The story revealing

Pick up a novel and read the final chapter. In some cases, it would be the ideal way to read a book. In the case of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, however, a few building blocks may be necessary to fully realize how we’ve come to this remarkably human display known as No More Shall We Part.

Anxiety ruled supreme in many of the previous editions of the Nick Cave catalog — presenting us with a wry combination of absurd horrors, murderous plots, Southern gothic scenery and hopeless situations that date back to the late ’70s with The Birthday Party. Laced throughout, religious statutes have crept in either condemning or exuding grace.

This latest album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, in many ways, picks up where the last and most minimal album, The Boatman’s Call, left off. The apparent calm that overtook the meanings and arrangements carries through to No More Shall We Part. But a bit more of that old-fashioned cynicism is revealed and a certain tension is drawn with Cave clocking in at a register that challenges both the singer’s and listener’s comfort levels. Surprising to some, the frankness yet effectiveness of the ballad has become the favored — although not completely unfamiliar — platform of expression. Yet Cave’s path has not always been easy to follow and this latest phase must not be interpreted as a midlife attempt at finding calm.

Far from it, Cave’s demons today are much more real — and much more frightening than any of his previously conceived boogie men. Vanished are the ghosts that dwell in search of finality, nonexistent are the bullets that never make their way into our mortal bodies and gone are the electric chairs that few of us will ever sit in. The plot has turned to truth and acceptance — fears of dangerously insular communities, relationships bound but gone awry. And somehow, even a trip to the hairdresser becomes something from a horror flick, with a resolution that ends up as a primary theme for the album: “Be mindful of the prayers you send/Pray hard but pray with care/For the tears that you are crying now/Are just your answered prayers.”

The ever-faithful Bad Seeds once again follow through, providing a bed of melody and sound entirely appropriate for the occasion — a welcomed, retroactive presence that falls somewhere between the lunatic tension of Murder Ballads and the beautiful scarcity of The Boatman’s Call.

Cave, as musician, actor and author, has consistently given more bang for the buck than most of his peers. His loves are clear, but his willingness to consistently refresh his approach places him on a level reserved for few artists. His story began more than two decades ago, and, like any well-written novel, it’s a story that becomes richer with each passing chapter.

E-mail Liz Copeland at [email protected].

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