I wanted to start this devotion to Mr Cave and the Naughty Seedlings by detailing the revelation as to when him and me and the gang first decided to elope, but I found my fingertips brushing the keyboard rather than actually pressing down on any letters, let alone provide them in a coherent order that made sense in English. Wait, when did I actually fall in love with this Australian rock band again? I obviously have a considerable amount of affection towards them, because I’ve found myself writing this article. The evidence is right here, right? So why can’t I recall that special moment when they jumped in front of my windshield and derailed my train of thought? Maybe my devotion was a lie. Maybe I should just scrap this whole post and write a guide about how to save money or something, I wasn’t sure. But then I took a small break from coffee and contemplated it with a calmer mind, and that’s when I remembered something. Of course! The story of me and St Nick was unique, so true to his fashion that it slithered smoothly under any obvious avenue, making it impossible to initially detect by any standard means of analysis. There wasn’t a grand epiphany here! No, rather, Cave had seduced me so gradually and secretly, that by the time I was publicly announcing him as perhaps the greatest artistic figurehead alive today, I didn’t even notice I was doing it. I just assumed it had always been that way.
This is the third Worst to Best I’ve written for a musical act that I meekly kneel before (the other two being David Bowie and Sonic Youth, both of which you should read because naturally they are very well done), yet despite the immense talent of the previous subjects, I found this here attempt to be the most enjoyable by far by far by far. I guess this is because, unlike them two, Nick Cave has mastered the art of never straying too wildly away from his core signature noises, yet moving freely with enough variation from album to album that the listener is refused the right to get presumptuous or jaded. Not to mention that there is legitimately not a bad album in their repertoire, which is an accomplishment even the most accomplished of legends can hardly ever brag. Basically put, Bowie is God, so far out there, watching us from the stars; and the Youth are the disciples, destroying whatever they touch and ruining the fun for everyone. But Nick Cave, he is Jesus (or whichever prophetic preacher you subscribe to), more down to earth and definitely a mortal with mortal feelings and mortal ideas, except way more superior than any of us or anyone we’ve ever met. Ok, so let’s never ever make such stupid comparisons again, thanks.
I guess my point is that I feel great all the time these days. And this group make nice music with even nicer words. Words so good that even my words became a bit gooder, almost as if Nicky Cavy was rubbing his talent juice into my mouth whilst I wrote these reviews, and now my own vocabulary had blossomed and then perished within these very pages, except not quite like that, way worse than anything he’s ever said actually because I suck and he’s Jesus, as we’ve already established. What the fuck, this isn’t a worst to best, this is a best to better, and it begins like this:
16. Kicking Against the Pricks (1986)Post-Punk Blues
First and fucking foremost, it’s imperative to praise this album as something conclusively brilliant. It is the first Cave album which actually sounded like a Cave album in context of our modern expectations, an assured step away from the early 80s rawness, and now headed directly towards the more romantic chew we adore today, arguably the initial example of where the group had worked out exactly who they were and where they wanted to go. Which begs the obvious question: why do I consider this release, one I am noticeably so fond of, as the band’s absolute worst? And the answer is simple. It’s because this isn’t really a Nick Cave record, is it? It’s a covers album. But what a covers album! Fantastic song choices (some highly recognisable, others not whatsoever), each so organically performed and seeded up that they feel way more Cavey than their originals, working like some bridge record that helped push their core sound into something spectacular, an open display of their influences, pointing towards the magic path to greatness which they followed shortly afterwards. But that said... it’s still a covers album. It’s still not Seed songs. It still doesn’t really qualify, does it?
15. Nocturama (2003)Alternative Rock
Released to much critical acclaim and then slowly reconsidered as Cave’s utmost worst, Nocturama is worth defending for a multitude of factors. Primarily, if this is indeed the group’s midlife fail record, then it may well be the greatest midlife fail record ever made. That’s because it’s not a fail whatsoever—not up to regular standard, sure, but far from a waste with nothing really that bad about it, complete with the plushest of production and more moods than any other album the band have ever put together. That said, admittedly something is missing here, and something most definitely went wrong, entirely down to the songs themselves. Certainly, they nail something or other at points, but its weakest links are very shaky indeed, none of them offering anything new, and sounding like a collection of slightly boring and forgettable Boatman outtakes, featuring perhaps the only soppy examples of Nick Cave giving an ingenuine and lackluster performance, falling heartbreakingly flat unlike anything else we will talk about in this collection. So yes, ok fine, it probably is the worst material in their armoury, but it still should satisfy anyone’s attention, and nevertheless stands statures above most things, at times relatively excellent even, so whatever. I had fun anyway.
