How Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Perfect the Art of the Compilation Album
Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 1984–2014 is about saying goodbye to the end of an era.
The Rolling Stones greatest-hits album, Hot Rocks 1964–1971, is the most successful album of the band’s career, offering a comprehensive retrospect of the group’s best early material. But it was released without their consent by the former manager Allen Klein in December of 1970, after Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the other band members accused Klein of swindling them out of the recording copyrights to all of their songs written and released up until then. Of course, the album eventually led to a sequel, More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies), again released by Klein, much to the band’s dismay.
To date, the Rolling Stones have 31 compilation albums that span the band’s more than 50 year career. Does the longevity of the Stones’ career warrant so many of these retrospective albums? You might argue yes. I would argue no.
On the flipside, artists such as Tone Loc, Nelson, Color Me Badd, Young MC and Vanilla Ice all have compilation albums that boast “The Best of…” or “Greatest Hits” labels, even though these artists had a short window of fame based on one or two hits.
The belief that compilation albums are made by record companies purely to milk more money from music fans on the back of the artists they represent is a typical one. And these examples help prove that point. In other words, compilation albums are more about profit than furthering the artistic legacy of a band or musician.
But occasionally, a compilation album comes along that defies that stereotype.
Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds 1984–2014 is one of those albums.
I’ll admit it. I had never listened to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. The only exposure I had to the band was through Cave’s and fellow Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis’ movie soundtrack for John Hillcoat’s underrated 2009 film adaptation of The Road. And it’s one of my all-time favorite soundtracks because it’s beautifully hopeful, terribly tragic and completely terrifying, all at the same time.
So, when Cave states in his introduction to the new song collection, “There are some people out there who just don’t know where to start with The Bad Seeds…This release is designed to be a way into three decades of music making,” he’s talking about me.
Trying to listen to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds while doing anything else, like cooking or household chores or while typing away on a computer at work, is impossible I know, because I’ve tried it. That’s because the band’s music is the kind that sucks you in completely, as if it’s grabbing you by the arm violently and begging you to listen with full focus. If you’re looking for mindless background music, The Bad Seeds is a poor choice.
It’s rare that a band demands a listener’s attention, the way Cave and his Bad Seeds do. But both in music and lyrics, this band has, for more than 30 years, delivered some of the most cynically beautiful, darkly hysterical, and gorgeously romantic music in the history of rock and roll. Throughout the band’s career, The Bad Seeds have had highs, such as Let Love In and Murder Ballads, and not-so-highs, like Nocturna. But let me make one thing clear: there are no bad Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds albums; just moments of less musical conviction. But what’s remained consistent is the band’s ability to explore major human themes such as belief in God, belief in love, mourning loss, obsession, sex and murder…lots of sex and murder. Cave is a storyteller, much like his idol Johnny Cash, weaving narratives through song of people who live on the fringes of society, of sexuality and death and religious questioning and mental instability. And like the characters in his songs — and Cave and the Bad Seeds — many fans of their music consider themselves misfits, too.
Lovely Creatures may or may not be a cash grab by Mute Records/BMG, but it’s one that does have artistic purpose: to offer listeners a musical variety that will most definitely shock, frighten, sadden, disgust, and inspire them. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds isn’t for everyone. And this latest offering doesn’t pretend to be. It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’re willing to invest in the journey, you won’t be the same person you were before taking it.
Lovely Creatures is available in standard CD, triple LP, a deluxe, three CD set with DVD and a Super Deluxe Limited Edition package that features a two-hour long DVD with live performances and interviews and a hardcover 256-page book with essays, photos and memorabilia of the band. Despite its name, this isn’t merely a Best of… album. It’s a career-spanning retrospective that allows both first-time and casual listeners, as well as long-time fans, an immersive yet easily-digestible sampling of the songs that helped cement Cave as one of the most staggeringly prolific songwriters in the world.
In the documentary Great Australian Albums/Murder Ballads, Cave describes suffering from a hangover in a hotel in Germany. In his stupor, he hears a crowd of partygoers carrying on loudly down the hall. In his stupor, however, he’s unable to get up and find exactly where the debauchery is coming from so he can tell them to shut up. So, he began writing a song, creating characters with names and backstories, and then executing them on paper. It became something he did on his travels as way to cope with people who annoyed him. These turned into fan-favorite songs like Cave’s reworking of the classic American folk song “Stagger Lee” and “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” both from the band’s 1996 album Murder Ballads, and included on Lovely Creatures.
Also featured in the anthology are staples such as “The Mercy Seat” and “Loverman,” as well as songs known in other realms of pop culture, like “Red Right Hand,” of Peaky Blinders fame and “O Children,’ which appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.
Lovely Creatures features songs from all of the studio records in The Bad Seeds’ catalogue, with the notable exception of the 1986 cover album Kicking Against the Pricks and the band’s most recent offering, The Skeleton Tree.
As a newcomer to the band, I expected, at least in the double CD set, for the songs to be in chronological order, to gain a better understanding of The Bad Seeds’ evolution as a band. But like the music they produce, it’s complicated. Regardless, starting off this version of the album with the seductively sinful fright of a song “Loverman” from the band’s 1994 album, Let Love In is the perfect introduction to The Bad Seeds. The first thing you hear is Cave’s growling voice sing, “There’s a devil waiting outside your door (How much longer?) / Bucking and braying and pawing the floor / Well, he’s howling with pain and crawling up the walls / There’s a devil waiting outside your door / He’s weak with evil and broken by the world / He’s shouting your name and asking for more / There’s a devil waiting outside your door.”
While researching and listening to The Bad Seeds catalogue, the fact that Lovely Creatures didn’t include any selections from the band’s 2016 album The Skeleton Tree was a mystery to me. Though it was originally supposed to be released in 2015, Cave and Mute Records/BMG could have simply called it The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds 1984–2016. But after watching One More Time With Feeling, Andrew Dominik’s documentary about the death of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur during the making of The Skeleton Tree, I understand why they might have decided not to. In the film, Cave comments on why his newest studio album is so different than his previous material, “Maybe songs serve a certain need, and I think I might have needed, on some level, a kind of narrative in my life that was kind of predictable and had a kind of logic to it. So, I wrote stories and they seemed to hold everything together, in a particular life, or a long part of my life, where things needed to be held together. But I don’t need the narrative anymore.” The Skeleton Tree — a hauntingly, beautiful album that became Cave’s eulogy for his son — is different in both music and lyrics, than anything Cave has done before.
Knowing this, Lovely Creatures achieves what it was meant to do; it captures the artistry of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds before unspeakable tragedy changed how the band makes music forever. It’s the signaling of the end of an era for The Bad Seeds, to make way for a new one.
Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 1984–2014 comes out May 5.