Well ‘Part 1’ implied that there would be a ‘Part 2’ and seeing as the “fictional documentary” ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ was released on Blu-Ray & DVD this week now seems as good a time as any to complete our look at the other most underrated songs of Nick Cave’s distinguished career. Let’s get the dance started.

The Witness Song (The Bad Seeds – The Good Son, 1990)

Cave has always loved a good old spiritual or folk song from the American south. ‘The Witness Song’ continued this tradition by taking elements from the gospel song “Who Will be the Witness?”. The Good Son’s title track had already borrowed lovingly from ‘Another Man Done Gone’. A vastly underrated album on the whole. It was often seen as the moment Cave & The Bad Seeds lost there edge, beginning to focus more on a piano ballads and less on shrieking guitars. It’s a monster though with most of the tracks going unnoticed. ‘The Witness Song’ though is probably the least fondly remembered which is a shame because it’s a banger. It’s hard not to have your hands raised and screaming along “who will be the witness”. Coming straight out the gate with crashing organs and drums the song winds up and down with a “and a little bit softer now” bridge that takes the song up into a crescendo. Cave manages to imbibe the lyrics with a woman who he leaves behind but can’t forget her kiss whilst invoking it’s original religious overtones. It’s a party tune y’all!

 

Lovely Creature (The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads, 1995)

‘The Curse of Millhaven’ maybe the drunken jig number on ‘Murder Ballads’ but ‘Lovely Creature’ is the one you can imagine swaggering down the street in your snake skin boots whilst wearing the roundest shades and lighting the longest cigarette you can find or riding a horse over the plains in the dead of night. The bass is down right funky and the backing singers constant “la-la-la’s” give the song an air of a slowed down disco anthem that Cave has hijacked and stuck an eerie howling wind track on. The lyrics, about a WOMAN, being discussed as though she were a monster of the night is another oddly danceable track in the Cave oeuvre.

 

Green Eyes (The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call, 1997)

Well these track  certainly isn’t danceable it’s downright… upsetting. The general consensus of ‘The Boatman’s Call’ is that it’s a heartfelt masterpiece or over-praised piece of weepy bilge. Whatever your stance ‘Green Eyes’ is one of the emotionally raw tracks ever committed to a recording device of some de-script. Cave provides dual vocals. The first in his normal speaking voice reciting the lyrics as though reading the letter. The other a devastatingly high pitched plea that sounds like a man about to hang himself whilst looking out of a rainy window. A guitar, an accordion and a piano are the only instruments that accompany him. If you know you’re history of the album it seems clear that the song was written for his lost-love of the time PJ Harvey. When taken as a song written to an actual person about an actual relationship renders the song unbearable in the best of ways. I could be wrong but I doubt this has ever been performed live and as an album closer it will leave you reeling.

 

Darker With the Day (The Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part, 2001)

Musically one of the loveliest things Cave has ever composed. The lead piano strikes a hopeful tune and would contemplate a pleasant country stroll enormously. Sadly the lyrics betray this delightfulness as it tells about a man who’s life becomes “darker with the days” since his partner has left him and walking around a world filled with “little Caesar’s, Napoleons and cunts on their plastic phones” indifferent to all around them and where even the beautiful sights of flowers and architecture render him unmoved. For anyone who’s ever felt the sting of depression it’s both a comforting and frightening song, lulling you in with it’s vague jazz inflections then blind-siding you with the lyrics. Once again it’s an album closer and a great one too from a genuinely great album –  a personal favourite.

 

There Is a Town (The Bad Seeds – Nocturama, 2003)

‘Nocturama’ is a rare thing in the Cave catalogue. It’s rare in that it generally gets a bit of critical kicking. Recently when asked about his favourite of his own albums Cave replied “Nocturama, some fuckers got to like it”. A lot of people saw it as a rehashing of the themes and music developed for ‘No More Shall We Part’ but with loader drums and guitar. And whilst it’s true it’s got some of his more rushed-sounding songs and does feature ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ (shivers) it does have some blinders. There is the epic, in the very real sense of the word – it’s fourteen minutes long, ‘Babe I’m On Fire’. But the other main stand out is the haunting ‘There Is a Town’. Feeling like a track to a thriller soundtrack. It musically has a sense of mystery and panic. It’s overriding guitar melody sounds somewhere between Seattle grunge and a western. The lyrics aren’t particularly his strongest ever. It’s about a man recounting how he was a boy who was born in a town and wanted to leave, dreamt about it and doesn’t. But it’s sung with a boldness that’s catchy and goes as one of his most ashamedly overlooked numbers.

 

Fire Down Below (Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, 2006)

One of Cave’s track from the fun double album ‘Rogue’s Gallery’ which is a collection of folk songs and sea chanties. Also featuring Richard Thompson, Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry, Gavin Friday, Bono, Ralph Steadman, Loudon Wainwright III, John C. Reilly and many others Cave’s contribution stands tall. It has a deliciously maniacal sound to it. Blistering guitar, deep bass and a chorus of salty sea dogs chanting “ye-he-he-hi-ho”. Cave as a sailor sings about he “fucked off to Africa and there I fell from grace” as he falls in lust with the parson’s daughter who is hotter than hell apparently. Whether fire down below means deep passion in the loins, the fires of hell or an unfortunate STI it’s a fun little number.

 

Bellringer Blues (Grinderman – Grinderman 2, 2010)

“But me on a big white steed, ride it up and down your street, I don’t know” Neither do I. It winds in and out like a projector that’s gone faulty the music seems like it’s always one second away from breaking apart. I suppose it’s supposed to sounds a little “psychedelic” being that it’s from the gnarly sounding Grinderman 2 album that managed to be both blander and bat-shit crazier than it’s ppredecessor I know that doesn’t make much sense but listen to both albums together and it sort of does. ‘Bellringer Blues’ plays out like it should be playing over the end credits to some twisted police procedural (speaking of which ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ from the same album appeared over the end credits of ‘Luther’). ‘Bellringer…’ has a larger than lige quality, as though the “Bellringer” himself is an anti-hero is a mad, mad world who encounters angels he sound like street hustlers offering up the good word for the cheapest price. This is also Cave sounding his most anti-religious, actively saying there is nothing for the Bellringer to find in the spiritual world.

 

Little Water Song (Ute Lemper – Punishing Kiss, 2000)

And the final number is one that many people may not even know about. In 2000 Ute Lemper assembled an astounding group of writers including Cave, Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Elvis Costello, Philip Glass and The Divine Comedy to write her songs for the album ‘Punishing Kiss’. It’s a wonderful album that deserves to be sought out. Cave’s sole contribution is the album opener ‘Little Water Song’. Despite not vocally appearing in the song Cave literally haunts it as it’s written in the form of his old favourite – the murder ballad. Singing as a woman who has been murdered by her lover, “sir you just take my breath away”. She gazes up at him describing her “blood as a cloud, under here my dreams are made of water”. The music is one of the most perfect representations of flowing water, the swirling struggle of a drowning and serenity of the deep waters are beautifully rendered and the final refrain as Lemper sings “and I glow with the greatness of my hate for you” is heart stopping. Re-listening to it now, I’m certain this is one of the finest songs ever constructed.

 

By Michael Dickinson

Michael is the VultureHound Film Editor.