Nick Cave’s Top 10 Albums

Dark Lord of goth rock turned Leonard Cohen de nos jours: the best records by MOJO’s brand new cover star.

Nick Cave by Tom Oldham

OF COURSE, HE WAS never meant to live this long. The nihilistic, fright-wigged peperami of early performances by theatrical Melbourne spleen-punkers The Birthday Party appeared on a collision course with destruction, and when hard drugs notoriously entered the mix, there was writing of sorts on the wall.

MOJO magazine - issue 243
MOJO 243: onsale December 31, 2013.

And yet, somehow, this prime candidate for membership of “that stupid club” (© Kurt’s Mum) has turned into one of our most consistent artists, evolving new aspects, plumbing new depths and finding more areas of life and love to explore in his unique, grimly wry baritone.

These days, with the man himself long since clean and serene, most years bring new gold from the Cave mine, as his group, The Bad Seeds, have morphed slowly from the savage Weimar avant-bluesmen of 1984 debut From Her To Eternity into something far deeper, wider in scope, surviving potentially crippling line-up upheavals (notably, the departures of Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey) as they rage, rage against the dying of the light.

No apologies then, for having Cave on MOJO’s cover for the second time in all, nor for this online appendage of our New Year Nick Cave celebration. It was tough work narrowing Cave’s career down to ten albums and we look forward to your outrage at the absence of some admittedly topnotch albums (but maybe not Nocturama, eh?).

Enjoy our list, and check out the new MOJO magazine, with more Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds than you can shake a stick at, including a free covermount CD featuring tracks hand-curated by Cave and the band. No Cave fan can miss it.

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Your Funeral... My Trial

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Your Funeral... My Trial

Mute | 1986
Like a damaged film reel flickering between beauty, melancholy and desperation, this is the record that best captures the Bad Seeds' mid-'80s Berlin period – a time of heroin, a cameo slot in Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire and Cave’s novel And The Ass Saw The Angel. The album’s keystone is a rare thing – a Bad Seeds track with no Cave writing credit. Stranger Than Kindness is by Einstürzende Neubauten man Blixa Bargeld and Cave’s then on-off partner Anita Lane. Bargeld’s marvelously gnomic Teuton-grunt is also there in his vocal on The Carny. RW

9. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Let Love In

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Let Love In

Mute | 1994
This eighth Bad Seeds studio album was recorded against an international backdrop. After a spell living in Brazil, Cave was back in London living in Kensington. The album was recorded in London and Melbourne and, in the lyrics of Jangling Jack, shows some distaste for contemporary America. Overseen with a new fastidiousness from Cave, the album is at once bloody, reflective and beautiful - perhaps, cumulatively, suggesting a hopeless malfeasant being catapulted toward goodness by some astonishing act of fate. It centres on the two-part Do You Love Me - a stop-you-in-your-tracks study in infatuation and abuse. RW

8. The Birthday Party Junkyard

The Birthday Party

4AD | 1982
The Birthday Party were a musical black hole - ferociously sucking in all rock lore and gesture. Amazingly, they made it as far as this second full album - a record that sounds at once lobotomised and freakishly smart. The kamikaze logic peaks on Dead Joe - a madly ecstatic depiction of a car smash, like a collaboration between JG Ballard and The Ramones. But you can’t accuse frontman Cave of blithe youthful pretension here - his father had died in a road accident. Today’s CD version adds tracks, including the single Release The Bats. RW

7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Kicking Against The Pricks

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Kicking Against The Pricks

Mute | 1986
A cover version – a wired take on Leonard Cohen’s Avalanche - opened the first Bad Seeds album, From Her To Eternity. But it was with this whole album of covers that Cave and The Bad Seeds signaled their full scope. There is blues (a Leadbelly medley) and canonical art-rock (The Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties). But the authoritative way they took on such mainstream popular song as Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart suddenly made The Bad Seeds seem much more than some twitching, marginal punk-blues freak show. RW

