Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - B-Sides and Rarities (2005)

Okay, I have to apologize. My goal was a post a week, minimum, and I haven't posted for something like three weeks. I do have excuses: 8 long days of Orientation training, 3 days of University Center training, four very, very long days of actual Orientation, five days of classes, student government work, homework, and work at the UC, and two days of hanging out with friends. Now I'm here. Time to move on and write a review.

This is a triple album, but it is a compilation. I won't go in-depth into every song like I often do, since that would take forever. However, the tracklist is going to be huge. Sorry. I'm really obsessive about finding out exactly when and where every track of a compilation was originally released, and since it does require a lot of research sometimes, I figure I may as well present my findings. Also, note that I bought the album for like $22, which is really cheap for three and a half hours of music.


Artist: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Album: B-Sides & Rarities
Release Date: March 22, 2005
Label: Mute
Producers: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Flood, Tony Cohen, Gareth Jones, Victor Van Vugt, Nick Launey

Tracklisting:
Disc 1:
01. Deanna → Oh Happy Day [Acoustic; partial Edwin Hawkins Singers cover; outtake, 1988 / The Good Son bonus 7", 1990]
02. The Mercy Seat [Acoustic; outtake, 1988 / The Good Son bonus 7", 1990]
03. City of Refuge [Acoustic; outtake, 1988 / The Good Son bonus 7", 1990]
04. The Moon Is in the Gutter [In the Ghetto b-side, 1984]
05. The Six Strings That Drew Blood [Tupelo b-side, 1985]
06. Rye Whiskey [Traditional cover; Reflex magazine flexidisc, 1989]
07. Running Scared [Roy Orbison cover; The Singer b-side, 1986]
08. Black Betty [Leadbelly cover; The Singer b-side, 1986]
09. Scum [Flexidisc sold at concerts, 1986 / Your Funeral... My Trial bonus track, 1986]
10. The Girl at the Bottom of My Glass [Deanna 12" b-side, 1988]
11. The Train Song [The Ship Song b-side, 1990]
12. Cocks 'n' Asses [The Weeping Song b-side, 1990]
13. Blue Bird [Straight to You / Jack the Ripper b-side, 1992]
14. Helpless [Neil Young cover] [The Bridge tribute/charity compilation, 1989 / The Weeping Song b-side, 1990]
15. God's Hotel [KCRW session 1992.08.12; Rare on Air Vol. 1 compilation, 1992]
16. (I'll Love You) Till the End of the World [Until the End of the World soundtrack, 1991 / Loverman b-side 1994]
17. Cassiel's Song [Faraway, So Close soundtrack, 1993 / Do You Love Me? B-side, 1994]
18. Tower of Song [Leonard Cohen cover; I'm Your Fan tribute compilation, 1991]
19. What Can I Give You? [French Henry's Dream bonus promo, 1992]

Disc 2:
01. What a Wonderful World [With Shane MacGowan; Louis Armstrong cover; single, 1992]
02. Rainy Night in Soho [With Shane MacGowan; originally recorded by The Pogues; What a Wonderful World b-side, 1992]
03. Lucy [Version #2] [With Shane MacGowan; What a Wonderful World b-side, 1992]
04. Jack the Ripper [Acoustic Version; Straight to You / Jack the Ripper limited 7" b-side, 1992]
05. Sail Away [Do You Love Me? B-side, 1994]
06. There's No Night Out in the Jail [Chad Morgan cover; unreleased Australian country music covers compilation, 1993]
07. That's What Jazz Is to Me [Red Right Hand b-side, 1994]
08. The Willow Garden [Traditional cover; Where the Wild Roses Grow b-side, 1995]
09. The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane [Where the Wild Roses Grow b-side, 1995]
10. King Kong Kitchee Kitchee Ki-Mi-O [Traditional cover; Henry Lee b-side, 1996]
11. Knoxville Girl [Traditional cover; Henry Lee b-side, 1996]
12. Where the Wild Roses Grow [Unreleased version with original guide vocal by Blixa Bargeld, 1995]
13. O'Malley's Bar [Part 1] [Mark Radcliffe session, 1996.02.26]
14. O'Malley's Bar [Part 2] [Mark Radcliffe session, 1996.02.26]
15. O'Malley's Bar [Part 3] [Mark Radcliffe session, 1996.02.26]
16. Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum [Featuring the Dirty Three; Songs in the Key of X compilation, 1996]
17. O'Malley's Bar [Reprise] [Mark Radcliffe session, 1996.02.26]
18. Red Right Hand [Scream 3 Version] [Unreleased version recorded for Scream 3, 1999]

