Nick Cave began his career in 1978 with those sonorous terrorists called The Birthday Party, terrorizing everyone with their noisy and sharp post-punk. Few could have imagined that the singer of that band would transmute into a kind of gothic cross between Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Scott Walker. Cave has continued to improve over the years like a fine wine, reaching his creative peak when most of his contemporaries have long since ceased to be relevant. And it should not be forgotten that, although he continues to release great albums, his latest work, Carnage, released this year with Warren Ellis, is the 25th album of his career, counting his bands, various projects and solo career. So we are taking advantage of his birthday to rescue our 10 favorite songs, a small introduction - among wild roses and skeleton trees - for such a vast, and remarkable, repertoire.
Into My Arms (1997)
In 1997 Nick Cave was going through a tough time, two very important relationships for him had just broken up, the first with the mother of his first child, Viviane Carnero, and the second the brief but passionate romance he had with PJ Harvey, a singer who matched him in intensity. The result was his most open and heartfelt album to date, the wonderful The Boatman's Call, which opened with this skeletal and moving ballad in which the Australian's deep voice was accompanied only by piano and bass. Little more is needed when you have such a subjugating melody and lyrics with words like: "I don't believe in an interventionist God but I know, baby, that you do. But if I did, I'd get down on my knees and ask him not to intervene when it comes to you, oh, not to touch a hair on your head, to leave you as you are. And if He felt he had to direct you, then direct you into my arms."
The Mercy Seat (1988)
Recently, when I was talking about Johnny Cash, I said that Nick Cave was like a kind of gothic punk version of the man in black and this song is perfect proof. The Mercy Seat is about a death row inmate about to be executed in the electric chair, that chair of mercy of which the title speaks, a song similar to another of Cash's favorite songs, 25 Minutes To Go. If in that one there was some humor, in Cave's song there is only despair and hopelessness, as well as an energy bordering on, pardon the comparison, an electric shock.
Nature Boy (2004)
The single of presentation of Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus is his glam anthem, halfway between Bowie and Steve Harley's Make Me Smile, and his most direct song, a demonstration that the prince of darkness also knew how to make perfect three-minute pop songs. A great hit that, possibly, is about Susie Brick, who would become his wife, although in the lyrics he makes a reference to two of the songs of The Boatman's Call dedicated to PJ Harvey, Black Hair and Green Eyes. Of course, those physical characteristics are also shared by Brick... By the way, if we listen to the video, the guitar that we can hear is a Gibson ES-335.
Where The Wild Roses Grow (1996)
The musical pairing between Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave was as strange as Beauty and the Beast, yet Cave has admitted that he was obsessed with his compatriot and had tried several times to write a song for her. He didn't succeed until he had this wonderfully lurid murder ballad - from which emerged one of the best duets of the '90s from the most unlikely of collaborations.
Straight To You (1990)
One of his most powerful love songs and in his best Scott Walker mode at the same time, this time played with all the Bad Seeds, a very Dylan mid-60s organ and the guitars of Blixa Bargeld - and Mick Harvey with his beloved Guild Starfire IV. It's a song that shares that same sense of beauty with another of his great pieces, The Ship Song, and has a melody beautiful enough to please a Coldplay fan.
Nick Cave often likes to blur the lines between the erotic and the sacred, between love and God, and Breathless is a song that could be dedicated to the divine or be a simple love song. What is evident is that in this magnificent melody, the experience is close; overpowering, ecstatic and caressing. Musically what stands out most is Warren Ellis' strange flute that sounds, at the same time, charming and totally out of tune, something that is not so strange if we take into account that Cave himself has told how Ellis tried over and over again but was unable to get a good take. In the end they put them all together, some even backwards, and the result was this marvel that appeared as a single along with There She Goes, My Beautiful World.
There She Goes, My Beautiful World (2004)
An epic song in which Nick Cave majestically combines rock and gospel, in a song in which he begs for inspiration to reach immortality with his work. A song in which he names several of his heroes, such as St. John of the Cross, Johnny Thunders and Nabokov and feels small next to them, writing one of the best lines of his career: " I look at you and you look at me and deep in our hearts know it, that you weren't much of a muse, but then I weren't much of a poet ". It's a song that rises in intensity to infinity, with the Bad Seeds right out there, and that seems to contradict itself every time it explodes its powerful refrain.
Red Right Hand (1994)
Currently Cave's most popular song due to its appearance as the theme song for the series Peaky Blinders, as well as in the three Scream films and an episode of The X-Files. Its audiovisual use is not strange since the song, which appeared in the remarkable Let Love In, has always had a very cinematic quality, something that may be related to the fact that one of its inspirations is Tom Waits' Way Down In The Hole, the song that became the theme song of the best series of all time, The Wire. What is clear is that its sinister music and its protagonist - someone who could be a god or a devil, but whom you would rather not meet - are totally synonymous with Cave.
Jubilee Street (2013)
While most rock-related artists begin to lose relevance once they are over 30, Nick Cave seems to have made a pact with the devil and is delivering the best albums of his career in the 21st Century, well past 50. Jubilee Street is great proof of his relevance, being the second single of his 2013 album, Push The Sky Away, the work with which he began another fundamental period in his career, more minimalist and quiet but equally, or more, powerful than ever. It is incredible what the Bad Seeds do with it, how the speed of the song increases, almost imperceptibly, making it more threatening, as when Ellis' violin and the string section enters, reaching an amazing final climax.
Skeleton Tree (2016)
Cave's life and career changed dramatically when in 2015 his teenage son, Arthur, died when he fell off a cliff. His absence is deeply apparent on his albums Skeleton Tree, released in 2016, and Ghosteen, in 2019; two of the best of his entire career. The former has a cathartic close with the title track, in which Cave can be heard, over a beautiful, melancholic soundtrack, whispering "I called out, I called out, right across the sea but the echo comes back in, dear, and nothing is for free" Still, it is a song with which he tries to come to terms with the unacceptable, a kind of dawn after the blackest night imaginable. A poignant and painful song but, at the same time, balsamic.