This week our reviewers delve into the latest from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the alternative tunes of Parquet Courts and Dahveed Behroozi’s jazz.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, B-SIDES & RARITIES (PART II) (BMG), ★★★½
How do you frame a career as vast as Nick Cave’s? It’s not easy to plot the peaks when the 64-year-old continues to set such a sustained pace, moving between a solo career backed by the Bad Seeds, film scores with collaborator Warren Ellis and side projects such as Grinderman. Perhaps a different way is to consider the songs Cave didn’t elevate, the moments that were put aside – that is, the ground-up view of greatness.
Cave’s second B-Sides & Rarities compilation – the first came in 2005 – comprises 27 songs offering differing perspectives on the most celebrated of Australian musicians. It is, for example, a record of the paths Cave chose not to pursue: Fleeting Love, a 2008 B-side, is the alternate history where Cave leaned into country-pop balladry with his weathered baritone recalling Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman; the Nashville radio echoes are gently consolatory.
Debatable exceptions aside, these are not the singer-songwriter’s best songs (or they’d be on his studio albums), but they’re often telling and almost never superfluous. The original versions of subsequent releases reveal Cave at work, an editor searching for a voice. First Skeleton Tree, the initial take of the title track from his 2016 album Skeleton Tree, lacks the percussive pulse of the finished tune, leaving it as a stark, solemn requiem.
Leonard Cohen’s Avalanche, a song Cave attempted on his first solo album, 1984’s From Her to Eternity, was covered again in 2015. The contrast is akin to time travel: youthful menace supplanted by ageing contemplation, the elegiac violin of Ellis now a second voice in the sombre piano ballad. The transformative leaps are fascinating: in her storied career Deborah Harry has rarely sounded like she does – folkie and empathetic – on the bittersweet 2009 duet Free to Walk, a Jeffrey Lee Pierce song.
The spoken word dialogue on Animal X is self-mocking, but the missteps are rare. There’s an off-the-cuff quality – check the wiry guitar solo on the 2008 B-side Accidents Will Happen – that’s a welcome diversion, while the orchestral meltdown on the throbbing 2013 bonus track Needle Boy has a thrilling dissonance. These pieces illuminate Cave’s obsessions without reaching a conclusion. “I thought these songs would set me free,” Cave sings on the wrenching, previously unreleased Earthlings, but that’s the one thing music has never bestowed on him. CRAIG MATHIESON