.

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, while perhaps initially appearing to be an unholy pub rock session, is ultimately unmasked as unhinged, caustic and carnally evangelical.

The boogie here is of the same lascivious variety as when John Lee Hooker's folks advised, “Let that boy boogie-woogie!” You have to go back to The Boatman's Call to find Cave in obvious first person confessional mode.

These days his songs are the revelations of a parade of freaks, saddoes and downright nutters.

Entertaining? You bet.

“A haemorrhaging of words and ideas,” is how he describes these 11 new songs.

The core of the work is a volcanic energy that threatens to seep out of your headset and swamp your environment like a toxic spill. And, beyond this apparent abandon, a muscular musicianship is evident.

Playing with purpose, arrangements are embellished, ideas worked through and everything is in its right place.

This is no after-hours, boozed up, bang 'em out romp. Even the shards of feedback are pitched perfectly.

This all would be meaningless without the right material.

And, yet again, Cave has come up with a set of lyrics that afford him the luxury of inhabiting the lives of shadowy characters and teasing out their foibles, their fantasies and their f **k-off anger.

The title track updates the story of the dude who was raised from the dead by Jesus.

Relocated to modern America, “Larry” grows “increasingly neurotic and obscene” as he succumbs to celebrity and plentiful sex. Preposterous? I wouldn't be so sure.

Moonland opens with a character announcing: “When I came up from out of the meatlocker the city was gone.” A languid groove provides the canvas for an exemplary slice of sonic noir. “It must feel nice to know that somebody needs you.”

Curiously, it's the slow tunes that carry the biggest punch.

Jesus On The Moon, with a muted flute solo, is a short love story about a disturbed man walking away from a hotel where he's left someone “curled up like a child”.

Night Of The Lotus Eaters is a spikey hallucination.

And the album centrepiece, We Call Upon The Author, is a hilarious, high-octane rant against himself, God and second-rate writers. “I go guruing down the street,” he bleats, setting the scene.

The Pied Piper with the dyed mustache is is still on form.