Rather excitingly this month sees the Goth rock behemoth and dark prince of the piano that is Nick Cave release his sixteenth studio album ‘Skeleton Tree’ with long time band The Bad Seeds. Cave has enjoyed a long and prolific career in music being initially exported from his homeland of Australia as the front man of The Boys Next Door who very soon became post punk cult outfit The Birthday Party. Despite being only the sixteenth release with his current group, ‘Skeleton tree’ is released as his thirty first record if you were to include former bands, side projects and film scores! You get the impression that Nick Cave is a man born to do exactly what it is that he does and nothing else.
Rather tragically however, and in the difficult position of the public eye, Cave and wife Susie Bick had suffered the tragic loss of their son in July of last year. Arguably this event and unimaginable loss may well make ‘Skeleton Tree’ the most significant, tender and necessary pieces of work for Cave. In anticipation of this we have consolidated a list which celebrates and revels in Nick Cave’s long and vibrant career.
With such an extensive career, impressive output and often dizzyingly high quality of song it becomes very difficult to carve out any kind of definitive list for Nick Cave’s discography.
Here you can find a list of Cave’s work in chronological order from The Birthday Party through The Bad Seeds and into Grinderman.
Here we go…
‘Prayers on Fire’ – The Birthday Party (1981) 6/10
If you were ever in doubt of Nick Cave’s punk rock credentials I’d recommend visiting this debut album to see exactly where he earned them. Around 1981 The Birthday Party had begun to gain themselves a certain level of infamy for their perceived violence and wretchedness, having a punter storm the stage to piss on bass player Tracy Pew in one instance! If not for any other track on the album, ‘Nick The Stripper’ being a twisted self portrait drawn up by Cave to explore his lead singer status, is a good enough track to carry the whole thing! In this song you can almost hear the seeds being planted for Nick’s future, bad ones at that.
‘Junkyard’ – The Birthday Party (1982) 8/10
What is there to be said of this anarchic kick to the head? Well, it’s not the kind of record you’d spin at a party that’s for sure, unless you attended the kind of parties that look as though they’re staffed predominantly by Vyvyan and Nick from the young ones. That being said ‘Junkyard’ is an utterly enjoyable and important album both in music history and in Nick Cave’s personal history, allowing him the explosive ‘Blast Off’ point by which to have launched into his well familiar rock star persona. If he was able to survive The Birthday Party’s live gigs and continue as he was, you could be sure there wasn’t much that could stop him.
‘From Her to Eternity’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1984) 7/10
The Bad Seeds debut album opens with a wailing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ for which Cave and co have been long since heralded. Having shifted his focus to become more lyrically oriented and with former Einsturzende Neubauten guitarist Blixa Bargeld on board Nick Cave’s rag tag group went from Nick Cave – Man or Myth? To Nick Cave and The Cavemen before eventually settling into Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Chris Long of BBC Music said of the seminal album “imperfect, visceral, exciting and, ultimately, classic” how right he was.
‘The Firstborn is Dead’ – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1985) 6.5/10
With its title being influenced by Jesse Garon Presley, the stillborn identical twin of Elvis Presley you can already get a feel for what this album is all about. Being concentrated on artists of the American south such as Elvis Presley and Blind Lemon Jefferson Cave set a precedent for latter songs such as Stagger Lee and presumably the soundtrack to ‘The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford’, although if you care to listen to Nick’s interview with Marc Maron on his well loved podcast WTF he quite clearly explains “I am not a f***ing cowboy” In Marc’s defence it’s an easy mistake to make of a man capable of wielding such a fierce handlebar moustache. In any case tracks such as ‘Tupelo’ and ‘Knockin’ on Joe’ make this a striking second album.
‘Kicking Against the Pricks’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1986) 7/10
This early release from the Bad Seeds is perhaps the best collection of covers you’re likely to find. Compiling alternative versions of The Velvet Underground, Johnny Cash and ‘Hey Joe’ made famous by Jimi Hendrix. Before this point Cave was far more likely to be pigeonholed as a former punk rocker exploring his inner Leonard Cohen, the versatility being so nakedly displayed here however clearly showed the misanthropic Aussie’s work as a regular tour de force which was not to be underestimated.
