Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Today's Lesson" (Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!)
It was a long time, that stretch between 1997 and 2007, and Nick Cave didn’t leave us with a lot of dope beats to step to. On his reflective latter-day work, beginning the mournful The Boatman’s Call and plateauing with the barely-there No More Shall We Part, Cave’s work dealt mostly in piano ballads and cryptic spirituality. On last year’s eponymous debut from Cave’s Grinderman side project, he taught himself guitar and flashed the first real reflection in years of his death-dealing, bitch-slapping heyday. Grinderman didn’t sound much like Cave’s records with the Birthday Party, but it bore the same haunted, epic Old Testament rage. It didn’t sound youthful, but it sounded like a document of an extremely productive midlife crisis. It announced the Drama King’s return. And it was good to have him back. God never really cared about Nick Cave, anyway.
The only thing missing from Grinderman was Cave’s intelligence, and that was by design. After getting that bellowing, teen-angst-nostalgic rock record out of his system, he sacrifices none of his newfound momentum on the fantastic Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, his sharpest, wittiest, most resolute album in over a decade. DLD retains the passion of Grinderman but restores the focus and literacy of Let Love In and Murder Ballads, Cave’s mid-career peaks. He stays away from the piano and the dog-eared hymnal, but the band sound “mature” in the best way. This is a logical, grown-up extension of the dissonant rumble and referential ball-of-the-freaks storytelling that made their name.
After the departure of Blixa Bargeld, it’s impressive that NC&TBS ever made a record this noisy again, and it’s a wonder that songs anchored by scrapes and rattles can hold together so well. But “Night of the Lotus Eaters,” “Midnight Man” and particularly the bracing self-parody “We Call Upon the Author” use noise shards to construct some of the tightest hooks of the band’s career. Likewise, the album is bookended by some of the most deftly exaggerated lyrical decadence Cave has ever written, in the swaggering title cut and the sprawling, hallucinatory closer “More News From Nowhere” (which sounds like Lou Reed’s standup-comedy experiments by way of vintage Hunter S. Thompson).
The less absurd material succeeds just as well. The Iggy-ish “Today’s Lesson” and the barreling “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl)” revisit Cave’s penchant for tortured, destructive sexuality. “Hold On to Yourself” and “Jesus of the Moon” aren’t exactly ballads (at least not compared to No More Shall We Part’s contemplative odes to monogamy), but they rank with his most emotionally complex material (at least compared to Grinderman’s “No Pussy Blues”). And “Albert Goes West” is every bit the anthemic single that “Deanna” was (although it’s not explicitly about plotting a homicide).