6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away

Bad Seed Ltd. | 2013
Cave’s most enigmatic, elegant and sophisticated meld of words and music, at times more of an impressionistic jazz event than a rock album and a triumph for Warren Ellis as The Bad Seeds’ musical co-ordinator. Cave, meanwhile, is a stoic, aged observer of humanity’s biologically-encoded foibles, watching the “local girls” of Water’s Edge “with a bible of tricks they do with their legs”. Made modern yet timeless by Nick Launay’s crisp mix, Jubilee Street builds to a pulsating sonic climax, Mermaids is slyly melodic and the extraordinary, apocalyptic Higgs Boson Blues appears to glimpse life, the universe and everything in the collision of Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus. Stunning. DE

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Tender Prey

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Tender Prey

Mute | 1988
The Kicking Against The Pricks covers LP featured three songs associated with Johnny Cash. This album eventually reversed the situation, with Cash covering the track The Mercy Seat. This Bad Seeds signature tune is breathlessly compelling - in both its music and death row narrative. Based on tape loops of a drumstick hitting a bass-guitar’s strings, it’s a subtle but distinctive variant on rock’s eternal instrumentation. Deanna and City Of Refuge - respectively, adaptations of the hymn Oh Happy Day and a Blind Willie Johnson song - showed The Bad Seeds' emerging with their own reading of the grand tradition. RW

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds The Good Son

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The Good Son

Mute | 1990
This album came after Cave had kicked drugs and booze at a clinic in Weston-super-Mare - and then relocated to São Paulo. South America is there in Foi Na Cruz, inspired by a Brazilian hymn. Cave’s newly calmer existence is manifested in the gloriously reflective The Ship Song. It rivaled The Mercy Seat as The Bad Seeds’ finest moment to this point - and acted as prototype for the stellar devotional ballads to come. The US Deep South element was also more controlled - Cave and Bargeld's call-and-response vocal on The Weeping Song became a favourite live set-piece. RW

3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Murder Ballads

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Murder Ballads

Mute | 1996
With a kill count of 64, Murder Ballads is a kind of death-based aural theme park - so stylised it’s sometimes as much Dennis The Menace as Dennis Nilsen. Yet, Kylie’s guest spot on Where The Wild Roses Grow made this the Bad Seeds’ biggest hit to this point - the album was Number 1 in Norway. Beneath the gore lies striking craftsmanship. Whether traditionals or originals, these are unlikely tales. Yet, Cave makes them genuinely shocking. For further odd joy, listen to the demo where Blixa Bargeld takes Kylie’s part - on the B-sides & Rarities box set. RW

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus

Mute | 2004
After The Boatman’s Call, No More Shall We Part and Nocturama, it seemed the Bad Seeds had settled on a plateau - a place full of mournful, mid-paced balladeering. Worse, Nocturama made it seem an increasingly arid zone. This - two separate, contrasting albums; each with a different drummer - was a brilliantly audacious way to dispel such ideas. Here, suddenly, was choir-laden gospel-rock, calypso, careening rock’n’roll - all fired along by an outrageous lyrical tumult that took in Karl Marx, Johnny Thunders, sundry birdlife and a suave re-telling of the Orphic myth. RW

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds The Boatman's Call

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The Boatman's Call

Mute | 1997
After the brutal Murder Ballads came the most beautiful Bad Seeds record of them all. This gorgeously meditative LP has three songs drawing on Cave’s romance with Polly Harvey – and another addressed to his former wife Viviane Carneiro. This personal content is mirrored musically – often it’s little more than Cave and keyboards. Alongside the album’s sumptuous solemnity, a wonderful dry wit enters with the opening couplet: “I don't believe in an interventionist God / But I know, darling, that you do.” Cave has maintained this arch tone when evaluating the album: “I’d got dumped by some bird and here I was making this great statement – about some fucking sheila!” RW

PHOTO: Tom Oldham