‘Your Funeral My Trial’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1986) 8.5/10
Impressively this album was recorded merely three months apart from ‘Kicking Against the Pricks’! Set to tape in the same studio in which David Bowie recorded ‘Heroes’ although Cave himself has always been more of an anti-hero. With a title as melancholy as this you’d expect a singular work of dark, Waits worthy tracks and whilst ‘The Carny’ certainly lives up to this expectation, the whole entity is more versatile boasting upbeat bluesy rock on ‘Hard On for Love’, the jangling tumult of ‘Jack’s Shadow’ and the exemplary off beat love song ‘Stranger than Kindness’.
There is a lot to be said of ‘Stranger than Kindness’, leaning on the tropes of gothic rock this track easily ranks up there with Cave’s best loved love songs despite being far less frequently accredited. Moreover the entire being of this thing feels so well fleshed out considering its quick inception and recording, testament to the work ethic capable of producing such a vast discography.
‘Tender Prey’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1988) 8/10
Cave’s last album before getting clean, Tender Prey remains a dark and intense exploration of a period of his life that was self admittedly ‘spiralling out of control in a lot of areas’. Despite this difficult period Cave was able to shape an album which remains in high regard and contains The Bad Seeds standard ‘The Mercy Seat’, none too shabby. The records two singles score highly in a ranking of Nick Cave’s greatest songs to date with ‘Deanna’ appearing as a twisted sort of pop song given it’s catchy chorus and a keyboard reminiscent of The Doors ‘Waiting For The Sun’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’ having been played at almost every live gig post 1988 and being covered by Johnny Cash in 2000.
‘The Good Son’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1990) 8/10
At the end of the decade which saw Cave rise to notoriety ‘The Good Son’ provided a promise of consistent quality that has yet to be broken. Fourth track ‘The Weeping song’ acts as a reminder of Nick and Blixa Bargeld’s combined vocal potency and stunning competence with narrative lyricism. Furthermore ‘The Ship Song’ bleeds sensitivity and remains undoubtedly one of the bands most recognisable and well loved tracks. In this period of Nick Cave’s life he had fallen in love with soon to be first wife and Brazilian journalist Viviane Carneiro as well as having spent a spell in rehab which explains the change in mood from 1988’s Tender Prey.
‘Henry’s Dream ‘– Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1992) 8/10
First track ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’ is engulfed in jaunty drunken sailor revelry and leads very strongly into the rest of the album. On this album Cave took the group to Buenos Aires to record with Neil Young’s producer David Briggs moving further and further away from their punk rock roots and into solid rock star territory this could have spelled trouble for the cooler than life ensemble, but, it didn’t.
As if anybody was ever in any doubt that The Bad Seeds would be able to extract all of the authenticity and charm from this neck of the woods and feed it into the ever growing creature that exists within this band.
The tone of many songs here coupled with the album artwork evoke visions of desert highways at dusk whilst softer piano laden songs such as album single ‘Straight to You’ carry you through to the early dawn.
‘Let Love In’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1994) 10/10
The eighth studio album from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is a perfectly encapsulated slog of rock and roll decadence. Being ten songs long this is a record to be enjoyed start to finish from the fragile yet ferocious crooning of ‘Do You Love Me?’ to the alternative more vulnerable ‘Do You Love Me?, Pt.2’. Tracks such as ‘Thirsty Dog’ and ‘Jangling Jack’ have a killer instinct which is now more or less expected of Cave whilst ‘Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore’ and ‘Lay Me Low’ allow periods of sombre reflection. Amongst the outstanding collection of songs here lies perhaps Cave’s most currently celebrated track ‘Red Right Hand’ which has captured a new audience subsequent to its use in the popular TV series Peaky Blinders where it’s smoky, dive-bar charm has been used to good effect.
‘Murder Ballads’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1996) 9/10
This death centric record saw Nick Cave collaborate with fellow Australian musician Kylie Minogue on the well renowned ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’. The hit single received two ARIA Awards and bought Cave wider notoriety in the world of popular music.