14. From Her to Eternity (1984)Post-Punk
After the Birthday Party broke up, members Cave and Harvey wasted no time to harness their flair for challenging the darkest fractures of post-punk, and put together a new outfit called Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, you know of them? And this here was their debut album, their first swing intended to destroy everything beautiful, and yet like any typical band beginnings, they only just managed to clip the target. They simply had not found themselves yet. But, damn, the commitment was there, attacking every angle with an experimental dread and unamused horror, the quiet production and rough music intended only to build noisy repetitive scenes which allowed Cave himself all the grim space he needed to growl and moan his signature poetic wordings without interference, now the epicentre of the show. But while the overall nauseating thrill of the album is a powerful initial introduction, and while the title track still holds as one of the greatest Cave classics ever written, overall it is lacking a certain sophistication of their later years that doesn’t quite rise up in comparison. Yet we must appreciate that even if the band hadn’t exactly mastered their weaponry here, they shot to kill regardless.
13. The Firstborn Is Dead (1985)Post-Punk Blues
Less than one year later, and the Seeds’ sophomore had already exposed itself whilst cursing the playing field with some voodoo shit, probably. It may not have been a huge stride into any uncharted musical venture, but it still proved they were not a band who were willing to stand still, especially when considering the small amount of time that had passed between records. With a title inspired by Jesse Garon Presley (Elvis’ stillborn identical twin), the gritty upset of the storm still snarled with the same sinister intent, but had more of a meander to its strut, following the traditional blues progressions, calming the violence, teasing the gloom, and reserving its cool instead of blindly striking in haste like before. Even Nick had updated his output this round, less reliant on creepy impersonations, more confident in his own ability, and at times sounding far from a vocalist of a rock band, rather closer to a preacher man—which he is. But, of course, even when considering this debatable improvement, these were still early days, too premature to quite deduce the best direction to aim their stream, and yet definitely getting there. In fact, this was the final album before they did get there, so that's nice, dear.
12. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008)Post-Punk
Very few Cave records get me as excited as Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Openly, I worship the Seeds when they mourn, but we must not forget the band are well versed in tearing throats out with sharp claws, and this album strikes with more energetic passion than any other they have released. The upbeat momentum and invigorated freedom should go down in history as the very blueprint of how to get old and act your age without getting soft, the hard rocking alternative garage edge sounding about as revitalised as any music could do without literally exploding. Furthermore, the frontman is at his peak, with narrative lyrics driven by a sly humour and the ideal attitude tailored to suit the man’s persona so perfectly that it’s frustrating as to how seldom he visits this side of his talent elsewhere (except Grinderman, of course). I guess that’s what makes this release so special and why so many of my friends claim this as their favourite Cave of all time, but personally, I felt the songwriting was a bit too direct and unmemorable, not to unfairly mention that no song could possibly follow the opening title track, as one of the dirtiest (and greatest) songs they’ve ever put together.
11. No More Shall We Part (2001)Chamber Pop Piano Rock
Before this album was released, it became obvious to Nick that he had to kick his crippling heroin and alcohol addiction before proceeding, and after a four year Seedless gap, our sober hero rose victorious with No More Shall We Part. What had come out of the other side shouldn't be too surprising: it was a broken man, weighed heavy by a lethargic melancholy, too delicate to pack a punch, rather compelled to cry about God in piano ballad form, for over an hour worth of time. Which sounds exhausting—and is exhausting—but is also a complete success, not exclusively thanks to Nick’s sincerity and newfound critically acclaimed vocal range, but also due to possibly the most well composed songs in the band’s catalogue, less Cave-centric, with a stronger focus on the instrumentation’s depth itself, and a simpler, more consistent nonstop ultrasoft sweetness until the very finish line. But, of course, the burdensome length and monotonous journey became its overshadowing weakness, and no matter how much of this mood-dependent album may grow per listen, it simply did not relieve our itch for the Cave viciousness left unscratched for far too long, and we were forced to wait even longer.
10. Tender Prey (1988)Post-Punk Gothic Rock
Tender Prey is a peculiar one for me; a fan favourite held high above the herd and as an unequivocal Cave classic, celebrated with the best, yet truthfully not one of my personal front-runners. Now, I speak cautiously, ashamed of my incompatibility with this record, but still able to deduce some reasons as to why this discrepancy may have come to occur. First of all, the hype was a size too big, and I blame you for that. Secondly, the production is a bit shit, isn't it? Even the performances sound somewhat rushed and uninspired in my head, less of the sharp jabs I prefer and not working as a collective of likeminded songs, but rather a topheavy flatline of ideas connected at their end points without much purpose. But above all this, would be the world’s agreement that Prey was the band 'finding themselves', when I consider it a small step backwards—an improvement on most of their 80s gifts, unquestionably, but a devolution from Your Funeral... (their previous record), returning to the sloppy post-punky darkness and signature eerie playfulness that I’d rather was lightly salted, not the main meal. Once again, I blame you for all of this.