Disc 3:
01. Little Empty Boat [Into My Arms b-side, 1997]
02. Right Now I'm a-Roaming [Into My Arms b-side, 1997]
03. Come into My Sleep [(Are You) the One That I've Been Waiting For? b-side, 1997]
04. Black Hair [Band Version] [(Are You) the One That I've Been Waiting For? b-side, 1997]
05. Babe, I've Got You Bad [(Are You) the One That I've Been Waiting For? b-side, 1997]
06. Sheep May Safely Graze [Outtake, 1996]
07. Opium Tea [Outtake, 1996]
08. Grief Came Riding [No More Shall We Part limited edition bonus track, 2001]
09. Bless His Ever Loving Heart [No More Shall We Part limited edition bonus track, 2001]
10. Good Good Day [As I Sat Sadly by Her Side b-side, 2001]
11. Little Janey's Gone [As I Sat Sadly by Her Side b-side, 2001]
12. I Feel So Good [J.B. Lenoir cover; The Soul of a Man soundtrack, 2003]
13. Shoot Me Down [Bring It On b-side, 2003]
14. Swing Low [Bring It On b-side, 2003]
15. Little Ghost Song [He Wants You / Babe, I'm on Fire b-side, 2003]
16. Everything Must Converge [He Wants You / Babe, I'm on Fire b-side, 2003]
17. Nocturama [Rock of Gibraltar limited 7" b-side, 2003]
18. She's Leaving You [Nature Boy b-side, 2004]
19. Under This Moon [Breathless / There She Goes, My Beautiful World b-side, 2004]

Analysis:
This will be a bit interesting, since this album covers the entire career of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, from the first to the latest single. Every b-side (but one) is contained here, plus rarities and some unreleased material. I'll mention the standouts and discuss some in generalities. I won't do too much lyrical analyzation, since most of Cave's lyrics aren't anything special, but a few are. The album is mostly chronological, and I'll attempt to follow the flow.

The album starts with three acoustic renditions of album tracks (and a fourth follows later). None are really revelatory, but they are interesting, particularly the version of "Deanna" which, although merely labeled as such, is really more of a cover of "Oh Happy Day". Apparently the band would play the songs together live, but this version is basically just a couple verses of "Deanna" and repeated parts of "Oh Happy Day".

Then we come to the earliest b-sides, including several covers. "The Six Strings That Drew Blood" typifies some of the darkness (and weirdness) of these songs (and Nick Cave's early career in general), but it is actually a Birthday Party song. The Birthday Party was Nick Cave's previous band, and they recorded a version of the song that went unreleased until 2000. I like the Birthday Party version better, as it feels more structured, more driving, more No Wave, which is exactly what that band was (No Wave, that is, not structured). "Rye Whiskey" is a traditional foolish tune about booze, but the melody is oddly catchy. "Running Scared", a Roy Orbison cover, is far better – it starts calm but gradually builds up to a dramatic, all-too-soon finish.

"Black Betty" and "Scum" are two more examples of Nick Cave's more abrasive side. Those who know Cave know that he has a very beautiful, tuneful, melodic side, often accented with strings and piano, as opposed to harsh guitars and heavy percussion. Both sides are often sexual, with often seems to reveal a certain lack of lyrical creativity, but Cave can strike upon novel thoughts here and there. These songs fail at that, but "The Train Song" is worth noting. It is the first song here to be noticeably pretty, with the aforementioned piano and strings, with that certain Nick Cave nostalgia about the whole thing. (Note the irony of the a-side of the single, "The Ship Song".) The song is merely a lament for missing a departing train with a presumed lover on board – nothing really new, but it works anyway.

Don't get too offended by "Cocks 'n' Asses" – it's just a long instrumental with barnyard sounds and a heavy piano riff. Typical Cave humor. "Helpless" is a pleasant cover of a Neil Young song, but just like Patti Smith's more recent cover (see my recent post), it doesn't really take the song anywhere new. It's a hard song to take anywhere new, though, as it is just three chords, a slow rhythm, and nostalgic lyrics about "a town in north Ontario". However, I'm a total sucker for Neil Young, so I like it anyway.

