Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

(Mute/Anti-; 2008)

By Dom Sinacola | 24 April 2008

Nick Cave’s career is almost solely indebted to sexual tension; in other words, he’s not getting it enough (the baroque, unrequited ballads that judiciously share equal space with propulsive goth-rock on most Bad Seeds albums) or he’s getting too much and it’s killing him on the inside (the perversity by-way-of glam exploitation that charmed the “post-” in the Birthday Party’s post-punk) or he’s physically unable to get it (the limp Grinderman noodle). Mostly I’m partial to the blue balls variety: personal favorite No More Shall We Part (2001) billows with warmth, soothed by its own inexorable melodrama until it reaches past swollen or dying or aching flesh towards something positively exultant. It was as if Cave had finally scaled the brute, morbid trappings of his whole excoriating career and, taking up where The Boatman’s Call (1997) left off, pushed the Bad Seeds into a patient song cycle that—tied as usual to the same lyrics about religion and mythical outer space and death and, yes, doing it—seemed to actually calm, slow, and rest, resolving all that dirty, dirty sex as a kind of redemptive, hopeful love. Which is maybe why, since then, Cave and his band have never made anything so summarily great, instead receding, every year, until they’ve become, again, writhing vessels for dick residue. Here’s your pull quote, Metacritic: Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is a glorified cum bucket.

That’s half facetiousness and half plain, bitter exhaustion, because I’m basically getting really tired of the same eight-minute Homeric malaise Cave calls song structure, or the same growled, cabaret cadence, or the same boring horniness veiled in desperate, searching man-whines that evoke the moon like that will tidily (or tide-ily) excuse the same ole same ole. (I mean, c’mon: “Well then a black girl with no clothes on, she danced across the room / We charted the progress of the planets around that boogie-woogie moon / I called her my Nubian Princess, gave her some sweetback bad-ass jive / I spent the next seven years between her legs pining for my wife.” Imagine those words curling out from under that terrible mustache; it just feels more slimy than parodic or honest.) But we’re supposed to believe that this is a band maturing, exploring the untouched nuances of their canon, expanding and exacerbating the trickier tendencies of their sound as they round out regional alliances and reading lists while still extolling the low-brow clicks and snaps of their particular art. Nothing doing: Dig!!! is mostly a Bad Seeds album without piano.

Which also means that everything here is satisfactorily instep with everything the band’s accomplished before, which: at least Cave’s mechanically consistent and keeps his friends close. The title track is a retelling of every male trope run through Grinderman (2007), conflating that with Biblical portent as toms clap in bucktooth triplets and an organ mimics a busted transmission or vice versa; the closeted rush of each measure, though unchanged besides a rusty string solo plopped like sour milk on top, maintains its visceral wit all the way through. “Today’s Lesson,” like a lopsided coda to the track preceding, lays into the organ din suddenly so prevalent in everything Cave does and then the party crashes so “Moonland” can strut all wobbly and vampiric into your underage daughter’s boudoir. This pace continues, tense and then cathartic and then amped up again, painting by numbers the sermonizing tone so often lobbed at Cave in the first place.

What is, perhaps, most interesting with this album (and, in retrospect, with Grinderman) is also unsurprising, a latent intent almost lost behind chamber ballads in the past decade. Cave, who will never pull from the stringent ropes of slam poetry, though his was slam before slam, and that’s fine because he probably knows he’s one wordy summabitch, has possibly made the most hip hop album he ever will. Dig!!! isn’t partial to any real interesting melody (Cave shouts hooks, titularly repeated, instead of choruses) but is still obsessed with sound, tone, and tactile space; Warren Ellis messes childishly with all manner of loops, plug-ins, and sheer analog serendipity while Mick Harvey taps out percussive lines with a deft ear for white blanks. Cave’s fervent disassembling of urban and frighteningly modern life, equally sardonic and angry, aims to purge a culture of its woes, tripping through the exigencies of a noisy landscape, searching for some sort of rhythm to hold onto. Nowhere is this existential potshot at anything anthem-y more salient than in “We Call Upon the Author,” which, replete with self-referential breaks, pistons and swells like a meticulous backpacker’s beat, a jittery organ filling and swarming while steadying Cave’s increasingly hectoring wails. It’s electrifying, sure, but it’s also expected, and just because the band’s become more obvious in its method and in its intent doesn’t mean we haven’t already come to dissect those very tools and intentions years before. So, while Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is a pretty good album and as characteristically lip-smacking as Cave is capable, it’s only engaging in the details which, unfortunately, are hard to hear because Cave’s screaming something about vulvas over top.