Nick Cave's Art Of Gold

Record Collector
May 1998

by Mark Paytress
Sent by Sue Fletcher

Ol' blue eyes is back with another unlikely record - a hits album. Mark Paytress provides a portrait of the serial thriller.

It's an odd concept: an anti-hero, who consistently stakes out new territory like a rabid dog in search of a lamp post, is now the subject of an easily-digestible Best Of. Invariably inadequate, in a way that, say a Dylan or a Fall compilation would be, The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds nevertheless arrives at an opportune moment.

On the release of last year's The Boatman's Call, Cave declared it was the culmination of all he'd been striving for. The broadsheets went ape for it, and Nick Cave - a middle class boy from Australia turned London-based Goth priest - had seemingly come of age. Once his contemporaries were Bauhaus, now he's more often regarded as a Burroughsian sage.

As someone who has withstood the ebb and flow of cultural fancy, without ever appearing to go our fashion, Cave's transition from manic Birthday Party frontman to measured pop elder has been remarkable. He recorded an album of classic covers (1986's Kicking Against The Pricks) without a whiff of cynicism. He started the '90s with a slew of great ballads long before the indie rock maintream discovered beauty in slow tempos.

He even managed to distil the Industrial Culture aesthetic into one irrepressible song, The Mercy Seat (on 1988's Tender Prey). True crime buffs weaned on intrigue, horror and morbid fascination, the casual fraility of life and the very smell of death, will not experience a more dizzying pageturner for the ears. Cave insists he cannot single out one song that encapsulates the Bad Seed's spirit, but just as All You Need Is Love once defined a micro-age, The Mercy Seat surely provides a benchmark to another. If you never hear another Cave original, make sure you seek this one out.

By opening the new collection with Deanna, an early example of the Bad Seeds' knife-sharpened rock 'n' roll, the faintly rarified aura that now surrounds the singer is neatly challenged. And anyone who has imagined Cave locked in some love-hate relationship with the ghost of Elvis Presley will welcome the black chords that open Tupelo, a menacing tribute to the birthplace of the man the called The King.

Also from the era when Nick Cave wrote songs as much for an audience as for himself comes the freakshow waltz of The Carny, while it's another song from that era, From Her To Eternity, which has been chosen to close the album in sabre-rattling style. But it's the degree of control that Cave has exercised over his work in recent years that provides The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with many of its finest moments. Subscribers to the theory that to appreciate true beauty you have to first embrace ugliness insist that Cave is closer to Byron than to Bono: witness the very English romanticism of The Ship Song, The Weeping Song, Stranger Than Kindness and the plaintive Into My Arms. Old Nick's collaborations with Kylie Minogue (Where the Wild Roses Grow) and Polly Harvey (Henry Lee) add a faintly surreal touch.

The Best Of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is likely to be the finest single artist compilation you'll hear all year. It'll almost certainly propel him further into the upper echelons of post-new wave icons. It might even lend weight to the suggestion that Nick Cave has swapped the stench of human existence for the sickly aroma of cheap perfume, that he's ditched ontological complexity for karmic simplicity, even switched his mood from hate to love. But don't bet on it. Nick Cave still might not be afraid to die, but there are more shades to his work than rock caricaturists give him credit for.



Death looms large because it should. It's the one thing that we as human beings... it's our right to die, it's the only thing we've really got. It's a unifying factor amongst us all, rich or poor, black or white, that we all die, and I think we spend a lot of our lives denying this aspect of life, doing everything we can not to face up to it. So much so that when a writer actually writes about death, it's unusual, or considered to be a bit gloomy or bleak. I don't believe it is. It's dwelling on something that's significant to us all.


Nowadays, I write in spite of taking drugs. It does nothing for my creativity. When I do take drugs, which is not that much these days, I take it to shut things down, it doesn't give me inspiration at all. When I don't take drugs I'm facing life at full throttle, and that's very inspiring.

The Best Of

I didn't have much to do with it, to be honest. I tried to select tracks that I thought were the best, but I really couldn't in the end... I didn't have a clue. I think Mick Harvey selected them and they were sent to me and they seemed to be alright. I just found it difficult to stand back and work out which were the better songs, so I handed that job over to other people.

The Past

I haven't played this Best Of record yet. I tend to think that, with the Bad Seeds and with my own writing, we're still getting to some place. It feels very much like that, that we have a lot to learn about making records, making music, about the creative process.

I see the records as little markers of our musical journey which seems very much in the dark, kind of groping around. Sometimes it would be good, sometimes we'd go up blind alleys. It is about moving towards something, and I think The Boatman's Call got close to it for us. The potential of our group was realised quite closely on The Boatman's Call. In a lot of ways, it's a good time to have a Best Of record. After The Boatman's Call there needs to be a drastic reassessment of what we do musically. I think the Bad Seeds will continue, but in a different way, and what that is I don't know as yet.

The Best

Well, the Best Of is the definitive Bad Seeds release! I think the purpose of the Best of record... our records are all over the place and they're all very different sorts of records. I mean, there is a unifying sound but they're all exploring different areas, trying to find some direction to go in and consequently finding it just through the process of making the records. But to someone who's come late to the Bad Seeds, I think it's a very useful record to have.

and finally...

Is there one song that encapsulates the spirit of the Bad Seeds?

No, I don't think there is. To take one song would deny all the rest of the places that we've been. I think that the Best Of record gives a glimpse of these different places. That's what's worthwhile about it.


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