Eleven studio albums into Nick Cave's career, and it seems that the long wait for his first duff album must continue. No More Shall We Part
contains a greater wealth of musical invention and lyrical intelligence in its 68 minutes than most acts manage in an entire career of trying. Cave is not merely in a different league from most of his peers; he's scarcely even playing the same game. No More Shall We Part
sees a renewed emphasis on the virtuosity of Cave's long-time backing band, The Bad Seeds--Cave's last album, 1997's superb The Boatman's Call
, was a relatively sparse affair. They decorate the sprawling ballads on No More Shall We Part
with their usual aplomb, helped on several tracks--notably the gorgeous "Hallelujah"--by the crystalline harmonies of veteran folk singers Kate and Anna McGarrigle
. The sound, overall, is best imagined as what Cave and The Bad Seeds were trying to accomplish on Henry's Dream
. Cave's lyrical preoccupations have remained more or less constant--God, love and the loss thereof, death (all the greats). As ever, Cave deals with these with greater agility and imagination than anyone else--with the possible exceptions of his obvious eternal idols Leonard Cohen
and Johnny Cash
--and, as ever, is frequently funnier than generally given credit for. --Andrew Mueller
Hollowed out by the catharsis of 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, Nick Cave rested his pen for a while. Just over four years would pass before another Bad Seeds long-player saw the light of day. The wait was worth it. No More Shall We Part hasn’t the acute heartache of its immediate predecessor, the fire of Tender Prey, or the drama of Murder Ballads; but it is possibly the band’s most beautiful record, its enveloping melancholy immediately touching. Warren Ellis’ violin work is more pronounced than in the past, allowed to slow-dance above the muted guitars and percussion, and Cave’s plaintive piano strokes lend the set a real tenderness.
Cave’s storytelling is realised with less intimacy here – which isn’t to say that numbers like Hallelujah ("The tears are welling in my eyes again… I need 20 big buckets to catch them in") and Sweetheart Come aren’t capable of squeezing the heart, but it’s something of a relief to hear Cave allow himself breathing space from his own loves and losses. The Boatman’s Call can convey claustrophobia, its cast of real-life characters casting long shadows over the listening experience; here, a melodic lightness and slightly detached vocal performances – still from the spotlight, but the stage has stretched that bit wider – ensure that tears are kept in check. Emotions are controlled – where once our protagonist would fly into a rage, here his musings are restrained, spirituality and soul-searching in place of boiled blood and fiery eyes. At times Cave is the spit of Leonard Cohen, removed yet able to punch straight to the core of the subject at hand.
There’s always the threat, though, that during its softer moments this album will slide into schmaltz. That it never does is testament to the skill of its performers – the clatter of The Sorrowful Wife’s second half, all chugging guitars and clangourous drums, drag it from introspection into boisterous bombast, as Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld – neither a Bad Seed today – go at their weapons of choice like men possessed. Similarly, Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow shifts its weight with remarkable ease, from background blues to rock’n’roll discordance. We Came Along This Road is probably the most striking of the slower cuts, mournful piano carving a path for Anna and Kate McGarrigle to follow, their backing vocals sublime.
In another artist’s canon, No More Shall We Part would be an incredible achievement. In The Bad Seeds’, though, it’s merely one very fine album amongst several.
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