Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Nocturama (Mute)
Well, yes and no. This album is not a return to the past, Nick has grown older and matured as an artist and songwriter, so the raw, often chaotic, sound of his older work has been reduced. However, this album sees a new intensity lacking in "No more...", a more subtle power that compares well to his greatest work. 'Wonderful life', which opens the album, is a truly powerful ballad, emotive, brilliantly sung, and underlying the seemingly celebratory lyrics is a dark seam that evokes Leonard Cohen.
A major criticism of the album is that there are too many slow songs, 'Wonderful life' is followed by 'He wants you' and 'Right out of your hand', both strong ballads with really nice piano backing and great vocals, but it's a bit much one after another, and 'Right out of your hand' might easily be mistaken for the Tindersticks, something that should never happen with an artist as unique as Nick Cave. Thankfully, then, the funky vibe of 'Bring it on' kicks in, with shades of Tom Waits, and Warren Ellis throwing in a folky violin sound. It's a big, brash track, load and lively and proves that Nick Cave and co. can still rock with the best of them and it really explodes at the end.
'Dead man in my bed' takes it up a serious notch, this is a flashback to the earliest Bad Seeds work, rowdy, chaotic, with the sound of Nick beating a Hammond organ to death, and some beautifully noisy sounds emerging from the guitars of Bargeld and Harvey. This is the song that shows what quite a few years working together has done for the band. In the past, a song like this would probably have ended up in a mess on the floor, perfectly enjoyably so, but here they hold it together, the chaos never getting out of control and it's all the better for it.
'Still in love' takes us back to the slower sound, but it's a nicely downbeat track, moody and emotional, with a brilliant vocal from Nick and succeeds wonderfully in not being schmaltzy. 'There is a town' is another slow song, and, despite the chunky guitars and strong percussion, it doesn't succeed as well as the preceding, while 'Rock of Gibraltar' suffers even more in comparison, it's too bright and sounds almost like something Scott Walker would have sung in the '60s. That's not normally a bad thing, but it doesn't really suit Nick Cave. Just to compound it, 'She passed by my window' is another slow track; four in a row is simply too many.
Just as it gets too much, though, 'Babe, I'm on fire' literally bursts out of the speakers. More Hammond, more guitars, more chaos, it's even better than 'Dead man...'. As an album closer it almost, but unfortunately doesn't quite, make you forget the previous excess of slow songs. "Nocturama" is, without doubt, a much better album than "No more...", but it's not perfect. There's still too many downbeat tracks, which is a major pity as the three rockier tracks prove just how brilliant the Bad Seeds are at doing them, while the ballads would have more power if they weren't lumped together in groups like they are here. But, for its flaws, it's still a better album than most released so far this year and well worth checking out. Let's just hope that the departure of arch-noisenik Blixa Bargeld from the band will not put an end to the rockier side of the band.