09. The Good Son (1990)Gothic Rock
A brand new decade seemingly brought in a brand new Cave. He had completed a stint in rehab, had fallen in love with Brazilian journalist Viviane Carneiro, and had started to reconnect to his more spiritual center, all of which influenced The Good Son on a very grand, very obvious level. For this record was the outfit’s boldest move up until this point, a massively unfamiliar and refreshing direction, steered straightforward into a calm darkness driven by more relaxed pianos and focused percussions—still creepy, but completely absent of any punky violence, the sinful smile of Satan replaced by an almost happy sing-a-long gospel affair, which (as you can imagine) didn’t digest all that well with his suddenly-betrayed disciples. It was too mellow, too balladdy, and too cringey for those who favoured blood, and honestly, I sympathise: we simply weren’t ready for it. However, hindsight has elevated this record’s status drastically, now almost everyone sheepishly admiring this ballsy mature path for our adventurers, working as the Seeds album which is most likely to appeal to any age group, perfected by inarguably one of the most appealing pieces of artwork they have ever packaged their sound up with, to this very day.
08. Push the Sky Away (2013)Art Rock
Odds had gathered against this album, not only because Nick was well into his 50s by this point, but also because this was the first release without founding member Mick Harvey, having just left the outfit after 36 years of service. However, both of these factors may have worked in Push the Sky Away’s favour, the sound creeping into the very softest realms of the band’s catalogue, a proud midlife offering which indicated the Seeds’ relevance was invincible. Because they were fluid. Because they were indifferent to nostalgia or any attempts to impress the kids (Miley Cyrus references aside). Such a subdued magic may not be immediately apparent, and perhaps its hookless melodrama or romantic grace could be misconstrued as some meager placidness, but repeated listens reveal this sexual allure to be a whole new breed of Cave disturbance; a patient violation which will haunt without violence, rather an ominous quiet in the mist, exposing your ghosts and letting you to kill yourself by yourself. It’s a full body of work, some songs resonating deeper than others, but all conspiring together to prove that even age cannot discredit Cave. In many ways, he only seemed to get better.
07. Henry's Dream (1992)Post-Punk Blues
Now here is where things got really fucking good. And even though I consider the artwork to be a little on the tacky side, it does serve to introduce a certain desert-y almost Western standpoint of the Cave character, one cowboy hat shy of a villainous cool which compliments the album’s attitude very effectively. Not without its own brand of delicacies, it’s the harder cutthroat fire which I will truly treasure Henry's Dream for, built upon a folky acoustic dust which settled into an answer against any softer urges that previous albums had temporarily fulfilled and discarded from our protagonist's system. And while we must appreciate that Cave himself has openly confessed his distaste for the tight production featured, I personally consider this to be the earliest example of where the group found an ideal high commercial quality without compromising their trademark venom, clearing an uncluttered view into yet another Seeds record of rejuvenation, more self assured than anything they’ve done before, and really coming into their own, right here rather than anywhere else other people might say. For the first time on this list, I don’t have a single complaint, oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah, oh yeah.
06. Murder Ballads (1996)Alternative Rock
The key lies in the title. Conceptually, this album is built around homicides of passion (64 deaths in total), the horrors of murder balanced out by romantic and erotic motivations, told so casually that the seedy morbid theatrics become all that more disturbing. Depending on who you speak to, such an over-the-top approach has been ridiculed over the years, many fans using such lazy adjectives as ‘comedic’ or ‘comical’ to blunt the stabs or mop up the blood left behind, but in this humble reviewer's opinion, here is the band's greatest commercial success for good reason. The good reason is because it’s archetypal Cave, his gothy subject matter and authentic swagger at its pinnacle of joyous devastation, complete by the antagonistic wet dream feminine touches from indie hero PJ Harvey as well as pop princess Kylie Minogue (of all people). In fact, the latter lady’s contribution, Where The Wild Roses Grow, is often (deservedly?) the extent of a mediocre fan’s education, the go-to Cave classic that even resulted in an MTV award nomination, to which the man’s integrity politely declined. Regardless, even without this, Ballads is still a consistent and sinister offering, so intensely suited to Nick’s persona that it hurts. Literally. People die in here.
05. The Boatman's Call (1997)Piano Rock
One quality we must praise Cave for, is how he either finds himself as some snarling beast or the most emotionally frail of all men, never comfortable in any middle ground, but always executed so perfectly that only his lyrical eloquence and baritone expressions tie the two together as the same artist. On The Boatman's Call specifically, we uncover the strongest example of the hushed and aching central character, unhurried and earnest as Mr Cave’s most personal and cry worthy of records up until this point, inspired by a field of heartbreaks which are painted by minimalist piano arrangements and not much else really. Personally, I could write a lengthy standalone review for any one of these songs, because (no matter whether remembering the first time hearing them, or whether listening now for the thousandth time), they never overstay their sorrowful value as the ideal collection to play in the background and sit silently still, watching the sad world pass you by, passively taking part in life, reflecting on nothing but the depths of your own desolate spirit. And as his 10th album, I think it was around now that most people grew suspicious, for no catalogue should be this consistent.
