Album: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Mute)

Andy Gill
Friday 29 February 2008 01:00

Although not wielding quite the compelling blend of erotomania, humour and tragedy that characterised last year's Grinderman project, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! nonetheless packs a punch of similarly idiosyncratic power.

There are lyrics here that no other songwriter would dare imagine, let alone commit to disc; and The Bad Seeds' arrangements likewise forbid no strategy in their pursuit of the appropriate accompaniment – be it pretty, ugly, or just absurd. This isn't a band trying to win our hearts, it's a band seeking the truth of each song, wherever it might be found.

As ever, sex, religion and disgust seem to be Cave's driving impulses – though where less committed performers would simply lapse into pornography, he realises the power of more subtly transgressive expeditions "deep in the weeping forests of le vulva", as he puts it in "Albert Goes West". Of course, it helps being literate enough to include references to Homer and William Morris within the fantastical Dylanesque narrative of a piece like "More News From Nowhere".

The title-track opens the album with a typically abstruse religious rumination, Cave considering what poor old Lazarus, the world's first zombie, felt about his situation as he wandered through modern-day America. "He never asked to be raised up from the tomb!" protests Cave. But poor Lazarus isn't the only hapless, stranded wanderer here: there's the protagonist traversing the snowbound landscape of "Moonland", possibly with sinister intent; the becalmed merman (or so it seems) pondering his fate in "Night of the Lotus Eaters"; the lonely, estranged fantasist of "Hold On To Yourself"; and an entire cast of bewildered loners in "Albert Goes West".

The backdrops to these narratives and speculations range from churning rock'n'roll vamps, barrages of distorted guitar noise and hypnotic chants, to the shimmering mandolin and viola, caressed with tender breaths of flute, that multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis conjures up for the beautiful "Jesus of the Moon". But it's ultimately Cave's imagination, and his language, that gives these songs their unique character, and most enjoyably so when he's mocking our desire to pin down that imagination in "We Call Upon the Author", blustering like Ignatius Reilly at such impertinence: "Who is this great burdensome, slavering dog-thing that mediocres my every thought?"

Download this: 'Jesus of the Moon', 'We Call Upon the Author', 'More News From Nowhere', 'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!', 'Today's Lesson'

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