Nick Cave is not an acquired taste. Contrary to popular belief, listeners smart enough to know the difference between confident songwriting and lyrics fool-heartedly plucked from a personal journal realize the significant position Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds pioneered and now resolutely occupy as one of the most musically literate and talented outfits in existence today.
How many times are you allowed to use the word "heartbreaking" when describing Cave's work? There's a groove and a grace to the songwriter's latest set of compositions that will surely leave listeners stunned at his deft balance of the wretched and the redeeming. Album opener "Wonderful" is a... err... wonderful introduction to the world of Nocturama, as piano strikes push the rhythm in time with a walking bass line that screams soul. "Right Out Of Your Hand" is exactly that -- Warren (Dirty Three) Ellis's weeping strings drip melancholy atop a torch song that recalls the majesty of Murder Ballads, while simultaneously suggesting a new path for Cave and company ("Please forgive me / If I appear unkind / But any fool can tell you / It's all in your mind"). Ellis and his violin have never been more present as a member of the Bad Seeds than on Nocturama, and the album is better for it. "Bring It On", meanwhile, starts off with a slinky groove that seems plucked straight from the song books of Philadelphia soul, before Cave charges it with his trademark wail and a blistering chorus that is equal parts Waterboys and INXS (I mean both comparisons in the best possible way). The Saints' Chris Bailey's backing vocals pull it all together with a call-and-response pattern played perfectly with Cave's lead.
"Dead Man In My Bed" picks up where the preceding track leaves off, packing a whole lot of soul into a sonic template that could easily be shared with Jason Pierce and his Spiritualized collective. Content-wise, keep any kids out of the room while this one is burning a hole through your speakers -- this is pretty dark stuff. "Still In Love" is also classic Cave, sticking in a finger in the eye of his imitators and reminding everyone else why his followers remain such committed fans: it burns slowly, it stings deep and its tale of lost love is captivating.
The pace at which Cave has laid out the proceedings is one of the most brilliant things about Nocturama; there is a flow that both pushes listeners into the murk of Cave's darkest confessions and sweeps them up to soar along with the group's more brightly romantic moments.
This is one of Cave's best album in years, if not an immediate candidate for a career highlight. Naysayers and tastemakers (without taste) be damned -- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are every bit as vital today as they were during last decade's critical and commercial crest.