Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Nick Cave has had an interesting career as of late. Last year, he put out the Grinderman side project CD, which was basically a Bad Seeds album with the exception of a few key band members. That release was a definite diversion in both sound and approach for him. This said, I was not sure what to expect from the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! The last proper record of theirs, Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, was pretty solid and the Grinderman project was spotty at best. Truth be told, the new album lies somewhere in between those two releases in overall quality.

In his early years, Nick Cave was full of bile and artistic passion. His records with The Birthday Party and his solo releases up until about 2001, were all consistently high quality releases, both musically and lyrically, not to mention that he dedicated himself to the abject honest delivery of his vocals. This cathartic approach was amazingly triumphant song after song for release after release up to a certain point. When the lackluster Nocturama LP came out in 2003, it was the first time in a long career that Cave ever appeared to be treading water and he did so painfully, but that record also marked a 180 degree shift in his overall demeanor. At that point Nick Cave was married, had children, lots of money, and longtime original Bad Seed and Einstuzende Neubauten leader, Blixa Bargeld, called it quits with the band. It hasn't been quite the same ever since.

The lead single is the title track "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!," and I have to admit that the first time I heard it I thought it was garbage. It has grown on me a little bit as the music is sturdy, but it encorporates the aspect of Grinderman that I don't care for at all: the talking vocals. Nick Cave needs to croon, to sing, to belt his heart out on record. This talking vocal routine sounds too much like a warped comedy sketch and he seems to avoid singing on much of his recent material. In general, the new album has a conventional sound, more so than anything that he has ever done. The chorus of "Today's Lesson" is, "We're gonna have a real cool time tonight." The highly literate, intellectual side of Cave has all but evaporated. Dig!!! contains some of the most standard rock and commonplace lines that Cave has ever written. Elsewhere there are other low points such as the cringeworthy "Sha la la la" chorus vocals in the awkward "Albert Goes West."

Nick Cave is not the angstful, depressed, struggling individual that he once was in his youth, and it is difficult to get used to him as a content, if not altogether happy, songwriter. Dig!!! is perhaps the lightest, most palatable record of his career. The melancholy and the darkness, both musically and lyrically, are almost entirely absent. There are still some great moments such as the eerily bizarre "Night of the Lotus Eaters" and the aching ballad "Hold on to Yourself." These two songs are classic tracks that warrant replay. "Jesus of the Moon" is another strong title that sounds like it could have fit well somewhere on Abbatoir Blues.

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is not a bad album by any means, but it is not particularly moving either. If anything, it is a comfortable recording that lacks the anticipated tension, unease, and despair. It has a much more appealing and even fun sound that is likely to win him over new fans in droves. This one is probably going to spend an awful lot of time, along with the Grinderman CD, neglected on my storage shelf in solitude. I get the feeling that a multitude of other people will disagree with me entirely here, but I will much prefer to keep my copies of Let Love In and Your Funeral, My Trial on the stereo in favor of this more radio-friendly album.