The passing of time has done nothing to dampen Nick Cave’s spirit or soften his tongue. In the preceding decade spent mostly strapped to the piano like a bible-addicted lothario, it gave the impression that this is where the story ends: in ebony and ivory theology.
Those Leonard Cohen years that gave birth to The Boatman’s Call, No More Shall We Part, and Noctorama, were sombre introspective efforts praised on release (The Boatman’s Call in particular) but ones that displayed a substantial drift away from young man’s rock and roll. Well-deserving of his iconic status, Cave is always guaranteed an audience to his proclamations, but in his 30 years in the public eye, never did it seem so in respect of the past, than that of the present. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! being an allusion to the familiar biblical tale, finds Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds, larger than life, revelling in a new creative kick, and exhuming the body of rock and roll for another deviant dissection.
2005’s twin masterpiece Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus and last year’s Grinderman project could together be considered a reawakening, both of vision, humour and virility. “No Pussy Blues” and it’s accompanying promo video of copulating youth, not to mention the album cover of the masturbating monkey and Cave’s own seventies styled moustache gave an indication that the rules were being rewritten and all preconceptions were now null and void. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! could be the first album attributed to the Bad Seeds as a whole, rather than the vehicle for Cave to present his intentions. Where past albums have grown from Nick Cave piano demos where the Bad Seeds worked out their arrangements, this album sounds like more the product of a band working together in the studio, bashing out the songs as one and creating a sonic palette for Cave to proselytize over. Even the method of approach the songs has changed, Cave putting the Steinway away (pictured on the inside sleeve mid-strum on a Fender telecaster) favouring a more dirty Doors-y organ. Likewise, resident Dirty Three member Warren Ellis, drops the violin for the four-stringed Fender Mandocaster, offering the clunking loop that forms the basis of the spooky “Night of the Lotus Eaters”.
The after-effects of the experiment as Grindermen is more then evident on the title track, a rampant slice of psychedelic garage rock, haemorrhaging organ bursts and staccato guitar riffs, finding Lazarus raised from the dead in America, staggering from city to city, bemoaning the fact he never asked to be resurrected. The dark and disturbing “Today’s Lesson”, finds an old Boatman’s Call consort tormented in her dreams by a Mr. Sandman “who opens her up like a love letter,” though I don’t know which is more disturbing, the sordid acts or the knee-slapping “we’re gonna have a real good time” finale. Over a chugging “Sister Ray” riff “We Call Upon the Author” pokes an accusatory finger at God, Cave calling upon him to explain “mass poverty/third world debt/infectious disease/global inequality and deepening socio-economic divisions” while in the next breath casting his own judgement at the literary world, trashing Charles Bukowski (“was a jerk!”) and praising Pulitzer-prize winning poet John Berryman, making light of his suicide “wrote like paper maché/he went the Heming-way.”
Cave revisits his fascination with the moon in the beautiful ballad “Jesus of the Moon” and in the lonely desolation of “Moonland”. Any pretence of romance is thrown chair-first out the window with Cave’s you-better-listen-to-me baritone on “Lie Down Here (And Be My Girl)” wooing his wary woman with the line “one day I’ll buy a factory/I’ll assemble you on a production line/I’ll build a million of you, baby/And every single one of them will be mine,” while only a track before in “Hold Onto Yourself”, he advocates his woman to indulge in a little self-loving until he returns. The bluesy meditations of final track “More News From Nowhere” sees Cave stuck in a house on memory lane, wandering room to room (“it gets stranger here, it gets stranger every year”), revisiting the women from his past, the celebrated Deanna from Tender Prey and the infamous Miss Polly of The Boatman’s Call, mixing up Greek mythology and the story of Odysseus with his own mythology, while the Bad Seeds gather round to lend their voice.
With Cave’s name now being attached to film scripts, soundtracks and his own widening musical projects, it seems the one thing keeping his muse alive is to not stop moving. Of all these, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! seems the path of least resistance, Cave rounding up his Bad Seeds to put together a beat-up, beats-inspired rock record that belays his aging station. It’s got Cave ranting like a man possessed, one an eye to the sky through a telescope, running with the ghosts of his own past while the whole world goes to hell. It’s a record brimming with ideas and bursting with bravado. Probably the most astonishingly inventive, brutally funny, and downright dirty album you’ll hear all year.