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Although Nick Cave didn’t pick up an ARIA Award last week for his elegant, hushed but powerful album, Ghosteen, the publication of Mark Mordue’s biography of the early days of the artist – Boy On Fire: The Young Nick Cave (which I’ve not read yet. Have you? Is it good?) - was a prompt to extract a piece of Cave later-in-life history.

But as explained in this 2003 piece – which you might consider a short review of a long song, as much as an album take – the album Nocturama, was anything but quiet.

For extra fun, in the video, look for an abundance of hair and grins on some band members, some now departed band members, and a frugging Cave. Yes, truly.



Nocturama (Mute/EMI)

It is tempting to say the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, their 12th, is best understood in the closing. The last track, Babe, I'm On Fire, is a 15-minute, 43-verse rumbling, madness-threatening, funny and clever ode to one man's lust and it's the strongest, noisiest track the Bad Seeds have delivered in a decade.

So relentless and compelling is it that while it doesn't speed up particularly, or even get louder (though the occasional new instrument dropping in can suggest it is), it creates the impression of a road train heading downhill without brakes, a wide-eyed driver tap-tap-tapping at the wheel.

Matching this momentum is Cave in holy roller preacher mode, running cultural references - pop, literary, biblical - at you. Yes, he does rhyme hernia with Guernica and covers the Pope, "the hymen-busting Zulu", Walt Whitman and "the menstruating Jewess" in those 43 verses. And each time you think the song has peaked, it just rolls on. When it finally ends, you are both wrung out and exhilarated - the way Bad Seeds gigs used to leave you years ago.

Although only one or two other songs get close to Babe, I'm On Fire's vehemence, this is closer to a Cave album of a decade or more ago than you would expect after the rich textures of The Boatman's Call and the lush orchestrations of No More Shall We Part. There's more of a sense of band members playing to and for each other, both sparking and driving each other rather than merely being part of a bigger construction.

That's obvious in the frantic organ-and-guitar duel of Dead Man In My Bed and even in the somewhat worrying Bring It On (where Chris Bailey joins Cave for some classic rock-style exchanges). But it's there also in the more restrained, nostalgic There Is A Town and the cocktail hues of the opening track, Wonderful Life.

While Nocturama doesn't lock you in consistently enough to earn a place at the top table of Bad Seeds albums, Right Out Of Your Hand looks like another classic Cave ballad and Babe, I'm On Fire is remarkable.

Boy On Fire: The Young Nick Cave, by Mark Mordue, is published by HarperCollins


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