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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"The golden era of Australia's gothic gang - Each comes as a two-disc set, the remastered album and a DVD with a 5.1 version, B-sides and videos, plus a talking-heads account of each album from interested parties. These albums show Cave in a transitional period personally and creatively, stretching the claustrophobic boundaries of his earlier work - the fly - blown American Gothic, the lurid visions of sex and death - in the search for wisdom." -- Q, June 2011 - ****
-- Classic Rock, June 2011