Nick Cave: An Alternate History

Back in 1984, when he was the Aussie post-punk poster boy for heroin chic, no one would’ve expected Nick Cave to last another decade, let alone more than three. Nevertheless, Cave has not only survived but thrived, making remarkably productive use of his time both as frontman for The Bad Seeds and with his many other musical and literary endeavors. A new compilation has arrived, Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1984-2014), ahead of his band’s North American tour later this month. It’s a valuable primer on the singer’s history with the quasi-supergroup he initially formed in London in 1983 with members of Einstürzende Neubauten, Magazine, Foetus, and Cave’s original cadre of degenerates, The Birthday Party.

But even though the compilation is curated by Cave with help from his longtime foil Mick Harvey, it only tells one part of the saga. A fuller picture requires digging deeper into the music he made inside and around the edges of The Bad Seeds’ mighty oeuvre—this includes key Birthday Party tracks that anticipate his trajectory, as well as the many covers he’s recorded of such heroes as Lou Reed, Serge Gainsbourg, and Leonard Cohen, all of which bear Cave’s thumbprint just as dramatically as any of his originals do. He’s also been an eager collaborator and musical partner for a wide array of fellow mavericks, including the veteran UK cult group Current 93, Marianne Faithfull, and his ex-girlfriend Anita Lane, with whom he and a few of The Bad Seeds cut a majestic version of the Sister Sledge hit “Lost In Music.”

Another early song recorded with Lane, Mick Harvey, and Blixa Bargeld, “A Prison in the Desert” comes from the soundtrack of John Hillcoat’s 1988 drama Ghosts… of the Civil Dead and anticipated Cave’s latter-day career as a prolific film composer with his trusty partner Warren Ellis. And of course, there’s Grinderman, the ferocious Bad Seeds side project that helped rejuvenate the mother ship with its rude demonstrations of middle-aged lust and the savage wit that’s as fundamental to Cave’s artistry as any of his melancholy qualities. Some similarly indispensable studio and live tracks from The Bad Seeds that are sorely missed on Lovely Creatures complete our alternate history of this surprisingly hardy alt-rock icon.

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