Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Lions That They Led You To, Lie Down And Take A Nap

Nick Cave – No More Shall We Part

I've learned a lesson about Nick Cave albums over the last few years. With the exception of Murder Ballads (which is a bit of an oddity in his catalogue in many ways) they've all taken a while to grow on me, and I've said many dumb things about them on this very website. “Too boring!” said the young and foolish Jon of last August about The Boatman's Call. “Kind of weird...” said ignorant and stupid Jon of May 2005 about The Good Son. “Not as good as Slipknot,” said Jon of November 2004 about Abattoir Blues. What an idiot! So I kept an open mind about No More Shall We Part, and despite not finding it all that appealing on first listen, sure enough it's turned out to be very rewarding.

At any rate the first track, 'As I Sat Sadly By Her Side', is an immediate attention grabber. With a simple piano and string arrangement, sad but laden with menace, Cave presents a bit of a philosophical dialogue. He and his wife look out the window at the world, and while his wife sees the beauty of God's creation, Cave sees only misery and hopelessness. Both points of view are myopic, but as well as contrasting them the song sets up the story of the album, Nick's wife dumping him for being a miserable bastard.

The second, titular, track is a grim, slow, gloomy piece, not at all appealing to listen to until about two thirds of the way through when the strings and drums join in with the piano and the music shifts from an unpleasant, dissonant D minor scale to the relative major, rewarding your patience with a very beautiful contrast.

The next track, 'Hallelujah', is a long tale of Cave going for a walk, an activity we'll see again a few times time before the end of the album. The track perhaps goes on for a little too long, but it's redeemed by a weird but catchy string riff and some good lyrics, ranging from the silly “And I took the small roads out of town/ And I passed a cow and the cow was brown” to the just plain awesome “The tears are welling in my eyes again/ I need twenty big buckets to catch them in/ Twenty pretty girls to carry them down/ Twenty deep holes to bury them in”.

The next set of three songs take a break from the albums signature sound of slow downbeat piano, and also a break from the overall narrative. 'Love Letter' is a slow piano song, but a sadly hopeful one rather than a depressingly hopeless one and is one of the best tracks. 'Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow' is again a piano song, but a fast aggressive one. And the very memorable 'God is in the House' is a total departure from the serious mood of the rest of the album, as Cave lightens up a little to take the piss out of everyone's favourite oppressed majority: hypocritical, puritan Christians.

Following these little interludes is 'Oh My Lord' , a track that is very similar to 'Hallelujah' in that it's about seven minutes long and is about Cave going for a walk. This track definitely overstays it's welcome, as Cave frets about everything from his marriage to his drug addiction to accusations of going soft from his former fans. Even an unexpected distorted rock out outro doesn't reclaim your attention.

It is followed by 'Sweetheart Come', a sad invitation to a potential lover with some more great lyrics. 'The Sorrowful Wife' pulls the same trick as 'Oh My Lord' with much more success. Starting as a mournful piano ballad in the same vein as the rest of the album, it abruptly changes pace to a heavy guitar backed plea to “Come on now and help me!”

Finally the last three tracks apply a redemptive coda to the gloomy tale of the preceding songs. 'We Came Along this Road' is a simple, direct piano ballad mourning a failed relationship without the angst and bitterness of the other songs. After this turning point the rest of the album becomes more and more upbeat, the sad but uplifting 'Gates to the Garden' continues the recovery process, and then in 'Darker with the Day' Cave goes for one final walk, this time with a positive attitude, despite some kind of apocalypse going on around him.

The overall arc of the album works perfectly, from the opening tracks introducing the unhappy marriage, the later ones documenting its end and the final ones gradually recovering from its aftermath. I'm not sure if the story is autobiographical or not, perhaps it works as a metaphor for Cave's recovery from serious drug addiction, which immediately preceded his recording this album. In any case it's a productive emotional journey for those of us who are not so good at just getting the fuck over things.

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