"God's Hotel" is a pretty obscure rarity, but it's pretty funny. It fits another Nick Cave mold, that of the uptempo, mostly-acoustic, sing-song-y, maybe humorous song. The song follows a structure of Cave singing, "Everybody's got (insert something)", the rest of the band repeating the something, and Cave singing his part again, adding, "in God's hotel" and then explaining why. It starts off normal with a bit of Cave-humor, but gets funnier/weirder as it goes along.

"(I'll Love You) Till the End of the World" is from the similarly-titled Wim Wenders film, and alternates between spoken-word semi-apocalyptic verses and plea-for-help singalong-y choruses, all the while loaded with sweet violins. "Cassiel's Song" is from another Wim Winders film, and although also slower and more melodic, it lacks the scope and larger vision captured by "Till the End of the World".

"Tower of Song" is a Leonard Cohen cover and perhaps the weirdest cover I've heard of the song. The original is a long song about growing old as a musician, and it pulses along with a sweet Cohen vocal. The Jesus & Mary Chain did a cover in their typical style (loud, driving, droning guitars, drum machine or close enough, and a vocal delivery with a sort of sleazy snarl), but the Nick Cave version is far more abstract. It simply breaks down all over the place: the instruments stop or spaz out, and Cave more or less keeps singing. It alternates between doing the song justice and being almost annoying destructive and weird. (Fittingly, Cave changed Cohen's lines of "I said to Hank Williams, 'How lonely does it get'? / Hank Williams hasn't answered me yet" to "I said to Leonard Cohen...") Cave is a clear Cohen fan, but this is a strange tribute that's a bit hard for even me to take.

Disc two starts with the entire "What a Wonderful World" single. This includes the sappy, over-sugared, over-played Louis Armstrong title track, done as a duet with the lead singer of the Pogues, Shane MacGowan. The thing about Shane, though, is that although he is fairly well-known as a good musician and songwriter, his singing is notably bad. Maybe it's an acquired taste. It doesn't bother me overmuch, but it is weird. The single also includes a Cave-sung shortened version of the Pogues' "Rainy Night in Soho" and MacGowan-sung version of the Bad Seeds' "Lucy". Both are of a similar style to the a-side: kind of over-sweet and lyrically devoid of true creativity, but far from worthless.

"There's No Night Out in the Jail" is an Australian country tune recorded for an unreleased covers album of the same national genre. It is light, lilting, and one of the first b-sides to feature organ, which becomes more and more of a continual theme in the Bad Seeds. "That's What Jazz Is to Me" is one of two improvised b-sides of "Red Right Hand". (The other, "Where the Action Is", remains available only on the single.) Its thoroughly-explored theme is jazz, but the music is a deconstructed, loose jam sort of based on jazz structures and sort of not.

"The Willow Garden" is a traditional cover but sounds suspiciously similar to the Kylie Minogue duet "Where the Wild Roses Grow". Several other similar originals and covers all appear together, as they were released as b-sides to singles from the Murder Ballads album, a fantastic album with a eponymous theme. My favorite of the selections from that time period is the guide vocal version of "Where the Wild Roses Grow". Apparently, the band had Blixa Bargeld (the band's German guitarist, also the singer of Einstürzende Neubauten) sing Kylie's parts before she recorded her parts. It's hilarious to hear Bargeld's spidery voice singing about being a lovestruck and murdered woman.

Much of Disc 2 is devoted to a four-part radio session version of "O'Malley's Bar". The normal, uninterrupted version is available on Murder Ballads, and this version is only mildly different. It is a long sort of storytelling piece, which can make it uninteresting to listen to if you aren't listening to lyrics, since the music barely changes over 15 minutes. The disc finishes with "Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum", a string-laden, semi-apocalyptic spoken-word piece recorded with the Dirty Three (who share violinist Warren Ellis with the Bad Seeds), and a version of "Red Right Hand" recorded for Scream 3 (but unused), with alternate lyrics (which I find a bit poorer than the original version, since the original's tell more of a story).

