CD Review of From Her to Eternity/Kicking Against the Pricks by Nick Cave
Nick Cave: From Her to Eternity
Nick Cave:
From Her to Eternity

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Label: Mute
Released: 1984/2009
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Nick Cave: Kicking Against the Pricks
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds:
Kicking Against the Pricks

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Label: Mute
Released: 1986/2009
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Reviewed by Will Harris

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N
ick Cave’s reputation as a dark singer/songwriter is such that, when he entitled his 1996 album Murder Ballads, many people thought it was a greatest-hits disc. And, really, who could blame them? Cave’s sensibilities weren’t exactly cheery when he was fronting the Birthday Party, and once he ventured away from the band to form his own outfit, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, things began to reach none-more-black territory.

Mute Records has taken it upon themselves to revisit Cave’s first few albums with the Bad Seeds, starting with their debut release, 1984’s From Her to Eternity, and for those who only know him from his ‘90s work and songs like "Red Right Hand" and "Where the Wild Roses Grow," it’ll be a heck of a wake-up call. While Cave’s later work found him unafraid to mix melodies in with this melancholy, the songs on Eternity are doom, gloom, shrieks and moans, making it a rather hellish listen as often as not. That’s not to say that it’s without merit. The title track is a stone-cold classic of Cave’s early work, both "Well of Misery" and closer "A Box for Black Paul" still stand up strong, and those who enjoy the work of Tom Waits and Scott Walker may find far more to enjoy. For the most part, however, it’s kind of like listening to someone else’s primal-scream therapy.

Thankfully, there’s far more listening enjoyment to be found in 1986’s Kicking Against the Pricks, where Cave made the rather surprising decision to offer up a covers album. Although some of the selections don’t exactly play against type ("Long Black Veil," John Lee Hooker’s "I’m Gonna Kill That Woman"), the concept of Cave tackling "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart" sounds ludicrous until you actually hear him doing them, at which point it becomes the best idea you’ve ever heard. Cave manages to make "Hey Joe" his own, which is pretty impressive when you consider how many times the song’s been covered, and even if his version of Johnny Cash’s "The Singer" isn’t how he came to team up with the Man in Black several years later, it’s good enough that you can believe that’s how it happened. From the carnival-esque waltz of "Sleeping Annaleah" to a roaring take on the Velvet Underground’s "All Tomorrow’s Parties," it’s all solid stuff. And closing with The Seekers’ "The Carnival Is Over"? Genius. Covers albums are a dime a dozen nowadays, but there aren’t many as strong as this one.

With Mute’s Depeche Mode reissues series, the best and worst bits came via the DVDs included with the albums, and although the label’s exploration into the Cave catalog doesn’t have exactly the same problems, things are still a bit…odd. Although the bonus audio tracks on Eternity and Pricks (including covers of "In the Ghetto," "Running Scared," and "Black Betty") are downloadable, they’ve still been buried on the DVD as MP3s; maintaining the integrity of the original album is all fine and well, but this still seems like an unnecessary hassle for fans. Being able to see the videos for "The Singer" and "In the Ghetto" is awesome, since it’s not like either scored much in the way of MTV airplay, and the documentaries about the albums are fantastic, but the decision not to identify the various talking heads during the proceedings is inexplicable. The contributors are identified at the end, but given that the majority of the faces are far from familiar, it would certainly have been preferable to know who was talking as they were talking.

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