Album Review: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Lovely Creatures

Call this collection what you will—a ‘best of,’ an ‘anthology,’ a ‘retrospective,’ or an ‘introduction to’—whatever you want to refer to this as (but not a singles collection though), it’s about time that Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds had something like this.

Pulling material from the first 30 years of the group, Lovely Creatures arrives in myriad formatting, including a 21 track two CD or three LP edition, as well as a sprawling 45 track edition, chronologically sequenced, spread across three CDs.

The three disc edition comes housed in a charming cloth book, accompanied by an essay on the band, collection of career spanning photographs, and liner notes, as well as a DVD that mixes videos, live footage, and interviews from 1984 until 2014.

If this all weren’t enough, there is an even fancier (and more expensive) edition that includes a 256 page booklet, comprised of additional photos and ephemera about the band and its history.

I like Nick Cave, but I guess I didn’t feel up to spending $70 for a booklet I probably won’t look at all that often, so I went with the midrange package—the “deluxe edition.”

Totaling probably close to four hours of material from the band’s career—from its volatile beginnings through its experiments in minimalism with Push The Sky Away, Lovely Creatures is an all encompassing look at the many facets to Nick Cave as a performer and a persona, as well as the ever changing line-up and constantly shifting and evolving sound of The Bad Seeds.

Organized into ten year increments, here’s the short answer on the three disc collection of Lovely Creatures—the first disc moves incredibly slowly; the third disc is incredibly uneven; the second disc is damn near flawless. This assessment has to do with the band’s sound at any given time, as well as what tracks are included in the mix.

Disc one finds Cave still rather confrontational, channeling the post-punk of his defunct first band, The Birthday Party. Many years ago, when I was in high school, a friend of mine described the band System of A Down as ‘satanic carnival music.’ And I suppose that here, at least in Cave’s earliest material, that is an accurate explanation. He barks over dissonant piano key strikes on the ominous and clattering “From Her to Eternity;” he conjures an unnerving tension on “Tupelo;” he is unrelenting on “The Mercy Seat” and begins to create his slithering lothario character on the novel “Deanna.” And maybe he plays into the whole ‘satanic carnival thing’ a little too much with a song aptly titled “The Carny.”

I say that disc one is the slowest moving simply because material from over 30 years ago hasn’t aged extraordinarily well. It’s production values are rough, and Cave seems more focused on striking a gothic tone than writing songs with hooks or melodies. And it’s only near the end, as the material moves from the 80s, into the early 90s, that you can hear Cave beginning to grow as a songwriter on classic slow motion balladry like on the closing piece, “Straight to You.”

Disc two moves into what could be considered ‘golden era’ Bad Seeds, pulling some of their best known tracks like the cryptic “Stagger Lee,” the surprising duet with Kylie Minogue, “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” and probably Cave’s best known track, “Red Right Hand.”

This is the disc where you also find Cave starting to mellow out slightly—kicking a long standing heroin habit helped with that, too. A large section is dedicated to material from one of the most accessible starting points to Cave’s career, as well as one of my personal favorite Bad Seeds records, The Boatman’s Call, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

I say this middle volume of Lovely Creatures is “damn near perfect” because as it works toward its conclusion, I feel like Cave did a slight disservice to No More Shall We Part, and the maligned Nocturama (an album that he himself refers to as a ‘flop’ in The Sick Bag Song.) One song from the actual Nocturama LP appears, alongside a b-side from that era (the emotional “Shoot Me Down”); and while the tender “Love Letter Love” makes an appearance, representing No More Shall We Part, the omission of “Hallelujah” seems like a punishable offense.

Disc three is the most uneven of the bunch, collecting material from the double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (six songs all together), seemingly too much from one of my least favorite latter day Cave, Dig Lazarus Dig, and then finishing quietly with songs from 2013’s Push The Sky Away.

The songs from the double album are wisely chosen—that set of songs, overall, is phenomenal anyway, capturing a very raw, organic, energized Bad Seeds—represented here in the rollicking and soulful “Hiding All The Way” and “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”; elsewhere, it’s the somber and humorous “Babe, You Turn Me On.”

The psycho-sexual angst of Dig Lazarus Dig was never something I bought into, and it seems to find Cave in a full-on lothario mode, which I blame on his Grinderman side project. So for me, these five tracks are skippable, and that brings us to the end.

Push The Sky Away is not a “quiet” album, per se, but it does find the band practicing more restraint in comparison to many other songs found across this collection, with both “Jubilee Street” and “We Know Who U R” being stand outs from the four that find their way tacked on to the end of the third disc. The very sparse titular track closes things out, which unfortunately, provides a bit of an anticlimactic conclusion—while organizing everything chronologically is great for an organizational aspect, perhaps there would be a better flow throughout if things had been sequenced based on tone and energy, as I believe the two disc edition of this was.

45 tracks is a pretty intimidating starting point for someone looking for a crash course in Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, but this is a very diverse and mostly inclusive retrospective. While there are specific albums that are easy access points for the entire canon, Lovely Creatures is far from comprehensive, but as the final disc concludes, one cannot deny that it’s a labor of love from start to finish, housed in a gorgeous package, and it does justice to both long time fans, fair weather listeners, and first timers.

Lovely Creatures is out now in myriad formats.