The album was well seasoned with other guest appearances both vocally and instrumentally by Anita Lane, Mariella Del Conte, The Pogues Shane McGowan and of course Polly Jean Harvey. Cave’s infamous love affair with Harvey as a result of collaborating on ‘Henry Lee’ is the stuff of rock and roll legend and adds yet more intrigue to this record of already fantastic form. Another well remembered track, although not a single, is the sordid tale of ‘Stagger Lee’ which Cave has consistently used in set lists to remind us all of his bad mother f***er credentials.
Each track on the album concerns itself with murder, often the result of love and lust, except for the final song a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Death Is Not the End’ which appears as a sort of Monty Python sign off featuring the cast of guest vocalists who have appeared throughout the album.
‘The Boatman’s Call’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1997) 10/10
‘The Boatman’s Call’ may be familiar to a younger audience of music fans due to the appearance of ‘People Just Ain’t No Good’ on the ‘Shrek 2’ soundtrack where it appeared alongside Tom Waits’ ‘Little Drop of Poison’. Despite this however it remains one of his most critically acclaimed works being entirely piano based and showing a softer side to the musician than perhaps his more post punk works.
Much of the The Bad Seeds work has showed Cave’s versatility, this is especially apparent here as he moved into an intimate, minimalist space. The record can be described as both touching and beautiful, two descriptions which would have seemed a million miles away for critics of The Birthday Party. ‘The Boatman’s Call’ features funeral favourite ‘Into My Arms’, a song that is so emotionally laid bare and personal yet allows the listener to attach memories of their own love and loss, which is the mark of a truly great song.
It is very telling of this albums masterful composition and widely felt affection that tracks such as ‘Into My Arms’ alongside ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ and ‘There Is a Kingdom’ mean so much to people and are kept so close to their hearts. ‘The Boatman’s Call’ is undeniably a precious stone in the treasure trove of Nick Cave’s long career and will remain not only one of his greatest albums but one of the greatest albums of all time, for all time.
‘No More Shall We Part’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2001) 8/10
Four years on from ‘The Boatman’s Call’ and arguably Nick Cave’s strongest period through the 90’s this record continues on with tenderness. One thing to note here would be the albums distance from living characters and cathartics in relation to its predecessor, the song writing moves back into a more usual place which is not to say the band have not grown. Consistently Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds remain impressive for their ability to move out of their comfort zone and take with them everything that has worked and feed that back into the band’s sound. Third track ‘Hallelujah’ opens with a violin that touches your soul as it sounds so deeply, ‘Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow’ is another classic of The Bad Seeds repertoire and for good reason, this lounge-y piano number has a bite. Along with these gold plated tracks the touching ‘God Is in The House’ appears here and continues Cave’s tradition of conjuring a watching figure and deity into existence if only for the duration of the song. To call this album more usual is only by the standards of such a phenomenal band and artist, were this a debut album you can rest assured the critics would rave.
‘Nocturama’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2003) 6.5/10
Nick’s softer side has been more or less apparent since ‘The Boatman’s Call’ which seems to be a big marking point from the late 90’s onwards but who would have expected the soft edged longing of ‘He Wants You’? Not to be mistaken, this track still shows an uncanny knack for song writing however it does so in the Bob Dylan vein, the old-man Bob Dylan vein.
Again, this is not an entirely negative criticism it just seems that Nick has mellowed somewhat in his old age; ‘Right Out of Your Hand’ is unusually submissive for the man that gave us ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘Still in Love’ is atmospheric but missing its teeth.
However if you were lamenting the loss of Cave’s more incendiary past songs hold on for ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’ which almost has you thinking he’s purposefully subdued himself so far just to give this final kick. And make no mistake; this track does kick with its locomotive bass line and erratic drums for almost a quarter of an hour, descending further into well planned chaos.
‘Abbatoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2004) 9/10
Opening track ‘Get Ready for Love’ picks up exactly where ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’ left off as it wastes no time getting straight to the heart of the thing. The “thing” in question is the best album from the group for seven years, ten for those waiting for a worthy successor to ‘Let Love In’. Here we are faced with the same suave and uncompromising furore that was at one point a given with Cave and his ensemble of Bad Seeds. Tracks such as ‘Hiding All Away’ stagger along with a sultry dark blues tone that makes your skin tingle and realize this is exactly what’s been missing. Although ‘Abattoir Blues’ comes storming back with all of the traits of a younger Cave it also remains an album of progression.
