Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – No More Shall We Part

No More Shall We Part (2001)

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1. As I Sat Sadly By Her Side 2. And No More Shall We Part 3. Hallelujah 4. Love Letter 5. Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow 6. God Is In The House 7. Oh My Lord 8. Sweetheart Come 9. The Sorrowful Wife 10. We Came Along This Road 11. Gates To The Garden 12. Darker With The Day

 

An unexpected career highlight. I say unexpected because it’s nearly every bit as mellow and moody as that last album I think is overrated. But even though No More Shall We Part is guaranteed to bum the shit out of you with its violins, agonizingly slow tempos and plethora of depressing minor piano chords (for all you Spinal Tap fans out there, think of this album as “Lick My Love Pump” spread out over 67 minutes), it sure as hell ain’t no The Boatman’s Call 2: Returning The Boatman’s Call After He Left A Message On Your Answering Machine. Please, allow me to list the reasons why!

1) Nick’s personal life. Between The Boatman’s Call and the recording of No More Shall We Part, Nick got married and finally kicked drugs for good. That’s a whole lot of stuff to squeeze into just four years, but it seems like Nick came out the other end feeling renewed. Far from sounding content and complacent, however, he sounds quite inspired. Which leads me to…

2) The lyrics. No longer preoccupied with women that don’t love him anymore, Nick was able to return to writing about what he does best: depressing crap like death and pain and stuff! However, the lyrical content on this record is no return to the anarchic Old Testament rabidity of the Bad Seeds’ early days. Yeah, there’s more religion than ever (just look at some of these song titles – “Oh My Lord.” “Hallelujah.” “God Is In The House.” “Gates To The Garden”), but it’s all just part of Nick’s figurative canvas here. The subjects he chooses don’t, at first, really seem conducive to the writing of rock songs. Some of them, in less literary hands, would be downright banal – “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side” is about two people sitting on a couch and looking out the window; “Hallelujah” is about an old man taking a walk in the rain; “Love Letter” is about… well, you can probably guess (unless you’re one of those troglodytic Santorum voters, in which case you probably can’t even read this, you backwards twat). But Nick manages to turn them into enveloping tales of sorrow. Full of vivid, striking imagery (“And my piano crouched in the corner of my room/With all its teeth bared”) and thought-provoking narrative ambiguities (in “Hallelujah,” is the nurse really the old man’s “one salvation” or a manipulative tyrant severing all his ties with the outside world?), these lyrics are, simply put, the work of a brilliant writer – and not just songwriter. Only a great writer could, amid all the sadness and terror, throw in a bit of comic relief in the middle to make all the black stuff seem that much blacker – “God Is In The House” satirically tackles the prim and proper morality of the small town, gated community mindset with what can only be described as an equally satirical vocal performance (the best use of whispering in rock since “Angie,” bar none). Nick’s masterful grasp of detailed imagery keeps me invested even near the record’s end when the proceedings begin to drag on a bit (for instance, his depiction of a woman drearily going about her household chores as she grapples with her overwhelming depression in “The Sorrowful Wife”). The best part is that, like Nick Cave lyrics of old and unlike Nick Cave lyrics of Please Stop Calling Me, Boatman, This Is Harassment, there’s not a song here without at least a touch of cynicism (and most come with heaping tons of it). Even the titular address in the rather saccharine but pretty “Love Letter” is only being written because its narrator “said something I did not mean to say.” I’m not sure if Nick has ever quite matched the lyrical prowess that he displays on this record.

3) The arrangements. Whereas it didn’t sound like the band spent more than five minutes figuring out how the songs on The Boatman’s Call should go, the arrangements they cooked up for this batch of songs are as nuanced as the lyrics they support. Even though these are all pretty much slow, piano-based songs, only the title track is as bare bones as the stuff on Call (and, for the record, it’s a heartbreaking song among heartbreaking song about a man sadly and dutifully resigning himself to marriage). The rest are built off haunting violin parts by that trusty Warren Ellis, impeccably tasteful, subtle guitar lines and chick backing vocals by Canadian duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle. There are even some out and out loud sections on here with distorted geetars and everything – namely much of the album’s biggest “hit,” “Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow,” the coda of “The Sorrowful Wife” and the impassioned climaxes of the mighty album centerpiece “Oh My Lord,” which unexpectedly resolve into churchy, reposeful choruses. By all means, though, be prepared for slow piano ballad saturation. Also prepared to be compelled by said saturation. There ain’t nothing resembling the lazy, boring three-chord songwriting of “People Ain’t No Good” here.

Now, as much as I think this record is really, really great, I can’t help but get the urge to chop a bunch off the end of the thing. Not that the songs on side 2 aren’t great, they are – especially the optimistic chord changes/pessimistic lyrics coupling of “Darker With The Day.” But it’s just so goddamn samey and looooong – five of these tracks are over six minutes long, while only four clock in under five and none under four. Leave off a couple of the lesser songs near the end that are beautiful but don’t develop the album’s sound anywhere it hadn’t gone already (and gone more evocatively) and the album would be less of a commitment… as is, it’s still a hell of an achievement.



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