Disc 3 contains songs mostly of the more melodic, fuller sound typical of the albums released later in the Bad Seeds' career. It works almost as an album itself, since the themes and general sound flow fairly well together. Many are slower, more moody and peaceful songs, like "Little Empty Boat" or "Grief Came Calling", but a few groove ("Come into My Sleep") or rock ("Babe I Got You Bad") a little more. "Sheep May Safely Graze" is an interesting slower piece whose lyrics seem to warn against destroying the threats to a lazy life: "All you can hear outside / Is the roar of a city being razed / That's just the powers that be / Making it safe to graze". "Good Good Day" carries along with a bit of rocking, but then a cover of "I Feel So Good" breaks the mood and throws out some loud blues. I really like a lot of these songs, like the philosophical "Everything Must Converge" and the gradual build-up and dramatic refrains of "Swing Low". The last two tracks, b-sides of the less precise, louder, simply put, punkier Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus fit the mold of the album(s) whose singles they were recorded for – they break the peaceful mold of Disc 3 with a louder, clearly rocking drive.

Review:
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have evolved over the years, but Cave's lyrics haven't really. He likes what he likes – love and murder (so clearly described by his mid-90s albums Let Love In and Murder Ballads), and the band often selects covers that fit the mold, especially traditional songs with a dark slant. The Bad Seeds have evolved over the years – both in personnel and in sound. The earlier songs tend to be more dissonant, harsh, heavy, guitar-laden, and dark, while later songs are often melodic, peaceful, strings-laden, and a bit slower. That is a generalization, and the latest album pair breaks that mold. The band has always used both elements throughout their career, but favoritism has emerged and changed over the years. The use of piano and the lyrical themes have remained constants.

These things apply directly to the b-sides presented here, since these b-sides (and rarities) span the entire career of the band. There are quite a number of really good songs here, although some (especially on Disc 3) tend to blend together, for better or worse. The four segments of "O'Malley's Bar" strike me as a low point due to their lack of difference from the regular album version despite extended length. The version of "Red Right Hand" also contributes to the same feeling, making the end of Disc 2 feel a bit dry.

B-Sides & Rarities is worthwhile for even mild fans of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds due to its high value per song, but the quality does hold up. Not every song in the band's entire catalog holds up to the same high standard, but most do, and the same can be said for this collection. It is very much an alternate summarization of the band's career, which is very interesting both as an alternate version and a summation. The choice of covers, improvisations, and otherwise weird pieces shows the band's more strange side, something typical of b-sides and outtakes, but nonetheless always fun. I think Siouxsie Sioux, in the liner notes to the Siouxsie & the Banshee's b-side box set, said something to the effect that she always liked buying singles almost more for the b-side than the a-side, since the b-side would show the band's true side – what they sounded like when having fun, experimenting, under pressure, or just being weird. Such is likely the case here.

Score: B

4 comments:

keagan fuller said...

A fair review indeed, Patrick. I probably would have given the collection a 'B' overall as well, but perhaps for some different reasons. It would be fun the divide the songs up by era and grade them. My personal favorites are the Boatman’s Call Outtakes, and justify the purchase of this collection by themselves. “Sheep May Safely Graze” I’ve heard, is a lullaby Nick used to sing his son, which gives it a context that is pretty awesome. Anyhoo, I think it can be said that Nick Cave has beaten on one particular drum as a lyricist, over the scope of his career, but I’ve never really thought that any of the works or songs suffered from that. His style is pervasive, but it too has evolved, not unlike the themes and content he has drawn upon. It also blows me away that he can write and deliver the most awkward lines ever drafted and give them true grace. “(I’ll Love You) Till the End of the World” is a perfect example of that.

keagan fuller said...

Oh, I forgot to mention. Here is a pretty funny run down of why the song, "Good Good Day" didn't make it as an a-side. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUAUuFJ2smw&NR=1

Patrick said...

Do I have the years correct for "Sheep May Safely Graze" and "Opium Tea"? I really like both songs. Pity they are outtakes. "Good Good Day" is really good, too - I understand Cave's logic as explained in the video there (thanks for that, Keagan), but still... it's good. There are great songs all over the collection, which is why I like it and am glad I bought it. I can't disagree with any of your comments, except that I think the lyrics can sometimes be dull... but usually they're fine anyway.

keagan fuller said...

I'm pretty sure your years are accurate.