The ‘Lyre of Orpheus’ is the slower of the two parts but is never in danger of feeling tired or lifeless. The excellent bass work continues into the first track of the second part of this double album the titular ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’. It was obvious upon its release and even more so now that this spelled a certain revival in Cave’s menacing manner despite the departure of Blixa Bargeld, though perhaps this was exactly what spurred him on.
‘Grinderman’ – Grinderman (2007) 7/10
This side project basically used the existing members of The Bad Seeds in a more concentrated fashion to create a fantastic departure from the Blixa – less, story centric majesty of 2004’s ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’ whilst simultaneously building on the other side to the same records coin ‘Abattoir Blues’ which was certainly a step closer to Grinderman. Cave’s movement back toward a more industrial post – punk sort of rock and roll allowed the band to move into similar territory on 2008’s ‘Dig Lazarus Dig’. Cave makes these movements as if he is playing a game of chess, moving so gracefully between records, Grinderman is an excellent demonstration of that.
‘Dig Lazarus Dig’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2008) 8/10
It’s abundantly clear that Cave had settled back into a comfortable rhythm on this record following on from 2004’s ‘Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus’ and his blossoming creative relationship with Warren Ellis.
The pure joy of movement to this album is a pleasure to experience and first track ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!’ which carries the albums namesake, is as close as you’re likely to get dance friendly Bad Seeds. In fact, if you were searching for one album in particular from the entire repertoire that would best suit a party and accommodate dancing this may well be it as ‘Today’s Lesson’ boasts spectacular rhythm and ‘We Call Upon the Author’ is irresistibly toe tapping, giving way to an ignorable motion.
This album does however avoid the clichés that follow so closely behind a collection of catchy songs in very much the same way contemporary rock and roller Josh Homme’s outfit Queens of the Stone Age have always managed to. Another thing that stands out here is the staggering wordiness with one of the greatest lines being “I feel like a vacuum cleaner, a complete sucker, its f***ed up and he is a f***er” and the other, from the same track “Bukowski was a jerk! Berryman was best! He wrote like wet paper mache but he went the Hemmingway weirdly on wings and with maximum pain”, outstanding.
‘Grinderman 2’ – Grinderman (2010) 8.5/10
Immediately a striking and visceral album which carries on from Nick Cave’s work with The Bad Seeds ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!’ but allows enough space for the artist to breathe as he once again ignites side project Grinderman. For any of the projects initial shortcomings, the sequel has apparently fixed the leaks. Nick Cave has always been a rock icon, albeit an off key one; however Grinderman allows the sultry piano player to become the un- wavering axe man, a position which Cave takes to unsurprisingly well. Leaving the monkey motif of their first album behind Cave and co opt for the more ferocious wolf adorning the cover of ‘Grinderman 2’ which is continuously carried off in this prowling, sexually motivated record. All in all this is not a million miles away from his work with The Bad Seeds however it is just varied enough and certainly still exciting.
‘Push the Sky Away’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2013) 8/10
The Bad Seeds most recent release ahead of ‘Skeleton Tree’ this album was mature, authentic and well considered. ‘Push the Sky Away’ is a record produced by a band with knowingly nothing left to prove. Given the weight of past albums and sheer diversity this is completely understandable, it is not however an album that has stopped trying.
Moving back towards the piano concentrated ballads of ‘The Boatman’s Call’ and ‘No More Shall We Part’ this record is certainly more subdued than those immediately before it however it doesn’t feel entirely the same. Although this album gives us the same piano man persona we have seen before it feels more knowing, more weightless and eerie. ‘Water’s Edge’ gives us a sort of post Grinderman blues, could this be the culmination of Cave’s many influences and various directions?
Cave’s career is a lesson in longevity and songs such as ‘Jubilee Street’ prove he is still capable of producing classics to add to the overfilled Bad Seeds songbook. Altogether this is a beautiful, masterful album which leaves you wondering just where this artist and indeed this band can venture to next.
This Nick Cave article was written by Jacob Atkins, a GIGsoup contributor