FROM HER TO ETERNITY
The Birthday Party is dead, long live.... Nick Cave. It would be
false to say Cave has risen from the dead - 'resurrected' he
would probably prefer himself - because he never really
went anywhere anyway, despite his oft-stated fantasy of becoming
a service station attendant in Mexico (!). Having recorded the
Mutiny EP, which would be released posthumously, the Birthday
Party finally ground to a halt after touring Australia last year;
Cave returned to England, but it wasn't long before he was
appearing in America as part of the Immaculate Consumptive, with
Lydia Lunch and Marc Almond. Then he arrived back in Australia,
and having neither plans nor money was easily convinced to
assemble a group and play some shows. That group was Man Or
Myth, which comprised former Party-boys Tracy Pew (bass) and Mick
Harvey (drums), plus Barry Adamson (guitar/keyboards) and Hugo
Race (guitar). Pleased with the prospects, Cave took Man Or Myth,
sans Pew, back to England, and recruiting guitarist Blixa
Bargeld (of Germany's Einsturzende Neubauten) the group was
rechristened the Bad Seeds.
This new mini-album, From Her to Eternity, includes four tracks
put down by the Bad Seeds a few months ago, and three recorded
by Harvey, Adamson and Bargeld late last year.
If nothing else, From Her To Eternity immediately proves one
thing: There is life for Nick Cave after Tracy Pew - Pew's
contribution to Cave's musical conceptions always being totally
integral. But more than that, much more than that, From Her To
Eternity is an extraordinary record that pushes Cave far beyond
what now appears as the B.Party's limitations, a record of
nuance, subtlety and malignant intensity.
No longer is there the relentless assault of the Birthday
Party; the major progression in From Her To Eternity is that now
Cave allows himself reflection. To be sure, at least four songs – the
title-track, "Saint Huck,” "Wings off Flies" and "Cabin Fever!” – would
lend themselves to the Birthday Party Treatment, but herein
they are drastically different. Although the B.Party never lacked
expansive space especially in their slower moments, the Bad Seeds
retain that sense of space while it's infused with richer colours.
In a way, the aural construction is almost radical: Mick Harvey's
drumming has significant in its downright peculiarity; bass (presumably played by Adamson) moves deftly with glissando swoops; sonic guitar sparring is mixed back and forth; and piano appears frequently in pounding, repetitive bursts. Art-rock ploys – a whistling chorus, for instance – abound. Cave's vocals glide, acquiring a more melodic bent that extends further throughout the remaining three songs.
The record opens with a version of Leonard Cohen's
"Avalanche" that is possibly even darker than the original. This
song sets the tone for disc that is essentially a testament to
Cave's love – or is it lost love? – for the woman pictured on the sleeve, Anita Lane, with whom it seems he can neither live with or without. It is Cave's brilliance that he frames this tale and his shifting
emotions in changing contexts that make for a continually engrossing
musical expose. The superlative "Well of Misery," for instance, is
like a sea shanty, with its call-and-response vocals and a melancholic
Cave harmonica solo. "Deep in the desert of despair," he mourns, "I
wail at the well of misery." Cave's supreme powers as a wordsmith
have not deserted him, and From Her to Eternity suggests that he
may have only just begun to tap his real potential as a musician.
It is the magnum opus "A Box for Black Paul" that closes
From Her to Eternity, and a more convincing argument for that potential would be hard to find. Seven minutes of Cave accompanying himself on piano, "A Box for Black Paul" is pure and illuminated, a haunting and tragic conclusion that reaches out and deeply moves. Devastating.