04. Your Funeral... My Trial (1986)Gothic Post-Punk Rock
Forget Cave for a second, Your Funeral is a classic post-punk record, not only in the purest definition of the word ‘classic’, but also in the purest intention of the genre, adhering to all its cold trademarks of darkness in that Joy Divisionary isolation type of way. During these recording sessions, Nick Cave was elbow deep in a severe heroin addiction, which was more than likely the primary contributing factor to its numbed overcast, as it stumbled along into its own death, an affliction I’d never wish upon anyone, but, goddamn, it historically makes for fantastic music, doesn’t it? So fantastic, in fact, that I consider this album to be the outfit’s very first of many (and one of their most exceptional) masterpieces, Cave introducing new climaxes of vivid imagery while the air is more dangerous than any of their other 80s incarnations, the very last of its kind, marking the end of their dirty punk run before experimenting with further pacified approaches. Despite its bleak content, Nick has since expressed his enthusiastic happiness for the results, and I wholeheartedly agree, hailing this as one very underrated release no matter how many long term fans have already started to admit the superior brilliance of it all. It's not enough! You must love it more!
03. Let Love In (1994)Post-Punk Alternative Rock
When it comes to recommending Nick Cave to virgin ears, Let Love In will always be my initial endorsement. It leans deeper into the radio-friendly alternative scene than any before or after, which grants it a specifically attainable entry point, one which is packed so tightly of recognisable Seed classics that it could almost be misinterpreted as a Best Of compilation rather than a collection of brand new Cave works, reading like a band with a historical reputation of excellence who got particularly lucky this round. I think part of this success is that it hasn’t completely shed the taunting eeriness and romantic murderous brand of Nick Cave, but it’s not as explicitly obvious here as it was before, more alluded to by a unified aura, stalking your steps rather than stabbing your stomach, smelling your hair rather than barking at you, fondling you in your sleep rather than leaving a trace of a bruise. Ample devotees deem this to be the greatest record this list has to offer, and when I find myself discussing style of this caliber, I dare not argue too loud, as any comparisons have become pedantic debates over minute details, and that’s a useless practice for everyone involved.
02. Skeleton Tree (2016)Art Rock
During the sessions for Nick Cave’s most recent record, his son Arthur died from an accidental cliff fall. And even if the majority of these songs had already been written before the tragedy, this father’s suffering was heavy enough to prove that you did not need lyrics to expose the strife of one's emotional mournings, but could address the emptiness of grief indirectly by using sound alone. Skeleton Tree is not an album anymore than an eulogy is a performance. It’s the most drastically unique of any Seed work (or anyone else's work for that matter), the uncomfortable stare of a naked man, exhausted by torture, surrendered to nausea, and spewing his vulnerable devastation from such a crippled worthlessness that we all topple ruined in response, as if Nick was forcing the last of his breath to imprint Arthur's very soul into this record, just to hold him one final time. It’s their shortest album because that is all the effort they could muster, yet its depth is sickening. And I break instantaneously, every time. It’s the only Cave release I’ve cried to.
01. Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004)Alternative Art Rock
Every double album comes with the following cursed suggestion: maybe they should have trimmed it down into one single record? Which is almost always true. Almost. But not always. Not Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus at very least, because it is the best double album of all time, in my opinion. What makes this pairing so extraordinary is that it’s not a legitimate double album whatsoever, rather two separate masterpieces sold as one, distinctive from each other, each calculated only to balance their respective colleague out. Abattoir Blues is the vigorously spirited partner, eager to be rowdy, threatening to be naughty, dashing around and making the most noise. These flames are then quenched by The Lyre of Orpheus, naturally the tranquilised twin, one sentimental affair, a bit more mournful, but at relative peace within its passive moodiness. Such contrast over such a large quantity demonstrates their mojo at maximum flex, even the lesser tracks never dull, whilst background choirs support the band as they stick to what they already know works—a summary record boasting their accumulated strengths, designed to appeal to fans primarily, discarding the new kids, fuck you, goodbye. Agree or not, this is their most inspired, ambitious, and triumphant achievement ever, comfortably my personal favourite Cave of all time, and I won't hear any different, not listening.
If you'd like to hear my favourite songs from each of these albums, you can! Here is a little 71 song 6h19m Spotify playlist just for you. Don't worry about it.